There are a couple of key phrases that I’ve learned to recognise when I’m proposing that a group of stakeholders look at a new idea or approach :
- We’ve already tried that
- We’ve already thought of that
There is a third – “We were going to do it, but the business case didn’t stack up” – which I’ll deal with in a separate post.
These phrases, or variants on them, are often coded avoidance and could be re-written :
- We’ve already tried that, it was a long time ago, didn’t work out how we expected (though we can’t remember why) and now it’s part of our history that we’d rather forget.
- We have something a bit like that somewhere on our plan – to be delivered in 3/5/10 years time. It’s a bit scary so we’ll continually de-prioritise it and subconsciously make sure it never gets done.
It is definitely really important to treat past experiences as real, and to explore how perceived failures can be treated positively – to be learnt from and built upon. It’s also important to resolve or remove these blockages (if that’s what they are) to make sure that the people who made the comment can be brought on board, and not be allowed to undermine a new idea. Try exploring the real underlying issue behind the comment – maybe this can be achieved by very clinically dissecting the past experience and breaking down why it was deemed a failure, then contrasting this with the aims and measures which will be used to assess the success of the new idea. You might also consider giving an old failure a metaphorical wake, or Viking funeral – a heroic sendoff that signals to all involved that the old idea is gone, and now its time to move on to something new.
Likewise, when “we’ve already thought of that” is the cry, the responding question has to be “well why haven’t you done anything about it ?”. Having ideas is easy, while executing the idea can often be really hard. A roadblock can be as simple as an anecdotal misunderstanding that just needs some new eyes and ears to unpick it to remove the roadblock. For example, in one company, a junior Lawyer made a disparaging comment about a concept that came to be eventually be distorted into “Legal won’t allow us to do it”. This put the concept into limbo for years before a new employee challenged the common misconception and brought the concept to life again.
Sometimes an idea just needs to be at the right time. Reasons for not proceeding with an idea can change due to external factors … customer expectations and habits change, laws & regulations change, technology and the competition all change, so why wouldn’t some older ideas be worth revisiting in light of all this ?
Good luck with getting around those roadblocks