Three ways to avoid being the “Good Idea Fairy”

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BLUF – While ideas remain powerful tools for successful teams, be cautious to not turn into the Good Idea Fairy and ruin any positive momentum before you start.

The “Good Idea Fairy”. You know what I’m talking about. The Fairy visits every organization at some point in time, bringing with them pixie dust of a new and improved idea to apply a solution to a problem that may or may not exist. No one exactly knows why they continue to visit us, but when they arrive you have several options on how to handle the situation. I’ll say up front their visits aren’t the worst thing to happen to an organization…if they are willing to listen first then act second. That is difficult in an environment where the I-word is also running rampant, because the tendency for people to immediately (not the I-word, BTW) on a potential flittering of an idea can cause the Good Idea Fairy to fly in overdrive. I’m all for a good ideas (probably the OG I-word, and a better one that), but I’ve noticed some negative vibes recently and wanted to share my thoughts on how to handle their visits. More importantly, this might be the case of “you can’t recognize the Good Idea Fairy in the room…you might be him/her.” Here are three ways to make sure you don’t sprout wings and become a nuisance to your team:

1. Spoiler – Your idea probably isn’t original. In the military, our jobs are very transient and we move around a lot. This bakes in opportunities for fresh ideas to come around every PCS cycle, which isn’t really a bad thing. However, more than likely your idea (or some version of your idea) have passed through the hallowed halls of your organization once before. So the next step is really important if you are in a leadership position: instead of introducing an idea as a solution, you should ask if the portions of your idea have been applied before. Just the simple asking could turn into a tasking without you knowing it, so be aware of how you deliver your message. If done correctly, you will start a conversation within your team of previous attempts to solve a problem and understand more about how who potentially is responsible for solving the problem, the underlying dynamics of your teammates, and where to continue the conversation. By taking the role of listener first, you can gain insight as to whether or your not idea is truly original and could be a legitimate new solution, or if the ground has been tread before you’re just another guy/gal trying to re-invent the wheel. This is a good segue to my next point…

2. If you are new to the team, make sure you have the street cred to back up your idea. The key term here is street cred, which I equate to being a “peer-recognized, knowledge matter source.” The peer-recognized portion of that definition is important because having others value your inputs is important for any idea to move forward. Just because you carry a certain duty title doesn’t inherently mean you have the only authoritative opinion on a problem. You might have the responsibility to make the decision (which usually resides with anyone with Commander in their duty title), but that doesn’t mean your idea is any better than someone else’s. Check for someone else’s duty title as well, because someone might already be assigned the job that your good idea is targeting. If that’s the case, you are literally getting into someone else’s lane and burning a potential bridge you should have crossed first. I also don’t imply that you should list out what your past accomplishments are. In my opinion…no one cares. I’m harsh and honest about that last statement because accomplishments are based on the set of circumstances unique to that situation, and more than likely the same parameters will not exist within your current situation. If you want your idea to truly gain traction, a spoonful of humility goes a long way. If you claim you have the unique answer to a solution that has probably been around for a while, you are in danger of alienating yourself from the teammates you are trying to bond with. If you are new to a team, work on building your street cred so the introduction of your ideas are welcomed with open arms instead of being stiff-armed at the start.

3. Build a team of the willing first before going public. Closely related to street cred is to build a team of similar-minded teammates to shoulder some of the momentum and workload. By doing work in the background before going public, you minimize the chances of being a Leeroy Jenkins (see video below if you don’t know your meme) and ruining everyone’s chances of success because you were too insistent in skipping the planning stage before execution. Be cautious to not get into “paralysis by analysis” and get stuck just admiring the problem. Find the right timing and tempo to introduce your idea as a group and be prepared to execute immediately after. If you’re going to bring up an idea, be ready to see the idea through. This is much easier when you already have people on your side to work with, as opposed to jumping out solo and asking people to catch up to you. Possibly the worst version of the Good Idea Fairy is someone who wants to bring something but isn’t willing to work on the solution. Even if you are in a leadership position and don’t necessarily get into the “sausage making” of guidance you have set forth, make sure you have a few follow-on sessions to provide your vector and expectations of what you are looking for. These conversations are crucial to building buy-in and potentially avoiding unsuccessful paths that have been tread before. If you leave your guidance as “We did this thing at Base X, call them and replicate it”, you are in danger of killing the morale of your teammates because you basically telling them they aren’t as good as your last base without listening to any context of the current situation. The term “servant leadership” applies here and is good advice to calm down any Good Idea Fairies from taking flight too fast.

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