Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 9;   February 28, 2001: The "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap

The "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?

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.

CornThis 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.

Ideas are
the source
of all future
solutions
and inventions
What 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.

In writing this, I have one great fear — that someone will tell me I have to implement it. Sorry, I'm too overloaded to take that one on. I leave that to you. Go to top Top  Next issue: Workplace Politics Is Not a Game  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Benjamin FranklinPractice Positive Politics
Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
George Orwell's 1933 press card photo issued by the Branch of the National Union of JournalistsDevious Political Tactics: Mis- and Disinformation
Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation, disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (1865-1937) was a German general and politicianBackstabbing
Much of what we call backstabbing is actually just straightforward attack — nasty, unethical, even evil, but not backstabbing. What is backstabbing?
The 1934 rally of the Nazi Party in GermanyInfluence and Belief Perseverance
Belief perseverance is the pattern that causes us to cling more tightly to our beliefs when contradictory information arrives. Those who understand belief perseverance can use it to manipulate others.
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James ComeyUnanswerable Questions
Some questions are beyond our power to answer, but many of us try anyway. What are some of these unanswerable questions and how can we respond?

See also Workplace Politics and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Bay of Pigs, CubaComing September 30: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: II
Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Three of these most relevant to planners are False Consensus, Groupthink, and Shared Information Bias. Available here and by RSS on September 30.
Assembling an IKEA chairAnd on October 7: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule. Available here and by RSS on October 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.