“So you’re saying you want us to do more in less time so we can free up time to work on our own ideas?” Marty always went straight to the point.

“Yes”. I said.  It had taken me weeks to frame the message I was now conveying to my team.

“You realize we can’t keep our head above water with all the projects we’re working on”.  This came from Ted, who was succinctly voicing Yeah-But #3 to innovation: Overworked Staff.

Ted was the realist in our group and his opinion carried a lot of weight with the team.  He continued.

“Yet, you want us to find time to work on those priorities AND leave time for pursuing “ideas”.  What ideas? I’m missing something.”

I knew that if I didn’t win Ted over with my proposal, the chances were slim that the others would accept it. 

“I’m glad you asked, Ted.  For the last 3 months, I’ve kept track of all the ideas, suggestions & sketchy concepts we’ve kicked around in our meetings & casual discussions.  Guess how many ideas I wrote down?

Silence from the team. “I’ve captured 20 ideas & they came from all of you” I said to sea of shocked faces.

Ted was incredulous & asked “20 ideas? We haven’t had 20 ideas”.  I could see the others agreeing with Ted.

“Ted, let me use you as an example”, I responded.   “Did you know that you alone have come up with 3 of the 20 ideas”.  I let that sink in a moment.

Ted came back with “3? I can’t think of one”.

“I know”, I said. “That’s because we’re always focused on the immediate priorities & we don’t pay attention to the ideas that spring up spontaneously”.

Ted appeared confused so I continued.

“The reason you don’t think you’ve had any ideas is because you preceded them with passive statements such as “ Wouldn’t it be great if we could…” or “Somebody should come up with a way to” or “There’s got to be an easier way to…”. 

I could see Ted slowly nodding his head as if he could hear himself say those words.  I look directly at him & said,

“We frame the ideas in hope not action and we don’t pursue them to determine their plausibility. We’re sitting on 20 possible breakthrough solutions that are going undiscovered and untested. They may not lead anywhere but imagine if just one did?  Imagine what we’d learn by acting on just one idea?

“Wow”. Ted said.  “I never really thought of it that way.  You’re right.  One of those ideas could be a big deal. It can have an impact on the bottom line. Think of the learning process!”   

And with that, Ted excitedly jumped on board with my new initiative: the creation of an idea incubator in the team.  His coworkers quickly followed his lead.

Over time, the Idea Incubator produced many effective solutions that had a bottom line impact & increased efficiency in the team & the organization.

But can you relate to Ted?  Do you let your existing priorities keep you from pursuing opportunities to experiment or try new things?  Are your framing potential solutions in hope & not action?

It’s very difficult these days to rise above the hectic noise of our deadlines & workload.

Here are some ways to bring down the volume & listen to the ideas that are being passively pitched & going unnoticed in your team.

  • Listen closely when team members are discussing a problem or issue on a project
  • Keep a log of wishful statements made by the team such as “I wish there was a way to” or “I wish we could find a way to” or “There has to be a better way”.
  • After capturing over 5 ideas, discuss them with your team.  Remember to give them credit for the ideas.
  • Let everyone weigh in one which ideas are worth pursuing
  • Together develop a process to free up time so every team member can dedicate to the idea. At first, this can be as little as one or two hours a week & build from there.
  • Reward team members for their ideas & the action they took to turn the idea into a solution.
  • Voila.  Your idea incubator has been launched.

Like me, you’ll find that when the staff has an opportunity to take time to work on a project or an idea that has potential benefits for the team, they light up and get excited.  All of a sudden, the employees you thought were swamped with work can get their work done PLUS work on the idea incubator. 

People like having the independence and time to work on viable ideas. As leaders, it is up to us to give them the time & trust to do that.