By: Lt Col Gabriel "gaberock" Avilla
If at first the idea is not absurd,
then there is no hope for it.
The "Good Idea Fairy." You know what I'm talking about. The fairy visits every organization at some point in time. They bring with them pixie dust of a new and improved idea to apply a solution to a problem that may or may not exist. No one exactly knows why they continue to visit us. Still, when they arrive, you have several options on how to handle the situation. I'll say upfront, their visits aren't the worst thing to happen to an organization...if they are willing to listen first, then act second. This is difficult in an environment where buzzwords like innovation is like rampant growth. Because the tendency for people to immediately act on a potential fluttering of an idea can because the "Good Idea Fairy" to fly in overdrive. I'm all for good ideas. I've noticed some negative vibes recently and wanted to share my thoughts on how to handle their visits. More importantly, this might be the case of "you can't recognize the Good Idea Fairy in the room...you might be him/her." Below are three ways to make sure you don't sprout wings and become a nuisance to your team.
Spoiler: your idea probably isn't original. In the military, our jobs are very transient, and we move around frequently. This bakes in opportunities for fresh ideas to come around every PCS cycle, which isn't a bad thing. More than likely, your plan (or some version of your concept) has passed through the hallowed halls of your organization once before. The next step is essential if you are in a leadership position. Instead of introducing the idea as a solution, ask if portions of your idea have been applicable or applied before. Just the simple asking could turn into a tasking without you knowing it, so be aware of how you deliver your message. Done correctly, you will start a conversation within your team. This helps previous attempts to solve a problem and understand more about who is potentially responsible for solving the problem and the underlying dynamics of your teammates and where to continue the conversation. By taking the role of listener first, you can gain insight into whether or not the idea is genuinely original. It could be a legitimate new solution, or if the ground has been tread before you're just another guy/gal trying to reinvent the wheel. This is an excellent segue to my next point…
If you are a new member of the team, make sure you have the street cred to back up your idea. The key term here is street cred, which I equate to as a "peer-recognized, knowledge matter source." The peer-recognized portion of that definition is significant because having others value your inputs is vital for any idea to move forward. Just because you carry a particular duty title doesn't inherently mean you have the only authoritative opinion on a problem. You might have the responsibility to make the decision (which usually resides with anyone with Commander in their duty title). However, this doesn't mean your idea is any better than someone else's. Check for someone else's duty title because someone might already be assigned the job that your good idea is targeting. If that's the case, you are literally getting into someone else's lane and burning a potential bridge you shouldn't have crossed in the first place. Additionally, I don't imply that you should list out what are your past accomplishments. In my opinion...no, one cares. I'm harsh and honest about that last statement because achievements are based on circumstances unique to that situation. More than likely, the same parameters will not exist within your current situation. If you want your idea to truly gain traction, a spoonful of humility goes a long way. If you claim you have the unique answer to a solution that has probably been around for a while, you are in danger of alienating yourself from the teammates you are trying to bond with. If you are new to a team, work on building your street cred first through excellent job performance. This will help the introduction of your ideas so that they are welcomed with open arms instead of being stiff-armed at the start.
Build a team of the willing first before going public. Closely related to street cred is building a team of similar-minded teammates to shoulder some of the momentum and workload. By working in the background before going public, you minimize the chances of being a Leeroy Jenkins. Leroy ruined everyone's chances of success because he insisted on skipping the planning stage before execution. Be cautious to not get into "paralysis by analysis" and get stuck just admiring the problem. Find the right timing and tempo to introduce your idea as a group and execute immediately afterward. If you're going to bring up an idea, be ready to see the concept through. This is much easier when you already have people on your side to work with, as opposed to jumping out solo and asking people to catch up to you. Possibly the worst version of the Good Idea Fairy is someone who wants to bring something but isn't willing to work on the solution. Even if you are in a leadership position and don't necessarily get into the "sausage-making" of guidance, make sure you have follow-on sessions to provide your expectations. These conversations are crucial to building buy-in and potentially avoiding unsuccessful paths that have been tread before. If you leave your guidance as "...we did this thing at base X, call them and replicate it," you are in danger of killing the morale of your teammates. This is because you are essentially telling them they aren't as good as your last base without listening to any context of the current situation. The term "servant leadership" applies here and is good advice to calm down any Good Idea Fairies from taking flight prematurely.
You can find more from Lt Col Avilla at constantelevation.co and his podcast Constant Elevation
Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel "gaberock" Avilla currently serves as Division Chief, Fusion Operations, Joint Forces Headquarters DoD Information Network, Ft Meade, Maryland. He is a career Cyberspace Operations Officer and a twice graduated squadron commander. He is a graduate of USMC Command and Staff College. He was commissioned from ROTC in 2001 with Bachelors's in Computer Information Systems and holds two master's degrees in Business Administration and Military Strategic Studies.