Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Multiply Ideas by Sharing

You’re working on an important project and you’re determined to complete the project yourself, to demonstrate your capabilities and ability to deliver on a critical commitment. You have stubbornly refused the help generously offered by others, believing that doing so would show weakness and a lack of technical understanding and ability. But now you feel like a marathon runner who has ‘hit the wall’. You’ve exhausted all of the ideas you have to solve the many issues you’re grappling with, and aren’t sure what to try next, what to do next, or where to turn. But you’re afraid to admit that you’ve hit an impasse for fear that it will reflect badly on you and your currently positive reputation in your organization (see Embarrassment Rules the World? and Take the Time to Think!). What can you do to revive yourself, get your creative juices running again, and come up with new approaches to solve your problems?

If you want to spur new ideas, for yourself or for others in your organization, the best thing you can do is to share your ideas and ask for others in return. It may seem counterintuitive to you, but it’s true! You will multiply ideas by sharing them! There is a famous quotation from George Bernard Shaw: "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

So swallow your pride. In your case, you’re about to experience “pride goeth before a fall” first hand! Your pride won’t mean much if you fail miserably on this critical assignment. One person can’t know all there is to know on a subject, as you’re learning first hand. Others will undoubtedly be able to bring a fresh perspective to your problems with many new ideas on ways to solve them. So search them out and ask for help!

This situation, though extreme, is far from rare. Even people who regularly share ideas and ask for help may find themselves in situations where they become reluctant to do so, for whatever reason. It is critical that they come to their senses and recognize the power of multiplying ideas by sharing

How does this work? First, you need to work up the courage to ask for help. Then you can start the process by throwing out one idea, and asking for more. That triggers an idea from another person, which provides an alternate route toward solving your problem. That idea triggers an idea from another person that turns the problem inside out and enables you and others to view the problem from an entirely different perspective with a range of not only new potential solutions, but also of new directions from which to attack the problem. Soon you have more ideas and approaches than you ever thought possible, all by simply asking others for their ideas and perspectives.

Recognize that there will be good ideas, bad ideas, so-so ideas, and what appear to be totally unrelated or even ‘stupid’ ideas. Don’t discard any of them. Write them all down. You never know where the solution to your problem will come from, and you never know when a ‘stupid’ idea will, in retrospect, turn out to be ‘brilliant’ for your problem, or a great starting point for another problem yet to come.

Here are some ‘rules of the road’ to consider in handling the new ideas raised by sharing:

  • Don’t hoard ideas. Share them openly and watch them multiply. New ideas allow you look at the problem from different perspectives.
  • Encourage people to state their ideas, even those who are, by nature, shy and perhaps fearful of speaking up. You never know what brilliant thoughts may be lurking behind a shy façade.
  • Think of ways to improve upon an existing idea. Can any potential improvements provide the best solution?
  • Ask others, and yourself, to think outside the box. You need to consider ideas that may seem foreign at the time.
  • Brainstorm. Ask everyone to throw new ideas out, regardless how far out there or outlandish, and then write them down (probably best on a white board or flip chart so they are visible for everyone to see and think about). The rule should be that no ideas are bad ideas.
  • When the stream of new ideas slows (but always allow new ideas to be added to the mix at any time), it is time to sort them in a variety of ways. For example:
    • By ease of implementation.
    • By ability to solve all of the issues
    • By cost to implement
    • By effort to implement
    • By time to implement
    • By whatever other ways you can think of

Next, list what you see as the elements of effective solutions. For example:

  • Group the ideas in categories like ‘must have’, ‘good to have’, ‘like to have’, ‘nice to have’, ‘not critical’, and ‘unnecessary’.
  • Which ideas are most important to an effective solution?
  • What is likely the resulting priority order of those elements?
  • Which are most (or least) likely to impact released product or service?
  • Add your own ways to evaluate the ideas.

You may have a different approach that you feel works better for you. If so, go with it! What is important is to maximize the ideas and find effective ways to solve your problems.

Remember, projects are not zero-sum games, where the results are simply the independent contributions of many people being stitched together according to a project plan. The reality in most projects is that something happens along the way that makes them exceed all expectations, meet expectations, fail miserably, or something in between these outcomes. The good projects, for all involved, are those where the results exceed all expectations. Generally that only happens when the people involved work well together, freely share ideas, and build upon idea after idea to envision and deliver a result better than ever thought possible.

It comes down to synergy. Synergy is the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In Pigasus – When Pigs Fly!, I discuss what can happen when teams of bright and highly motivated people who work together exceptionally well get involved in the right project or effort. The result can be simply amazing and a joy to behold! Much of that synergy is the result of freely sharing ideas to develop more and better ideas!

Copyright 2011 Workplace Insanity, All Rights Reserved


  1. Tom,
    Great advice, as always. It may also be helpful to learn to SCAMPER to find new ideas. See:



  2. Lee - Thanks! The SCAMPER reference you provided is a great one. It's a great way to force yourself and others to think outside of the box!



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