Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 16;   April 19, 2017: Naming Ideas

Naming Ideas

by

Participants in group discussions sometimes reference each other's contributions using the contributor's name. This risks offending the contributor or others who believe the idea is theirs. Naming ideas is less risky.
President Obama meets with leaders about job creation, December 3, 2009

President Obama attends a breakout session, "Creating Jobs Through the Rebuilding of America's Infrastructure," during the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, December 3, 2009. Official photo by Pete Souza.

When groups engage in joint problem solving, and members make contributions, other members sometimes identify the contribution with the contributor. We speak of (or think of) Chet's idea, or Jen's approach. Often we're unaware of doing it, and we intend no malice. It's a convenience. For many, it's actually a way of acknowledging the contributor, to confer credit. And it usually works well when used that way.

And then there are the other times.

As the discussion turns to the idea's disadvantages, identifying contribution with contributor presents risks. The contributor might experience criticism of the idea as personal criticism, even if the critique isn't offered in that spirit.

In some cases, though, the critique might have been intended to be personal. The criticizer might be using the problem solving exercise as cover for a personal attack. The situation can become ambiguous, complicated, and hostile, jeopardizing possibilities for a constructive outcome. That's one reason why identifying contribution with contributor is risky.

Misidentification is a second risk. We create most contribution-contributor identifications without discussion. Perhaps a facilitator does it, or the first person to use the phrase "Jen's idea," for example. The identification can stick whether or not it's welcome or correct. Others might feel offended if they have a sense of authorship of the contribution, but the idea is named for someone else. And rightly so, since most ideas that arise in group discussions have multiple authors.

Confusion is a third risk. If someone authors multiple contributions, should we number them? Jen's first idea, Jen's second idea, and so on? Usually, we give them names, but we still use the author's name too: Jen's Rotation idea, Jen's FIFO idea, or some such. It's almost as if we want to stay on the risky path.

Formal brainstorming processes deal with these risks by banning criticism altogether. Some brainstorming session designs also ban tagging ideas with their contributors' names. But in other group processes, how can we mitigate identification risk? Here are two suggestions.

Name the idea impersonally
As a contributor, We speak of (or think of)
Chet's idea, or Jen's approach.
Often we're unaware of doing it,
and we intend no malice.
as the first to reference a contribution, or as facilitator, when referring to a previously mentioned idea, use an impersonal name, and ask the group for approval. For example, "I have a thought about the Rotation idea, where we fill the role of scribe by everyone taking a turn from week to week. Is calling it Rotation OK?"
As scribe, record the idea with an impersonal name
When the Scribe, or the Facilitator acting as Scribe, records the contribution on a real or virtual flip chart, the Scribe can also create an impersonal name and check with the group for approval. For example, "Jen, have I captured that idea? And, everyone, is Rotation a good name for it?"

If you offer these suggestions at your next group discussion, best offer an impersonal name for them too. Maybe the Naming Ideas Idea. Um, maybe not. Go to top Top  Next issue: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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 Effective Communication at Work:

Virginia  Satir's Yes No MedallionSaying No
When we have to say "no" to customers or to people in power, we're often tempted to placate with a "yes." There's a better way: learn how to say "no" in a way that moves the group toward joint problem solving.
The silhouette of a famous fictional detectiveSome Truths About Lies: I
However ethical you might be, you can't control the ethics of others. Can you tell when someone knowingly tries to mislead you? Here's Part I of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
Gen. George Casey, Dep. Sec. Paul Wolfowitz, and Sec. Donald RumsfeldDismissive Gestures: I
Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated, we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a catalog of nonverbal insults.
Four clutches of reed warbler eggs, each with a cuckoo egg present, on display in Bedford MuseumColumbo Tactics: II
This is Part II of a series showing how the less powerful can adapt the tactics of TV detective Lt. Columbo when they're interacting with the more powerful.
The fictional logo of the fictional paper company, Dunder MifflinMonday Morning Minute Message Madness
As a leader of a large organization, if you publish a "Monday Minute Message" to help employees identify with the organization as a whole, there are some practices that might limit the effectiveness of the program. Six suggestions can be helpful.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

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
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!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
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.