Of the many ways to stifle creativity, one is unsurpassed in effectiveness. I saw it once at a monthly staff meeting. As we plowed through the Open Issues list, Tim had a great idea, which he offered to us. The chair's response was "What a great idea, Tim! Why don't you work that out and report next month?"
Tim learned a lesson that day: don't ever mention your great ideas, especially not in meetings.
We've all made this "mistake" — you make a suggestion, and before you can say "Not Me!" you get volunteered to implement it. You weren't really offering to take on the task — you were just offering an insight that seemed helpful. And then you got stuck with the work.
This trap comes in other varieties. Let's suppose there's an unassigned task to be executed before you can do something else you've committed to. If you mention the unassigned task, it will probably be assigned to you. And if you say nothing, when you finally do explain why your work isn't even started yet, you might be tagged with "Why didn't you mention this before now?"
The problem isn't the offering of ideas — it's the opportunistic behavior of the team lead or chair. Ideas are the "seed corn" of projects. They're the source of all future solutions and inventions. Any chair who saddles the idea-creators with execution responsibility is actually "eating the seed corn." By creating discomfort for the people who offer ideas, the chair trains everyone not to offer ideas. So although the chair solves the immediate problem of finding someone to implement the idea, that solution creates an even bigger problem for the future — a shortage of ideas.
of all future
and inventionsWhat can you do if your team lead or your boss is one of these seed-corn eaters? How can you avoid what happened to Tim?
In the basic form, you preface your idea with a clear statement that you're offering the idea only, not the execution. For example, Tim could have said, "I have an idea for whoever is willing to take this on. I'm too overloaded to do it myself, but I'm willing to explain in more detail to whoever ends up doing this, if that fits for them and if that would be helpful." This creates a contract between Tim and the team — the team gets to hear the idea, with the understanding that Tim is too overloaded to actually execute the idea.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Ten Tactics for Tough Times: II
- When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation
for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part II of a set of
approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
- Are You a Fender?
- Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come
with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them
onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you
carry all of it yourself.
- Snares at Work
- Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our
own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how
to deal with them.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: V
- When someone at work exhibits narcissistic behavior, others respond. Some respond by accommodating the
behavior, and those accommodations can include special and favorable treatment of the person behaving
narcissistically. That's one place where trouble can begin.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on December 26: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Coping
- Coping effectively with feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt is the path to recovering a sense of balance that's the foundation of clear thinking. And thinking clearly at work is important if you want to avoid feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt. Available here and by RSS on December 26.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.