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Beware a brainfart

05/04/2013

I didn’t make this term up, honest.  It was shared with me by my cousin as he was describing what it felt like when senior managers just spew forth ideas that those a bit closer to the coal face suspect haven’t really been thought through… Here’s the Wikipedia definition.

Brainfart cartoonOnce I’d stopped laughing, I did think that I must have done this myself to teams I’ve led over the years, even unintentionally.  What seems like a great idea to me might have already been tried and failed in the recent past.  Or it may simply be impractical to deliver and I don’t know that because I’m not close enough to the roles that would be responsible for delivering it.

Either way, I think we’ve all been guilty of the odd brainfart in our time.  And I do mean all of us.  Not thinking about an idea from the perspective of others is not just the preserve of senior managers.  For example, I take part in lots of creative sessions discussing marketing messages, branding and campaigns when relatively inexperienced team members contribute ideas that those of us with a few grey hairs know simply won’t work.

For example, spending all of a charity’s marketing budget on directories like Yell as this channel had the highest ROI… thing is once you’re in the directory a few legitimate times, there isn’t much more you can spend.

However, I’m sure my nan used to tell me that “you can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg or two” and I think this adage applies to ideas.  If we dismiss every idea that isn’t 100% perfect and ready to roll, we risk missing out on the opportunity that underpins it.

So here’s a few things to keep in mind when we’re deciding what to think about an idea (and often who raised it):

Successful innovation starts with an idea… it’s how we work it through from the point of that idea to practicable activity that makes it valuable to our organisations.

Not everyone can know everything about everyone else’s job.  Your CEO generally knows more about Board stuff than day to day fundraising activity, so their fundraising ideas might appear half-baked to those closer to the action.

Similarly, interns probably know less about strategy than the CEO but that doesn’t mean they won’t have a great idea that has strategic benefit.

People are often just trying to help even if you know they don’t know as much about the topic being considered as you do.  Try and give people the benefit of the doubt and help them to develop their idea into something more powerful and useful.

And here’s some more thoughts on how we can make sure our ideas aren’t perceived as half-baked (I’d love to know what you’d add to these):

Engage the brain-to-mouth filter before we spout forth.  This is the part of our mind that thinks about the consequences of what we’re about to say and weighs up the pros and cons of delivering a message before we speak.

Think about the audience and whether it’s appropriate to share your thought in that company.  Is it sensitive?  Will they understand?  Are they in the slightest bit interested?  See point about brain-to-mouth filter.

Don’t believe that everything you read in a text book is applicable in real life.  Pretty simple but how many of us are on the receiving end of people coming back from courses with ALL the answers?!?  The truth is that they do have something to add so it’s more productive if we can help to tease out the valuable bits.

Let’s use questions to sound out the level of knowledge in a group or perceptions of a topic before we raise our idea.  This can help us to frame what we say in the way most likely to be perceived positively.

Accept that a big job title does not mean we’re right.  It means that we have lots of experience to back up our idea but we do need to understand that other people have relevant experience too, even if it’s less than us.

Perhaps we can all start by just accepting that not every idea will amount to successful activity but by the same token, not every imperfect idea is a brainfart either!

Hat tip to @joepitt05 for piquing my interest and making me laugh in equal measure!

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