How to Win Over The Idea Killers

Q: How can I get other people to implement my ideas? —Anonymous

Good ideas aren’t a rare commodity. They come up all the time, often in response to a problem, challenge or opportunity. If implementing your idea falls entirely within your realm of authority, then it may require some sweat equity and other resources, but otherwise execution shouldn’t be too difficult. If you come up with a new way to manage the processing of forms, for example, and you are the only one involved in that task, then implementing your idea should present few barriers.

But for most ideas, implementation requires other people. Superordinates, subordinates, customers and complementors all may be needed. Some, if not many, of these individuals may resist execution for a variety of reasons. It may not be in their best interest, or they think they have better ideas, or they don’t want to put in the extra effort. Resistance to change is particularly vexing when you don’t have authority over these resistors. So, how can you get other people to implement your ideas?

Here are four approaches:

Convincing

Perhaps the most common approach, convincing draws on psychological techniques like listing more ideas than necessary and conceding on the ones that don’t matter, using “we” and avoiding “I” in your proposals, providing an explanation with research and statistics to support your ideas, and pointing out the need for change from various perspectives. These techniques attempt to convince people while trying to avoid raising their ire.

Even if you are viewed as trustworthy, trying to convince those who believe your idea is not in their best interest or who don’t want to take on more work can meet resistance.

Socializing

Instead of just convincing others, you can socialize the idea as a means to get them to contribute their own thoughts on how to advance and improve it. The hope is that the opportunity to contribute will lead to acceptance.

But socializing can take a long time, during which resistors can enact their own strategies to delay or prevent implementation. Often, decisions don’t get made because each modification to the proposal leads to round after round of conferring.

Critical thinking

The phrase “critical thinking” has many definitions. At Brookings Executive Education, we focus our critical thinking curriculum on developing processes to formulate challenges. While proposing solutions and trying to convince people can lead to political reactions and resistance, sharing a comprehensively formulated problem creates a different pathway. Assessing value and for whom becomes easier and more transparent. Any idea, not just yours, can be evaluated against the formulation and potential value. It allows others to assess whether an idea fully tackles the challenge and generates enough return on investment.

Using critical thinking skills can help you solve the right problem the first time, but it has some challenges. You still may need to convince and socialize; although if done well, these steps might be much easier than otherwise. Perhaps more challenging is investing in critical thinking processes in the first place, which require training and practice.

Team Formulating

Instead of tackling the problem by yourself, a more productive way may be to engage a team. By involving those likely to be affected by a future solution and asking them to help formulate the challenge, the team will jointly own the problem. Team members also can co-create the solution, which reinforces their ownership. Such ownership typically leads to rapid implementation as long as you help move barriers out of the way.

Formulating with a team takes both time and technique. The time investment upfront to co-create the formulation will seem unusual to most people used to leaping to a solution and, as a consequence, suffering the challenges of implementation. But that investment can pay dividends by dramatically reducing the time needed for implementation. The technique aspect refers to the processes and facilitation needed to guide the team. Few people are trained in such techniques, so adopting this paradigm may not be easy.

With these approaches in mind, you might be starting off with the wrong question. Instead of trying to convince and socialize to get your ideas implemented, work with others to think critically and formulate the challenge in a comprehensive way. Such an approach may require some training, but people are more willing to implement ideas when they co-create and own them than when the ideas are seen as belonging to you.

Duce a mente 

(May you lead by thinking)

Jackson Nickerson, a professor at Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis, is a senior scholar in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and director of Brookings Executive Education.  

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