Wednesday, May 1, 2013

No Time for Good Ideas

After the meeting I ask my boss, "So, didn't you guys think I had a good idea? No one picked up on it or even commented on it."

Dave replies, "Sure, your idea was good. It's just that being good isn't enough for an idea to merit discussion."

"It's not?"

"Nope. Everyone around here has lots of good ideas, so many in fact that were we to discuss all of them we'd never get through them."

"Uh, huh."

"More importantly, time that we spend on good ideas is time that we don't spend on great ideas."

"OK, I see your point, but..."

"Wait, there's more. Even great ideas don't necessarily merit discussion."

"They don't? But what if they're really great?"

"It wouldn't necessarily matter."

"What would matter?"

"That the idea was important."

"Well, who gets to decide if an idea is important or not?"

"The project."

"The project?"

"Yeah, the project. An idea's importance is determined by its degree of relevance to the project. If an idea helps us achieve what we want faster, better or cheaper, then it's relevant. The more it does that, the more important the idea is. The more important the idea is, the more discussion it merits."

My musician-cum-computer-scientist brain is still in transition. Despite its apparent aptitude for software and computer science, it strongly favors ontological flow over epistemological structure. No matter how often I pick up the pencil with my right hand, it seems to always magically end up in my left. Everything Dave says makes sense, yet something inside me resists it.

I'm used to discussions that run through the evening into morning touching on anything and everything. The thought that a good or great idea might not merit even a word of discussion is simultaneously disconcerting and appealing.

I say to Dave, "So, what really matters is how much an idea helps us to get stuff done."

"Yup. Being great won't even get an idea onto the discussion list."

That discussion occurred back in 1983. It's one that I am frequently reminded of as I participate in meetings or listen to folks who've determined they want to finally get down to doing something.

Over the past thirty years, I've come to realize that adherence to Dave's approach might be one of the most significant differences between people who fulfill their intentions and those who don't.

Even great ideas may not merit a word of discussion.

Happy Wednesday,

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