The way we present ideas at work sucks

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Image for post

Consider this, from the guys who brought you Basecamp:

At most companies, people put together a deck, reserve a conference room and call a meeting to pitch a new idea. If they’re lucky, no one interrupts them while they’re presenting. (But usually someone jumps in and derails the presentation after two minutes.) When it’s over, people react. This is precisely the problem.

The person making the pitch has presumably put a lot of time, thought and energy into gathering their thoughts and presenting them. But the rest of the people in the room are asked to react. Not absorb, not think it over, not consider — just react. Knee-jerk it. That’s no way to treat fragile new ideas.

I’ve heard that Amazon and other places identified this problem a while back and make new business ideas being presented into a more nuanced process. But this quote above kind of nails the whole issue: someone spends hours working on a new concept, and within three minutes, some bell-ringing mouth breather in the room has totally derailed the presentation because he’s reacting instead of responding.

It’s a flawed approach, and usually what it leads to is frustration, good ideas getting knocked down for dumb reasons, and bad ideas — the ones that check the most pre-understood boxes — getting through. A true shame.

How can we do better?

  • New idea presented in a PDF/Google Doc with illustrations
  • Everyone has 72 hours to read it once or multiple times
  • Everyone has an additional 72 hours to craft comments
  • The first meeting will be six-seven work days after the idea is presented in this format
  • The meeting can lead with comments because everyone has read and thought about the presentation

The №1 criticism of this approach would probably be “No, that’s too slow and business needs to move faster. Move fast and break things!”

There’s validity to that, but when business moves too fast, you get a lot of half-cooked, half-cocked, half-moronic ideas getting through the cracks just because they represent things that are already comfortable to the people in the deciding room. That’s hardly a recipe for “disruption” or “achieving market share.” It’s largely a recipe for bullshit, actually.

Think on it this way: if you could create 100 so-so ideas in your current harried, knee-jerk approach to idea vetting, or create 20 company-shifting, revenue-from-the-Gods ideas with a more responsive, nuanced approach, what would you want?

You should want the 20. Most leaders probably would because it means fatter bonuses and more perks. But a lot of people might secretly want the 100, and that’s because the 100 will keep you busy. Being busy is more important than being strategic at many jobs. While that’s unfortunate, you absolutely cannot avoid it as reality in lots of places.

My broader point here is that work can be a frustrating, lonely place a lot of the time — and working hard on an idea only to have it drown in a sea of knee-jerk reactions definitely contributes to that sad, lonely feeling. So why not fix the process to make it more contextual, discussion-driven, and even strategic? Don’t we owe that to the idea, if not the person?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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