You’ve told your employees you want more innovation. You’ve sponsored brainstorming sessions. You’ve sponsored mixers to break down departmental barriers. You’ve offered prizes. You’ve put up motivational posters. You’ve created t-shirts and coffee mugs with all the right slogans.
So what do your employees do? They offer up good ideas. Yikes! Now what? If your company is like most, your employees have lots of ideas on how to improve your company, your products, and your services. Give them a little encouragement to open up and share their thoughts, and you’ll get a boatload of suggestions.
What could be wrong with that? Well…. unless you plan ahead, you could create a company full of cynics. Your employees will almost certainly come up with too many ideas. You won’t be able to process them all much less implement them all. As a result, you could easily cause the dreaded Cynical Rebound.
The Cynical Rebound is the natural (and universal) reaction that occurs when one is asked for suggestions and then ignored. You can hear the frustration in phrases like, “If you’re not going to listen to me, then why did you ask my opinion?” “They said they wanted fresh ideas but I guess they didn’t want mine.” “I offered up a good idea and never heard anything. That’s the last time I’ll do that.” If allowed to spread, the Cynical Rebound will bring all of your innovation processes to a screeching halt.
How to avoid the Cynical Rebound? Before you begin an innovation campaign, be sure to set expectations appropriately. Let everyone in the company know that there probably will be too many ideas. You won’t have the bandwidth to pursue all good ideas immediately. You’ll need to stockpile some for future consideration. The keep the communication lines open. One of the major goals of the Innovation Free Port is to communicate the status of good ideas as they wend their way through the process. If an idea is stockpiled, be sure to let everyone know– especially the originator.
You can also prevent the Cynical Rebound by using the Grateful No. You’ll need to turn down some ideas. Just do it gracefully. The Grateful No starts by separating the person from the idea. The person is wonderful; the idea less so. Express your gratitude to the person and encourage them to continue to offer new ideas. Then explain — clearly and simply — why you’re not going to pursue the idea in the near term. You need to give a real reason; it can’t be fluff. Continue the explanation until you see the person nodding her head. Then stop — you’ve got the sale so quit selling.
The Grateful No closes the loop. The originator knows that you’ve seriously considered the idea but can’t act on it now. She also knows the reason — which could help her formulate better ideas in the future.
Once it gets started, the Cynical Rebound is very hard to stop. So plan ahead. Set expectations appropriately and make sure you have a working Free Port before launching an innovation initiative. Be sure that your managers are trained in the Grateful No technique. A little planning could save you a lot of pain.