How Leaders Can Avoid Getting Caught Up with the Wrong “Good Ideas”

Today, business leaders face more than the typical challenge of identifying and making necessary strategic improvements in their organization’s performance. Everyone has been impacted by the changes to the business world as we once knew it – from supply chain and staffing issues to consumer uncertainties and economic inflation. As a result, it’s easy to feel metaphorically perched on the edge of our seat – looking out for the next crisis, hoping to have solution(s) on standby, knowing billions of dollars or thousands of livelihoods could be at risk.

Regardless of IQ or academic credentials, good organizational leaders are innately analytical and anticipate the unexpected. Effective leaders connect the dots, creating strategies to approach and manage even unexpected problems. However, when the pace of business challenges increases and problems mount, it’s easy to scramble for quick fixes looking to alleviate tension points. We hope any idea might be the right idea.

The Good Idea Fairy

In the military, we called random ideas that suddenly popped into a leader’s mind the “good idea fairy.”  Candidly, we know not every inkling that comes along warrants action or even further exploration. You may have experienced working with a well-intended leader who constantly asks questions, hijacking corporate resources and causing wild goose chases.  Leadership does not guarantee good ideas.  

As a leader, your ideas may be great – or not. Each business problem brings its own nuances, occasionally requiring a distinct strategy to achieve a viable solution.  In the bestselling book Think Again, Wharton professor Adam Grant challenges readers to question their opinions and listen to ideas that require hard thinking. Grant even quotes Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman’s statement, “My attachment to my own ideas is provisional. There is no unconditional love for them.”

Use It or Lose It

Unsure whether you have a truly good idea or just a visit from the good idea fairy?  Below is a list of questions to help determine what to use and what to lose:

  • Strategic alignment. Does your idea align to your business and help deliver the strategy – or is it a temporary band aid that ignores your organization’s long-term goals and objectives? It’s vital to protect strategic work from becoming sidelined by a new, transactional initiative (a.k.a. a “good idea”).
  • The root cause. Is your idea to solve the current problem an opportunity for continuous improvement? It’s important to identify the root cause of the challenge, rather than simply treat a symptom. If you don’t get to its root, the problem may recur – with different symptoms. 
  • Operationalize: Are you thinking like a scientist – treating each new idea as a hypothesis, and assessing it with data? Challenge your idea from all angles, and consider other possible solutions. The quality of your “good idea” may be in direct proportion to the quantity of the other considered problem-solving solutions.
  • Set clear priorities. Have you prioritized your “good idea” and other potential solutions? A mediocre solution you can execute now may be better than an excellent solution that’s more complex, takes longer, or costs more. Remember the rule: “Every large problem was once a small problem that could have been easily solved at that time.”
  • Governance. Does your organization have the governance and structure to ensure strategic assignments? What resources can and will you commit to the new initiative? Determine who will implement the solution and what measurements will be used to evaluate the problem resolution.
  • Unintentional consequences. Does your good idea have unintentional side effects? Most organizations are complex, with potential for the solution to be worse than the original problem.

Communication is Key

Lastly, if you are fortunate enough to come up with great ideas for your organization, those ideas are more likely to succeed with transparent and effective team communication.  Additionally, as you collaborate to map out a path toward viable and sustainable solutions, it’s important to ensure other voices are heard. Good communication creates a seamless problem-solving process rather than chaos, enabling people and the organization to grow and improve.

Problem solving enables growth and opportunity – but only if your organization commits to the right strategy. And committing to strategy requires courage, accountability, and effective leadership.