“Oh, and there’s one other thing,” Nancy said. “I typed it out in an email to you about five times but then I figured I’d just tell you.”
“What’s up?” I asked. We were about 15 minutes into our usual morning call and it’d been business as usual.
“Well, you know how we’ve been trying to come up with some new and different things, right?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said.
“Well, here’s an idea I had,” Nancy responded, then proceeded to explain.
As I listened, I kept my ear out for what I’ll call deal-breakers — those elements of an idea, concept or proposal that makes it untenable, un-manageable or un-scalable. Now, I’m not saying this is the right way to listen to a suggestion, but unfortunately, it’s the way I usually do.
As Nancy continued to talk and flesh out the idea, I had yet to hear a deal-breaker. I was silent, listening, considering, pondering and, ultimately, getting excited.
“Nancy, this is a really good idea,” I said.
“I’m glad you like it,” she replied calmly.
“No, Nancy,” I said, “this is a REALLY good idea.”
“Yeah!” she responded, now more in tune with my mood.
Over the next few hours and days we worked on the idea, put some specifics around it and packaged it. We shall see where it goes, but wherever that is, something important had happened.
While at first blush the exchange above may seem pedestrian, it is — it was — anything but. In fact, it is ideas, not working harder, that will keep you alive and thriving, for in keeping one’s nose mindlessly to the grindstone, one only loses a valuable body part. Ideas (innovation, if you like) are the key to adapting, evolving, and staying in step with the world around you, but from where do they come?
From brains, of course.
Here is another news flash: all the ideas necessary to thrive will not emerge from your brain. You may come up with one or two, you may even be a savant and come up with lots, but I guarantee that at some point the well will be dry when you desperately need a drink, and it is then that your management style will either serve you well or signal your death knell.
For if you’ve been a “my way or the highway” manager; if you’ve operated on the premise that your brain is the only fecund one; if you’ve appropriated others’ thoughts as your own and/or continually put the kibosh on new concepts, your employees will return your blank stare request for new ideas with a blank stare of their own — one YOU put there. You will have been the architect of your own demise. You can’t turn employee engagement on and off like a tap.
So how to create an environment where ideas flow and are vetted in a can-do spirit? First off, don’t listen like I listen — don’t always keep an ear out for why you can shut down an idea (though this is efficient). Instead, listen for components of it that might work — perhaps you can edit the deal-breaker out and still have something worth pursuing? Let people know their concepts will be received with respect and restraint and that, if they have legs, you won’t shepherd them around as your own.
The key to your future, to your organization’s future, lies not in the muscles leveraged during repetition, but in the minds that spring new concepts into being; concepts that leverage your strengths, entice new customers (whether doctors or patients), and always maintain your core convictions. Nurture these minds gently and diligently, and they will furnish all the innovation you’ll ever need.