How to Grow a Great Idea

Every organization has one: the idea person.

The person with the storehouse of ideas they bring with them to every meeting. Their creative nature looks at every plan and project through the lens of “what could we do better?” These “idea geeks” (as I like to describe myself and those like me!) can be a breath of fresh air or they can suffocate others with their relentless stream of thoughts and ideas.

Some leaders pray for people like this to bring a fresh perspective and outside eyes to their programs. Other leaders aren’t so open. I’ve worked with my share of leaders who see ideas and suggestions as an affront to their leadership or a criticism of sorts. When we get frustrated with ideas people or any new ideas regardless of where they come from, it may be we lack a couple of simple tools; such as a filter for ideas, the space and process to discuss ideas, and a system for implementation. With a little bit of education and training you and your team can become experts at taking good ideas and getting great results!

It’s not necessarily easy to create an environment where new ideas are welcomed, discussed, and acted on, but to stay viable and effective, it is necessary. Leaders and organizations need to know how to grow an idea from seed to harvest, from idea to implementation.

It’s the responsibility of the creative leader and the organizational leaders to steward creative ideas, people, as well as the resources required to bring those ideas to fruition. If we shut down the creative person and discourage idea sharing, we are limiting our ability to grow and change. Of course, not every seed will bear fruit. I get that. But some seeds grow entire orchards! That’s the amazing power of one great idea.

I’ve outlined what I call the six phases of an IDEA. These are the objective steps every idea must go through to pass from seed to harvest. Notice I said objective. Without a process in place, dealing with ideas becomes an emotional ordeal. Relationships, dynamics, and even politics get involved and slow down the innovation process. But learning to lead the process based on these six phases will help you and your team evaluate which ideas are right for your organization and goals.

The Six Phases of an Idea, or: How to grow a really great idea!

1: the SEED phase. At this point, an idea is nothing more than a collection of words. It has no power or momentum yet. We don’t know if we are going to “run with it” or not at this point. It’s just an idea.

Acknowledging an idea at this stage causes no harm. In fact, it’s helpful to communicate this very fact.

Idea person, say the words: It’s just an idea. This removes the threat and tension your idea may have introduced.
Those hearing the idea, say the words: That is an idea. Let the creative know you see their idea and its potential merit but are not committing to it yet.

When I shop, I have this strange habit. I pick up things I’m thinking about and carry them around with me. It helps me decide if I really want to purchase the item. Just the act of holding the item, considering it against the other things I see helps me determine if it’s right for me or not.

We can treat ideas this same way! Try them on. Let them sit in the cart for a while before heading to the cashier. And if the idea still feels right in a few days move on to phase 2 which is to define the purpose of the idea.

2. the PURPOSE phase. All great ideas should have a specific purpose behind them. No exceptions. This is where we most often lose it.

I remember in the early “Flash” days, everyone (or so it seemed) was building amazing home pages, with dynamic graphics and even music! Remember those days? You had to endure, I mean enjoy a motion graphic display before you could even get to the actual site! Crazy by today’s standards, but back then it was all the rage.

I can’t tell you how many meeting I heard this, “We should do something more visual on our home page.”

In other words we want to have a “cool feature that actually takes us away from our actual goal of getting people to read our site.”

My team would respond, we certainly could do that (acknowledging the horrible idea) but what is the purpose? I would ask the same thing when they wanted some sort of dynamic navigation or menu graphics…to what end!?

As one who has come up with some horrible ideas in her time, I know this filter works. It can keep you and your team from expending tremendous energy in the wrong direction. Assigning a specific purpose or outcome—one that is in alignment with your overall goals and purpose—takes a good idea and gives it merit. This allows you to move the idea to phase 3 assigning ownership.

3. the OWNERSHIP phase. Once you have determined that the idea has a solid purpose behind it, it’s time to assign ownership. Many organizations make the mistake of thinking the person who came up with the idea automatically owns it. This is not necessarily the right approach for a couple of reasons.

First, it gives ownership to the person who may or may not be good at leading a project forward. Maybe they are more geared to creative work, not managing details or people.

Second, it actually discourages others from sharing potentially good ideas. I mean who wants to volunteer for more work?? As one who has led the creative process in many organizations, I can tell you this is the perfect way to bottleneck your organization and railroad innovation.

In an ideal world, once the idea is accepted, ownership of the great idea belongs to the team—including the leader. It’s up to the entire team to buy in and accept responsibility for bring the idea to fruition.

If you can’t get your team on board, you may need to revisit phase 2. IF the idea is on track and moves you toward your purpose, it’s up to the leader of the team (not just the creative) to encourage ownership. This one action will discourage strife and build unity around the idea. During the ownership phase, you may need to dissect the idea and break it into manageable parts. This allows quicker ownership and implementation, which is the next phase: 4. take action.

4. the ACTION phase. At this point, you (or your team) know why you are moving forward, now you need to know what to do. This is the time when there will be probably be meetings with team members or contractors. A project scope will be created. Goals are set. Tasks assigned. In other words, the fun part!

In many ways this really is the FUN part…as the idea, the dream begins to take shape before your very eyes.

You see people shine in their gifts and together you create something from nothing. Even solopreneurs experience this! Maybe your idea is a new product, service, partnership, or launch. Once you identify the action steps needed, it gets really exciting. This is the thrill athletes must feel during the race. Until they hit the wall of phase 5, that is persevering, or the hustle phase.

5. the HUSTLE phase. As you near your goals and deadlines, you will at some point wonder if you will ever make this thing happen! Like the runner at the 15-mile marker, you’re weary. Your team is grouchy. You’re so close you can taste it, and yet the finish feels so far away.

Beta testing begins. Problems arise. This is when you have to just put your head down and keep running! You will most likely experience a spiritual revival during this phase as you realize it will only be God if you actually pull this off. And then you do. You realize, you’re there. The idea has been made reality. And the peasants rejoiced. You have reached phase 6 a joyful celebration.

6. the HAPPY phase. Do not skip this phase! Whether you are on your own or leading a team. This is one of the sweetest parts of the idea phase! Enjoy the pats on the back. Sip champagne. Take the team out for dinner. Throw a launch party.

And of course, give God the glory. He got you here, from start to finish. You are now better positioned to serve, to reach, and to make a difference. That’s what this is all about, right? None of this is for ego, or accomplishment. It’s for others. Remember this as you celebrate, and be thankful that God is working in and through you to help a hurting world. You’ve grown a great idea that will move you forward and help others in the process. Now, that’s worth celebrating!

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