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In Praise Of The “Great Idea” Cooling Off Period

Basking in the glow of a great, new idea is all well and good, but judging your idea’s value when it’s still fresh can lead you astray.

In Praise Of The “Great Idea” Cooling Off Period
[Photo: Antoine Taveneaux via Wikimedia Commons]

Sure, some couples in long-term relationships choose Las Vegas for a destination wedding, but the proliferation of 24-hour wedding chapels got their start from people meeting in the thrum of the casino. Sparks fly, adrenaline sours, drinks flow, and the next thing you know, you’re married.

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Probably not the best basis for a long-term relationship. After all, those sparks are partly a result of what psychologists call misattribution. The excitement of Vegas causes a lot of arousal. The lights, sounds, attractive people, and gambling winnings create a lot of motivational energy. The joy of winning and the positive attention from a new romantic flame create positive feeling.

The energy in the motivational system causes strong feelings. What most people don’t realize, though, is that feelings have to be interpreted. We are always looking around the world to figure out why we feel as we do. The interpretation (or attribution) of our feelings leads to the emotions we experience.

In Vegas, all that high-arousal positive feeling can get concentrated on that special someone you just met. And the next thing you know, you’re in LOVE! But, the next morning (or perhaps a couple of days later), you may begin to reevaluate the life decisions you have made.

It turns out that the same thing holds true for group idea generation. You and your colleagues get together to work on a difficult problem for the company. You follow all the rules of good idea generation (and don’t just brainstorm). As you discuss the ideas that have been created, there is excitement in the room. People are building on the idea, and there is a real consensus building.

Suddenly, it feels like you have really nailed the solution to the problem. It is time to celebrate.

Unfortunately, some amount of the strong positive feeling you are having in that moment is a result of the idea generation process itself. Completing a goal makes you feel good, and coming up with a potential solution to a hard problem makes you feel good. In addition, positive social interactions make you feel good, and group idea generation fits that bill. Finally, research demonstrates that fast thinking makes you feel good. When the ideas are flying around the room, there is a lot of fast thinking going on.

So, the entire setting of idea generation creates lots of positive feeling. Then, everyone looks around the room for the source of that feeling. And they settle on the idea you just created as a team. In that moment, that idea is not just good, it is the best idea ever. And you are ready to rush off to the wedding chapel with your great new idea.

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Because you are going to have to live with the results of your idea generation process for a long time after you are done, it is important to let some of that energy and positive feeling calm down before moving forward.

Take a break. Go out for a walk. Splash some cold water on your face. Check your email. Close your eyes and engage in some mindfulness exercises. Breathe deep.

After some time away from the situation, if you are still excited about the idea, then it is time to start planning.

Whenever a group gets together to generate ideas, the last step has to be a detailed plan for how to move forward. Someone needs to take responsibility to ensure that resources are in place to begin to implement the idea. The group needs to set a specific timetable with benchmarks that will ensure that the idea starts to become a reality.

All of this planning is significantly less enjoyable than the idea generation process itself. That’s good. If you still love your new idea by the time you have generated a specific plan to move it forward, then there is a good chance that idea is one worth sticking with.

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