The Idea Challenge

We know that any organisation that does not innovate is dying faster than it otherwise would. It is particularly true today, as we stumble our way out of Brexit and Covid19, and into the arms of climate change, AI technology encroaching into the hallowed turf of the professions, and other challenges. It feels a little like playing hopscotch in a minefield.

Organisations don’t have ideas, people do. and it’s here the challenge arises. Having an idea in an organisation as an employee is a bit of an adventure. All leaders of organisations want employees to be innovative and creative, but those around you do not. Having a good idea is more likely to create a schism with those around us, and intermediate managers, than it is to get us applauded. The majority of employees want stability and safety (otherwise, they wouldn’t be employees) and ideas are disruptive to the status quo. It’s ok for the leaders to have ideas, much more dangerous for employees.

If you have a great idea as part of your job, it doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the organisation, and increasingly as job specs broaden as we seek to become more flexible, the organisation can probably stake a claim on any idea we have, at any time.

So where do good ideas come from, and where do they go? Elizabeth Gilbert has a line I like in Big Magic; we don’t have ideas, they have us. Ideas float around looking for a host. If they choose us, and we don’t do something with them, they go and find someone else. It’s an appealing image. More prosaically, ideas are the product of our complex relationship with our environment – our state of mind, who we mix with, our training, the culture we are part of and many other aspects. We can increase the likelhood of little ideas within an organisation, but the big ideas almost inevitably happen somewhere else.

At a time when all our futures rely on significant ideas that disrupt rather than improve the status quo, we have an interest in not just having them, but bringing them to fruition, we need a strategy:

  1. If we’re an employee, then useful ideas for the organisation are incremental. Enough to improve things, but not shake them up. We progress by doing a good job at what we’ve been asked to do. It’s fine to disrupt other organisations, but not our own.
  2. Big ideas rarely happen at work. They happen without being asked or sought, and they love serendipity. They happen with people we like being with, not the ones we’re paid to be with. They happen where we feel free to be ourselves rather than an avatar in a suit. Ideas are often born of laughter.
  3. Remember a big idea is a responsibility. If you have one, and don’t do something with it, it will find someone who will. None of us want that.

The decade that we are in needs more big ideas than ever before. Improving the old normal will not take us where we need to be, only to more of the same – increasing inequality, climate damage, and organisational subservience. A gig economy for all.

We need a catalyst for our ideas. Somewhere serendipity can find us in the company of others who can help us catalyse it.

This year, that’s what we want Originize to be. If you want to help us build it, sign up. We’ll be sharing our ideas on having ideas, and doing something with them in the next couple of weeks, and starting.