Giving Up on a Good Idea

We all think our own ideas are brilliant.  At least initially.  For those willing to test their ideas against some kind of objective standard (in business, this might be a rate of return calculation, or a strategic analysis), you can even gain some assurance that you are on a correct and reasonable track.

But what happens when your objectively tested "good idea" runs headlong into an organizational superior with prejudices against it?  Do you try to use logic and argument to win the debate?  Or do you give up, consigning your idea to an early grave?

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Not surprisingly, the answer depends on a couple of factors fairly easily understood:  (1) how "good" is the idea, and (2) how deeply seated are the boss's preconceived notions.

If the idea is only marginal, it is better to discard it immediately.  If you somehow manage to get around the superior blocking your path, and then something goes wrong with the ensuing project, you'll likely be facing more than an "I told you so" when the damages are tallied.

If the idea is a world changing innovation, however, the situation is quite different.  These kinds of opportunities are rare, and are definitely more worth pushing than something marginal.  It is also helpful to evaluate the likelihood of failure in implementation, as "good" ideas fail during implementation all the time.  I'd advise you to be much more aggressive on a "sure thing" than a "high risk" proposal.

Pre-assessing prejudice is much more difficult.  While it may be difficult to discover anything definitive, you can gather hints through a number of methods -- looking at what has happened in the past, asking other politically savvy players in the organization, or even floating some test balloons with the senior manager in question.  Even with hints, however, it is still quite likely that you will be off a bit when the idea proposal eventually hits the manager's desk.

In general, the stronger the preconceived notion, the greater the likelihood that you should simply give up on your proposal.  Bucking the boss again raises the risk involved in moving the project forward, and remember:  selling (and implementing) new ideas is all about the value of a success versus the risk and consequences of a failure.  This goes for both the organization at large, and you as an individual.

I learned this lesson by metaphorically beating my head against a wall on an acquisition that would have positioned my division to capitalize on a new, growth market.  The deal was complicated, moderately risky, and I already knew it ran counter to my boss's beliefs about the opportunity for profit.

Never being one to shy away from a good fight, however, I mustered all my analysis and logical arguments to try to carry the day.  Had I been carefully weighing the situation, I would have already given up.  But I was sure I was right -- the project would be a huge benefit to the company, and I wanted it to move forward.

So I made the proposal, anyway.  And it went down in flaming defeat.

Next, I gathered what I thought were the analytical weaknesses in the proposal, and I went back to renegotiate the deal.  What I actually should have done at that point was to file the project for good.

After successful renegotiations, I ran the proposal up the flagpole, again.  And again, no one saluted.

It was at that stage that I finally got the message.  Given my stubbornness it was a wonder that I didn't try to make an appointment with the board of directors in an attempt to end run my boss.  Perhaps I'd already learned something about knowing when to stop by then.

By calling an earlier halt to the proposal, I could have saved myself an immense amount of time, and also avoided the damage to my credibility and reputation that came as a result of "not getting the message."

Sometimes it is a better idea to give up a seemingly good idea, than to continue to press it too far.  By continuing, you'll likely either end up with a very high risk project with severe consequences for failing, or damage to your reputation for not having "seen the light" sooner.  14.3

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Mark Carson and Cathy Chin return as Matt and Sandy Lively in this adventure set in the wilds of British Columbia.

Mark Carson and Cathy Chin return as Matt and Sandy Lively in this adventure set in the wilds of British Columbia.

Cover for Pursuing Other Opportunities, my next planned release is to the right. 

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICSNove

ls: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013)-- note, the ebook version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time at Amazon for $2.99.

These novels are all based on extensions of my experiences as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.