The Best Ideas Don't Win and What To Do About It -- Part 1


Have you ever run into road blocks when suggesting needed changes in your organization? Have you ever had it's-so-obvious-we-should-do-this-that-I-can't-believe-we-even-have-to-discuss-it improvements encounter resistance? If so, there's an important principle to remember that will keep you (1) from going insane and (2) on the path to organizational improvement. That principle is this: the best ideas don't win.

Why the Best Ideas Don't Win

Why don't the best ideas win? Because organizational change is more complicated than simply coming up with a great idea. It is more complicated than that because organizations are full of people, us included, who are more complicated than that.

Rare is the person and rarer is the organization that loves change. For the vast majority of the population, new ideas are concerning. Though we might be tempted to write sinister stories to explain the motives of those who come against our great ideas, the truth is most people are naturally wired to resist change or, at the very least, be hesitant about it. It actually makes sense when we pause to think about it. New ideas bring with them the unknown and its trusty sidekick, fear. Fear causes us to pause, resist, and in some cases, run the other way.

If we intend to be effective leaders, we are required to be agents of change that create improvements within our organizations. So how do we keep new ideas, and the positive changes they will bring, moving forward in spite of the fear and uncertainty they breed? And how do we do that without pulling out our hair or anyone else's?

3 Steps to Keeping the Best Ideas Moving Forward

Step #1: Expect resistance

No matter how great our ideas may be, we should always expect some measure of resistance and trepidation. Keep in mind that this is normal no matter how good your ideas might be. Remember that every 'change to' is also a 'break from.'* It's a break from that which is known and understood. This reality produced the axiom, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't." Many people and organizations would rather live in an adequate reality they can understand and manage than risk the possibility of creating bigger problems through change. In the short run, such thinking can be prudent. But constantly living by this mantra over the long haul is detrimental to our organizations because it kills every idea that is new.

Nearly every new idea is met with at least some measure of resistance. If we prepare ourselves for this reality both intellectually and emotionally, we'll be more apt to (1) stick with it when that resistance comes, (2) avoid the belief that resistance means the idea is not as good as we originally thought, and (3) sidestep the temptation to conclude that all who oppose the idea are evil and/or stupid. Each of these three helps the best ideas continue their forward movement in a healthy fashion.

Step #2: Appreciate the pain

Ideas almost never come out of the womb in their final form. Though we usually dislike the pushback we receive, nearly every idea benefits from the resistance it encounters. Author and coach Dan Sullivan suggests his clients actually write down all the reasons why their big plans and new ideas won't work. (Sounds depressing, doesn't it?) Then he flips the script on them. He reveals to his clients that they have just created the roadmap of their own success. Sullivan says that if you solve for all the points of resistance, you will have created the path to successful implementation.

Keep in mind that much more goes into the stew of successful organizational change than merely the new idea itself. There are a number of factors to consider, all of which can create pain for us and those with whom we work. If we were to write an equation for successful organizational change, it might look something like this:

+ Excellent Ideas

+ Great Timing

+ Organizational Support and Ownership

+ Clear Communication

= Successful Organizational Change

No wonder organizational change can be so difficult. There are a multitude of places for change and its fears to create havoc.

When we encounter resistance from colleagues, we would do well to meet it with a childlike curiosity. We should take the stance that the very people we might have labeled as our adversaries are, in reality, helping us chart a course toward the best solution possible. By revealing to us all of the issues we must take into account for the change to work, our resistors are showing us the interconnectedness of concerns we must consider in order to be truly strategic leaders.

This is Part 1 of a two-part blog. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 where the third step will be revealed, the picture on this blog will begin to make sense, and a 60 second video will help us feel the process of a new idea reaching its potential.

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* This line is not original with me. Despite my best efforts, I can neither remember who coined it nor find that answer on the internet. If anyone runs across its origins, please forward it to me so I can give the phrase proper attribution. I suppose I could have left it out of the posting, but I thought it was too important to omit or modify. My thanks its author, whomever that may be, for creating such a valuable and memorable idea.