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How Do I Actually Execute On My Ideas?

You have a million great ideas but no follow through. Psychologist Art Markman shares how to finally take action in response to this week's reader question.

[Image: Flickr user Graham and Sheila]

The good news is that coming up with a truly great idea is half the battle. The bad news is that the other half of the battle can be a lot of work and isn't always a clear path.

This week's question comes from Brittany and is answered by Psychologist Art Markman.

How would you recommend taking an idea to something more tangible? I am best at conceptualizing ideas. How do I execute on my ideas or find people who are executors?

Thanks,
Brittany


Brittany,

From your question, it sounds like you (and the groups you work with) are good at finding viable ideas, but those ideas often die on the vine.

When I work with groups who are trying to generate ideas to solve big problems, I recommend that they spend two days off site. Much of the first day is spent just figuring out what problem needs to be solved. This step is important, because many groups have consensus at an abstract level about the problem they want to solve, but that agreement masks confusion at a more specific level about the problem the organization actually wants to solve.

One reason why it is crucial to work to get agreement on the problem to be solved is that if there is subtle disagreement in the group, that undermines the process of implementing the ideas later. As an old mentor of mine used to say, "Ideas are cheap." It is only after substantial investment of time, energy, and resources, that those ideas create change.

After a group figures out the problem it wants to solve, then it can move on to the phase of generating ideas. I’m not going to say much about that, because a lot has been written about ways of developing novel solutions to problems.

The one step that is often missing in sessions to generate ideas, though, is the creation of a plan to implement that idea. Often, groups clap themselves on the back for being so creative and then move on. Months later, everyone is surprised that there was no progress on the great ideas that emerged.

There are a few things you can do to ensure that ideas do not stagnate.

Assign a leader.

Every idea needs to have one person who is responsible for making sure that idea moves forward. That person needs to be selected right away and has to be given authority to nag people to perform tasks that will move an idea forward. The person who leads this effort should be reasonably high in the personality dimension of conscientiousness to make sure that they are the kind of person who will want to move the process forward.

Get resources.

The people who have control over money, space, and personnel should (ideally) be involved in the idea generation process from the start. If not, someone needs to approach the individuals who have the resources and get a firm commitment right away.

Identify obstacles.

When people finish a session of generating ideas, they often have a lot of enthusiasm. But then, the obstacles arise, and people’s energy flags. Focus on the obstacles that arise when planning in order to be prepared for as many of them as possible. That will ensure the idea gets pushed forward in the face of resistance.

Set specific dates.

The problem with many new ventures is that they have to be fit in among people’s existing job responsibilities. As a result, it is easy to push them to the side in favor of more pressing issues. To help make the new venture equally pressing, set up specific deadlines by which things have to be done and hold people to those dates.

Good luck!


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