I am always amazed by leaders of businesses that operate as if their companies are only powered by money; all-hands meetings that only contain financial updates, CEOs whose only KPI is share price or enterprise value – who know their quarterly revenue targets and projections like it was the batting average of their favourite player but don’t know the name of the janitor. Like all living things, businesses run on more than just revenue. As Simon Sinek says, “Money is the gas in the tank.” But without a destination, without other people in the vehicle, and without a great playlist the adventure stalls out pretty quick. Have you ever gotten behind the wheel of your car without having a destination? It might sound great. It might sound like freedom. “Oh, to have an entire day to yourself, a full tank of gas, and no agenda!” You say to yourself. But more likely than not you’ll find your perfect day was spent in the driveway watching the mail carrier do their deliveries, wondering about what it would be like to be a mail carrier.

We talked last time about the need to have systems in place to get the absolute most out of our people, and how most companies lack the proper systems to do so. Today, I want to talk about ideas. Ideas are like air. They are ethereal and ubiquitous. They seem to come from nowhere. I have ideas at a near-constant repetition. Others have ideas on a larger more profound scale. Ideas are like oxygen to a business. You breathe in and out most of the time without thinking about it. But find yourself without air and it’s the only thing you can think about. You can go from laissez-faire to fighting for your life with an accidental trip into the swimming pool.

While people and revenue might be food. Ideas are the breath – the constant motion, the reliable rhythm of inhalation. Literally the breath of fresh air to your organization. And again, the degree to which leaders close the door to new ideas is astounding. Like the management consulting firm who was in the middle of an 18-month digital transformation, and until the transformation was over, was closed to discussion on anything remotely related.

Why?

Because ideas are disruptive. Ideas in and of themselves are open plot loops that require closure. Every time you have an idea you have three options. You can ignore it until it goes away, you can file it for later, or you can tell someone about it. Sometimes ignoring the idea works, and is a good indication it wasn’t a good idea. Sometimes it comes back stronger than before and is harder to ignore the second time. If you file it for later, sometimes it dies, and sometimes it finds new life by combining with another idea until it’s too big to be filed away. However, if you go with option 3 and give voice to thought there is no accountability, the idea cloned itself in the mind of another and starts to reproduce on its own, and there’s no telling where it goes from there. Or the other person doesn’t think it’s a very good idea and shuts you down. That could happen too. But say the first thing happens – you share an idea and it begins to spread. It spreads uncontrollably. You’re not in control of what your idea does in the mind of someone else. There is a whole new field of thinking in the mind of the other person for the idea to mate with. You could have just created a monster. Or create the next product that will save the company.

Regardless, ideas demand action. Ideas spoken out loud exponentially increase the demand for action. The better the idea, the greater the chance for viral spread. Viral ideas are disruptive. Disruption is not always welcome.

Right now, today, every single employee in your company has an idea that could change your company. That’s a lot of ideas. How on earth do we foster those ideas and capture them before they are lost, or worse, given to your competitor when that employee decides to leave because no one at your company would listen to their idea?

Ideas are like electricity; voltage gets lost from the power plant to your house. The more levels of the hierarchy an idea has to travel from the person who had the idea to the decision-maker, the more ideas are lost along the way. That’s potentially devastating. Consider this, a universal truth about ideas in businesses… ideas get better the closer to the ground floor and the front lines.

What ideas are getting lost in transmission?

– Chad Verity, CEO