To have a great idea, you first need to have several hundred crazy ideas. This is as true of organisations as it is of people. A culture where people feel free to speak up in meetings and throw crazy ideas about is a really useful thing to develop, as long as we can somehow sort the good from the bad, the great from the good, and the exceptional from the great.
Does your company have a culture of exploring, analysing and weighing new ideas? Typically, wild ideas are treated in one of two ways:
“Mhmm. Sounds good Jeff” (while thinking, that’s a terrible idea, hopefully this guy will stop talking about this soon).
“Yes, that sounds great” [doesn’t really understand]. The book The Mom Test describes how people will often heap superficial praise on the idea, without really understanding it well, because they like you as a person.
Instead of immediately forming an opinion on whether an idea is good or bad, a better approach is to try to put our initial gut-reactions on hold and spend 2 or 3 minutes exploring the concept in a more rigorous way.
A useful way of doing this is to use the ‘dialectic method’, otherwise known as Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.
In this paradigm you listen to what is being proposed and take the opposite stance playing ‘devil’s advocate’, to try and find arguments against whatever has been proposed. This criticism creates a tension which you and the proposer then try to resolve. This reconciliation between the two viewpoints usually ends up in something brand new called the ‘synthesis’.
Thesis: People can only get financial advice from a qualified financial planner, and this is expensive
Antithesis: People don’t need access to a qualified financial planner to get financial advice.
Synthesis: Can we create some software that gives the advice that a qualified financial planner would give, but at a lower price?
Thesis: We should get a ball pit for the office so that people can take naps during the working day
Antithesis: We can’t get a ball pit, the balls will get everywhere and will make the office look terrible
Synthesis: Let’s get a futon!
Thesis: Oil is becoming more and more scarce, we need to develop more efficient engines
Antithesis: Oil is becoming more scarce, but I wonder if developing more efficient engines is the only solution?
Synthesis: Build electric cars
Thesis: No one will buy electric cars, they look like a shoe and perform like a cow
Antithesis: People need to starting converting to electric cars
Synthesis: Build a sexy high-end electric supercar to show everyone the possibilities and use the proceeds to fund a mass-production car
How can we practice this as a company? First, someone needs to be the person in the team who starts flinging ideas about like Billy-o. Could this be you?
Then, here are some ideas about how we can use the dialectic method to explore and filter those ideas:
As a giver
If someone presents an idea, immediately take the contrary view. Do it with a cheeky smile, so everyone knows what the game is. Challenge the idea instead of the proposer. Treat it as an intellectual game.
As a receiver
If you have an idea, seek out people who are likely to think it’s a bad idea. Do you know any grumpusses? Go and find them, and pour your heart out. Keep your cool as they stomp your beautiful idea under their vile jackboots and write down all of their pearls of wisdom. See if you can satisfy all of their beefs. If you can, you have a winner. If you can’t, then maybe we’ve all learned something today.
As a team
Run brainstorming sessions where you produce ideas on post-its. Then as a team rank them by the most controversial. Then explore the top two or three in depth in this paradigm.
TLDR; let’s take the lead in showing how we can challenge ideas with a smile, and use this as a way to create new even better ideas!