There’s an old tale that goes…
Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.
Inside of organizations, there’s a corollary…
Ideas, ideas every where, Nor any one can think.
Um, ok, I should stick to my day job. But the point is, organizations are drowning in a sea of ideas, yet they never take the time to think about what matters most.
The other day I was at an event run by a non-profit. They have built up a large network of advocates who support the cause. As I am a good friend with the woman who runs this group, I spent a fair amount of time with her that evening. As the hours passed, many people gave her their thoughts on how to run the organization. ”Do more of this…” ”Do less of that…” “Call your group this….” “Engage these organizations…” “Copy what this non-profit is doing…”
The ideas were all over the map.
I could tell that the organization’s leader was a bit frustrated and confused as there were so many suggestions.
She turned to me and asked what I thought she should do.
Of course, like everyone else, I had my opinion.
I told her, “Stop listening to people’s suggestions.” I then joking said, “And you should ignore my suggestion too.” (Someone once said to me, “Isn’t telling people that they should not use best practices a best practice?” Hmmm….)
Within any organization, there is never a shortage of ideas. There is a shortage of good ideas that actually matter and ultimately create real value.
My recommendation to her was:
- Stop listening to suggestions (and don’t solicit them either). Everyone wants to give you their two cents…and that’s all their ideas are worth.
- Get clear on your strategy. There has been too much focus on day-to-day activities that the business model has not been clearly articulated. There has been an over-focus on tactics rather than outcomes.
- Stop copying the best practices of other, similar non-profits; study for-profit organizations. This will provide new insights. And it will have you less reliant on sponsorship/donations and will force you to develop a real value proposition.
- Based on the strategy, identify a series of challenges/opportunities (“How might we…?”). The strategy defines “what” you want to achieve (outcomes) and “why” (purpose). The challenges deconstruct the strategy into questions, that when solved, provide the “how”.
- Ask your network (through email or better yet a private discussion board) for “solutions” to these challenge/opportunities. Encourage collaboration.
- Find people who are passionate about moving these opportunities forward and put them in charge of implementation.
A critical issue with so many organizations (especially smaller businesses and non-profits) is that there are so many opportunities and so little focus. The ideas/needs of the day tend to overshadow the overall strategy.
Get clear on how you make money, how you differentiate yourself, and then define a series of challenges that will help make that strategy a reality. Focusing on what matters most will accelerate your innovation efforts and reduce your investment.
Happy New Year!
Stephen Shapiro is the author of five books including “Best Practices Are Stupid” and “Personality Poker” (both published by Penguin). He is also a popular innovation speaker and business advisor.