Why do we struggle to have great ideas?

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As leaders and managers, we’re often expected to have the great ideas, brilliant insights and action plans that will help our people and organisations turn over a new leaf. But in the midst of all the busy-ness of business, it’s easy to get stuck in a “same old, same old” thinking rut.

Why we struggle to have great ideas

I’ve been playing in the continuous improvement space for many years now, so I’ve seen a lot of thinking being done (and a lot of missed opportunities).

I work with teams and organisations that want to build a culture of ongoing development and improvement. One barrier that comes up frequently is that teams and individuals struggle to identify things that could be improved. We get stuck, unable to generate more than a couple of timid options, which will make almost no difference to the challenge we’re trying to tackle.

There can be a number of reasons for this:

  • No one has ever asked us and/or we’re out of practice at generating ideas
  • We aren’t sure who far is “too far” when we’re thinking creatively
  • We don’t feel like we have permission to speak up
  • We’re too busy and stressed to be able to think beyond our immediate survival
  • There’s a cultural or leadership issue whereby having ideas is a punishable offence (it sounds extreme, but it is more common than you might realise!)

The first two issues are simply a matter of learning some skills and techniques, and developing our confidence. In this series, I’m going to provide you with a series of techniques and approaches that will help you and your team re-build your idea-generating muscles. The reamining three issues are structural and cultural. While they can be addressed, they’ll take some more time, energy and leadership commitment than the first. I’ll tackle them in future articles.

Introducing: the “How to have great ideas” series

This post is the first in the series titled “How to have great ideas”. In the coming weeks, I’ll share ten proven strategies for developing awesome ideas.

Anyone can use these strategies to tackle any challenge, no matter how big or small. Most of them can be put in place right away, without anything more than time, effort and a willingness to try a different approach.

"I'm sure it's wonderful to have great ideas, but I need results, now!"

I get it – there’s no time to waste in thinking up great ideas, you need results, and you need them fast. You’ve had an idea and you want to get started right away.

But there’s nothing worse that busying yourself with activties that won’t deliver the results you want, or worse, actually prevent you from achieving your desired results!

After this series, I’ll be publishing a follow-up series which will cover how to select the right ideas and turn them into effective actions that deliver superb results. But in the meantime, let’s get our thinking in order, so that we’ve got great ideas to work with when it’s time for action.

Getting out of the pressure cooker

Being a leader or manager is a busy job. There are so many different demands competing for your time and attention. You’ve got a to-do list that’s a mile long, reports to write, staffing issues to sort and KPIs to achieve. And now your boss expects you to come up with a brilliant idea that will make everything better? Eek – it feels like being locked inside a pressure cooker with the heat turned all the way up!

Sadly, the stress and pressure that are so common in our business culture are all but guaranteed to prevent you from being able to think creatively, right when you need it most.

But, I’m here with some good news – finding great ideas doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming or stressful. The simple strategies I share in this series will help you get out of that pressure cooker so you can wield your wisdom, harvest from the hive-mind, and springboard into success.

You can use these strategies to tackle any challenge that you’re facing, large or small. It helps if you have some “fellow travellers” who will go on the journey with you – that could be your work team, your family or friends, a club you’re involved with – any group of people who are committed to a shared cause and open to learning.

When it's not a great idea

It seems obvious, but I would rather say it and remove any doubt: if any of your ideas sails close to the wind of what is legal, ethical or moral, it is not a great idea. If anything you are thinking about could risk your reputation or land you with a fine or conviction, please kill that idea and move on to discover truly great ideas!

Reputations take years to build but can be crushed in seconds, especially in our hyper-connected world. Don’t sell out your future for the sake of a short-term target.

Ready to get started?

Excellent! I’m looking forward to sharing these strategies with you. To read up on all the strategies for how to have great ideas, head over to the series page here.

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