Why Aren’t There New Ideas?

I frequently hear managers tell me that new ideas are simply not bubbling up in their groups.  My experience has shown that there are usually a couple of culprits.  One, when people are simply too overwhelmed with work and change, the surfacing of new ideas can easily be turned off.  Survival becomes the name of the game and people simply cannot handle more work.  They often continue to come up with ideas, mainly focused on how to get the work done, but they don’t make a big production out of them.

This is not the main reason for a lack of new ideas.  The main culprit is usually the manager.  In a recent case, I asked people to verify the boss’ observation about very few new ideas.  They agreed, and went on to say, “what’s the point, he just finds a way to shoot them down. The only thing that ever gets implemented around here are his ideas.”

This does happen, and sadly a number of managers are oblivious to their actions. Although not scientifically validated, I find this behavior is directly related to inattentiveness on the part of the manager.  Call it poor listening or overabundant ego, the boss is simply checked out from the idea discussion. And if questioned by the manager, few associates ever provide this kind of candid feedback, because they boss will either deny it, or find the one small example where she or he has promoted an idea. Either can come back to haunt the associate.

Managers may also inadvertently punish the idea provider, but building the idea up even bigger, and then assigning it back to the poor, already overworked soul who mentioned it. That is another reason ideas are kept hidden, especially when people are swamped.

If you happen to be a manager asking why no ideas are coming forth in your group, your first step might be a glance in the mirror. It is up to you  to create the environment for new ideas to flourish. And if you want to improve idea generation, you will have to come clean with your group and listen with an open mind to their comments.  You cannot imagine what you might be missing.

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