Maybe you found yourself in a brainstorming session sitting next to someone who just kept throwing out so many crazy thoughts that you want to suspend the “no idea is a bad idea” rule, or maybe you were in a leadership role and an employee’s best efforts to come to you with “solutions instead of problems” just kept coming up short. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve had to reject bad ideas.
Yes, we want to believe that no idea is a bad idea. But some ideas truly are terrible.
Rejecting ideas, especially rejecting ideas in a leadership role, is difficult.
How you respond to new ideas when they’re first presented dramatically effects the culture of your team. People will be watching your reaction (or hearing about it later) and using it to judge whether new ideas are welcome and whether the social environment of your team supports the creativity they already have. Reject too many ideas, or reject a promising idea too quickly, and people will stop sharing their brilliance with you.
Complicating that, is the natural bias we all have against creative ideas just for their newness. Research reveals that, while we might say we want creative ideas, when new ideas are presented to us, our most common reaction is to judge them negatively simply because they are new. You might unknowingly be rejecting a great idea and joining the ranks of the Xerox executives who rejected the personal computer or the Kodak executives who rejected the digital camera.
That’s why the best way to reject ideas isn’t to reject them. Instead, question the assumptions behind the idea.
Don’t say “No, that won’t work because…” Instead, ask “What would have to be true for that to work?” and allow the other person to investigate those assumed truths.
Don’t say “I don’t agree with that.” Instead, say “It sounds like your idea is the result of this assumption or perspective, and I’m not sure we know if that assumption is true.”
When you question assumptions, you don’t send the message that ideas aren’t welcome nor do you succumb to our bias against new ideas. Instead, you invite the other person (or persons) into the process of testing the idea with you. If you’re right, and their idea is a bad idea, they’ll come to realize it as they investigate further. And you’re wrong, and their idea is smarter than you thought, you won’t be seen as having squashed their brilliance.
In either case, you’ve sent a message to others that new ideas are indeed welcome, but that all ideas are worth testing.