Monday, May 24, 2004

What a Great Idea!

I've always been interested in innovation.

As a Tech Support Rep, I looked for ways I could do a better job and even kept an eye out for ways we could improve our business. Looking back on that time now, I realize I did some key things that made this successful for me. They seemed so natural to me at the time that I never thought much about it until I started running into people with different experiences.

Some folks complain that they can't get anyone in management to listen to their ideas. Others find they keep getting pulled off the interesting work they're doing to do stuff they find much less compelling. Both are sure that managers have it out for them and in some cases they're right. What's a guy to do? How about a pity parade for starters because quite frankly, the only times I've ever "had it in for anyone" as a manager has been when the person just wasn't doing their job. Typically, such folks seem to think that their job is something else altogether, no matter what I ever tried to say to disavow them of such notions.

So... the first order of business is getting your job done. If you want to work on something more exciting, you're not as likely to get the chance to focus on the more interesting work if it comes at the expense of what you're getting paid to do. Start with making your own work easier, get it done more efficiently and create the time to be more creative. Then everyone wins, especially if you come up with ways to be more efficient that others can duplicate.

Some people will find this to be totally "duh!" advice. If so, you're not the ones who need it. Look at the person next to you who thinks that the scutwork is there to be ignored. If you can, see if you can help the person understand that you need walls first and then you can hang curtains on the windows. If you can't, you might consider keeping enough distance that you won't suffer through any kind of guilt by association.

If you're already concentrating well on on the core work and are just trying to get people to pay attention to your latest and greatest improvement, try slowing down a bit. What would be meaningful about your idea to your boss (and his or her boss too, while you're thinking about it) - from their perspective? Take the time to work up an example of what it would look like. Show how it would solve some problem that they care about. Raise the questions they're likely to have before they ask, and show that you've thought about some of the possible answers.

As foreign a thought as it's likely to be, essentially what you're looking to do is to sell your idea. The more you understand about what good selling is (not the slimey kind of selling you're probably accusing your sales and marketing staff of undertaking), the more successful you're likely to be.

If you're still quite allergic to the notion of selling, think of it not as talking a person into buying something they don't need, but instead, as educating him or her about a thing until they reach the point where they realize they really do need it. Seen that way, it's likely to be far easier.

As for this permission thing I keep hearing people talk about - never once have I ever had "permission" to do any of the bigger projects I've undertaken. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, I thought hard about what it would take to do it the right way and I made sure I stayed on top of the work I was expected to do. With that approach, no one ever questioned how I spent the extra time I carved out, especially when they saw that I was yielding some worthwhile results. Who needs permission under circumstances like that?

I did let my boss know what I was up to so he could report to his boss and his peers what we were up to (yes, "we" - think of it as a group thing, even when you're the only one working on it and you're likely to go farther) or choose to re-direct my energies if that seemed necessary. If I still thought my project had merit, I checked in at some point to find out what it would take for my boss to feel comfortable with having me spend time on it again. And I made sure I listened and met whatever criteria were mentioned prior to re-engaging in the project. The result was that I always got to work on the projects that I wanted to.

So what projects have you been able to talk your boss into supporting or had trouble getting sponsorship for? What have you found works or doesn't work to that end? Hey, I'll even tolerate a bit of whining on this one if it gives us something to look at together... No, wait a minute, I take that back; I'm only interested in hearing that if you're willing to let me offer my opinion on what might have made it better which, by definitions I've suggested previously, makes it no longer whining. Anyway, if you're brave enough to give it a go, send me your thoughts at Let's see what we come up with...

What great ideas would you like to build some traction for if you thought you could?