Unsolicited ideas are unsolicited
Innovation means doing something different. Different from what was done before. Different from what you were asked for. Different from your job description.
Imagine you are sitting at your desk, feeling comfortable. Somebody walks in and turns the thermostat up a degree. Or down a degree. Different from the current temperature. You are comfortable now, so change is unwelcome. It’s natural to want to say no, leave it alone, especially if you are the boss and accustomed to “setting the thermostat” metaphorically and literally.
When you are making an innovative suggestion to your boss, think through how to get past this natural preference for the status quo.
Reasons your boss may give out loud
“We’ve tried it before”
He* might say it differently. He might couch it in more diplomatic terms. “That’s similar to the Phoenix project we did back in ’04. Had some success, but the higher ups decided to can it because it got too expensive.” Or something. But what he is really saying is, “We tried it before.”
Let’s imagine that the idea you are presenting is precisely the same as what was tried before – a remote likelihood. Probably lots of other things have changed since the last time you tried it. Your boss has a new boss. The competitive climate is different. Technology is different. Your team is different. What went wrong last time can be analyzed and the approach can be adjusted accordingly.
That’s a lot of reasons to think that a fresh look couldn’t hurt. The idea probably isn’t identical to the one that was tried before, anyway.
“It’s not in the budget”
Of course it’s not in the budget – it’s a new idea!
Maybe it should be next year. Best start putting together a rationale now before the next budget gets set.
In the meantime can you propose a small experiment be hidden in the budget that establishes if the idea is worth pursuing on a large scale?
“I can’t spare your time”
If this is the reaction, you need to be honest with yourself. There are two possibilities.
If you have a reputation for avoiding work, the “innovation” you are proposing might be viewed as just another way to do so. Does your manager spend more time prompting you to do your job than your peers? You might want to fix that before you propose new uses for your time.
If that’s not the problem, but you are really overstretched in your current role, then innovations geared toward that particular problem will get a more receptive ear.
Reasons your boss may think to himself
Of course the above may be nothing but excuses. Your boss might actually be thinking the following.
“heads you win, tails I lose”
“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”
John C. Maxwel
I have a great idea, you say. It’s so crazy it just might work, and if it does we will be heroes.
Your boss knows that if he approves the project he’s saying do it under his authority. If it fails, it’s his responsibility. If it succeeds (and he’s any good) he’ll credit you with the success. There is an asymmetry there.
Don’t expect your boss to be a dumping ground for risk. Think through the risks before making a proposal. Ideally, adopt a lean startup approach and propose a lightweight, low cost proof of concept to mitigate the risk of time, effort, funds and reputation you are asking your boss to commit.
“So, more work for me”
I have a great idea, you say. All you need to do is this and that.
That’s not innovation, that’s delegating up and your boss didn’t get to where he is without recognizing that. He’s probably done the same.
Imagine your boss is busy – some really are. Make your proposals demonstrate that you are willing to do most of the heavy lifting.
If you aren’t careful, your boss might say, “Great idea, run with it,” and you will wind up with the extra work, anyway.
“What about my needs?”
If your division’s goal is to produce a million widgets by October and your proposal has nothing to do with that, it’s a tough sell. Try to make your proposal congruent with the goals of the organization, and the metrics by which your team gets assessed.
*Is every boss a man?
No, I just don’t want my current boss to think I’m talking about her!