The world is full of opportunities, especially nowadays. Your talented and ambitious employees know that. When they approach you with one of their ideas, how do you know they are on to something or chasing just another shiny object?
The next big thing or another shiny object?
Does the following sound familiar?
Friday, while enjoying a relatively quiet moment in your office, Bert walks in. He is a great guy. Bert graduated cum laude from college. He has been a few years with the firm and has made a great impression on everyone in the office. A star with a bright future ahead of him.
Gladly you offer him your time, as you want to help him be successful. Bert asks you if you have ever considered X.
By the way, I purposefully write X here, not blockchain, 5G, Internet of Things, or any other latest fad, as I want the focus to be on the process, not the idea. So bear with me – X could be great!
You listen to Bert explain the wonderful possibilities of X. You have a vague notion of the concept. Last week, one of your clients brought it up too. You also have heard it being mentioned a few other times, but you don’t know too much about it to be honest. It is one of those topics you intended to investigate further, yet have failed to find the time to do so. It is clear that Bert has done his homework and caught you off guard.
Listening to Bert’s explanation, you quickly get a better feel of what X is all about.
What problem does it solve?
Open minded as you are, you wonder out loud – “So, what problems would this solve?”.
Bert than starts enthusiastically explaining where he thinks it could all be applied. You are impressed with how detailed he has worked things through – especially given his limited experience at the job. What he tells you sounds good, it also sounds like a lot of work, a significant time investment, and not without risks.
Even though the use cases he brings up makes total sense, what bothers you, is that it still not clear what problem X will actually solve.
You ask, “Bert, so if we were to go ahead and implement X, what problem would it solve for our clients?”.
Bert elaborates on the story that he just told you. But that is not what you are asking for. You don’t want to know what X can do, you want to know what problem it addresses for your clients. You interfere and ask point blank, “What would this help our clients do, that they currently cannot?”.
Bert uncomfortably shifts in his chair. He starts to stumble. It becomes clear that he has no answer to this question.
The end of the conversation?
Normally, this would be the end of the discussion and X.
Over the years, you have trained yourself in saying ‘no’. Too many of these request and opportunities pass your desk. Too many turn out to be just shiny objects that distract your organization from its main goals. If you were to jump on all of these – the firm would be broke soon.
However, a few things are bothering you this time. X is nagging. Last week, a client brought it up too. You then avoided the conversation, because you did not know enough about it. From what Bert is saying, it sounds that X will come up more frequently in the future. In that respect, it may be a good thing to dive in a bit deeper. Yet, you also want to be careful, as you have no plans to change course and no funding or time for a high-profile project like Bert is proposing. You don’t want to give him false hope.
Also in the back of your head is what happened with Nicky. She stopped by with a very similar story like Bert, but instead of about X, it was about Y, now about six months ago.
Intrigued by Y for similar reasons, you allowed her to investigate the opportunity. However, you were never really committed to the idea. Curiosity was your main driver to have Nicky explore the opportunity. Nevertheless, Nicky took a deep dive into the project and truth to be said, she did a lot of work.
In hindsight, you learned that she did most of this in her personal time. While impressive in scope and thoroughness, her first report did not impress you regarding the opportunity of Y. After a quick read, you dismissed her project.
A month later, Nicky resigned. From what you heard from an old pal, she is now working for him on the implementation of Y. He was not joking when he told you that he was very grateful that you let Nicky go. Last week, his firm was praised in the paper as the first to offer Y services.
So, what to do
So, what to do with Bert?
The easiest and most straightforward would be to say ‘no’ up front, as Bert is not able to clearly express the problem X will solve for your clients. An indication that in all likelihood, X will just be another shiny object. A solution in search of a problem it can address.
Alternatively, you could defer the decision, and give him a bone – as you did with Nicky. However, from that experience, you learned that you have to be willing to say B, when you commit to A. You are not ready to commit yet. So allowing Bert to explore further would merely be a delay tactic, which Nicky did not appreciate. You don’t want to lose another talented employee. Let alone that you want to help another old pal be successful.
What are the alternative options you have? If you don’t want to dismiss it right away nor want to commit in full either. Not in the least, because truly, you have no idea whether X is a great new opportunity like Y turned out to be, or – more likely – the next new fad of which you have seen so many fail.
What is more, you have plenty of work to do with your division. You don’t want this distraction to hang over your or Bert’s head. If you would allow him to explore this, probably Joe, Bill and a few others – who are not half as talented as Bert is – will be on your desk the next Friday asking you to support their ideas too.
Your phone rings, which literally gets you off the hook for the moment. However, you will have to have an adequate answer for Bert, and soon.
The best option?
If we only knew which ideas would be hits – life would be so much easier. However, without a crystal ball that allows you to look into the future, you never will know for sure. And gut feelings are rarely well aligned with the actual outcomes.
At Organizing4Innovation, we thought that there must be a better way to handle these situations. One that does not make it necessary for you to dismiss all opportunities without adequately vetting them, nor makes it necessary to invest too many funds and resources into each new shiny object that your talented employees eye.
We are committed to finding a solution to this problem. We received a lot of positive feedback on the prototype we developed. A training program that would enable employees like Bert to vet their ideas in an effective and efficient manner, without you having to commit or invest significant resources when little is known about the opportunity.
Thanks in advance!