How good ideas and bureaucracy can go together
The sun is out in Amsterdam and we’re enjoying every minute of it. Hope you had a great week. Last week I shared my renewed keep-my-mailbox-shut during the day, and I love how small changes like that can contribute to a massive improvement in my focus. I’ll definitely continue that experiment this week. If you tried something that helped you out—let me know, because I know you all like to hear about what works for other folks.
Where good ideas go to die
Perhaps this sounds familiar (bear with me here):
You’ve run into a problem you want to point out—some step that takes a lot of time or where something can easily go wrong. Or maybe you’ve come up with an idea for a concrete improvement. When you mention your idea in a meeting, people chime in: Yes! Good one, that’s something we run into too. Your fix is embraced, it just needs some minor tweaks.
Because it affects others, the board will want to weigh in on it, too. Two weeks later, you get a response: Great suggestion. It’s a good fit for the committee that works on structural solutions to that problem. Maybe you’d like to present your idea to them? Another month goes by and you’re at the committee meeting. There, folks are busy working on fixes that will remedy the problem once and for all. It’s now apparently a problem that requires you to first draw up a comprehensive vision for the future.
Seems this thing’s gotten away from you.
Months down the road, what’s the net result? A memo. A memo that sketches the contours of the problem and lays out a series of possible solutions.
And—you guessed it—those solutions are never implemented.
How your idea can meet a better fate
Getting bogged down in bureaucracy saps energy. Even just writing about that scenario takes it out of me. Reading it is likely no different. You can feel the life force draining away.
Here are a few things that help me deal.
Don’t go it alone. Share your idea
You’ve got ideas and that’s great. With the above scenario in mind, you could think: I’ll just go ahead and work on this thing under the radar, or on my own time. At least then I can get started.
But that’s tricky.
Granted, it may work for a while. In the long run, however, you can’t keep things going without involving the people around you. You need folks on board to make change that lasts. So: find yourself some allies.
It’s not all that different from clever marketing: Find a catchy line that people will remember. One single sentence that covers the problem and your solution, so you can effortlessly tell everyone. (And they can effortlessly pass it on.)
Make time for changes that are instant timesavers
I’m making the case here for a little civil disobedience. But only in highly specific cases: changes that save time.
We all have lots to do. If you manage to save time on a structural basis with only a modest time investment, and if you could see to it that your team or department benefits too? Just do it.
Of course the investment has to be reasonable. If you work for a week on a template you use once every five years, that’s likely overdoing it. But if you can spend an afternoon on something that saves you an hour a week, then you’ll recoup your time in only a month or so.
That seems worth it.
(Also consider how long the formal route would have taken, bearing in mind that there’s no guarantee you’d get results in that case.)
Go for the win-win proposal. What can you start on this week?
Many a good idea has met its demise after being turned down as a band-aid solution. Seems the underlying issue it was supposed to resolve has to do with a stubborn aspect of the organization’s business culture. That’s not something you solve with a simple tool or training session. For instance: you suggest an idea for a smarter way to collaborate, but are told it’s a deep-seated problem in the organization that won’t easily be fixed.
My suggestion? Address both layers of the problem. Scope out the limitations of the business culture, then use that insight to start a short and sweet experiment. Make your proposal as small and as visible as possible: “In addition to the ongoing discussions about making our school more inclusive, I’d like to take an hour next Friday afternoon so the teachers can meet and share ideas about how we can deal with bullying.”
This kind of approach builds energy and helps out coworkers now in very tangible ways. Plus: Taking a small but concrete step will bring the team some practical insight that it can then use to tackle the larger problem.
Any manager worth their salt loves to see people take the initiative to save time in some structural way. And if those people also respect the regular way of doing things and look for a way to combine the best of both worlds? All the better.
Tell me about it
Do you have a success story about navigating bureaucracy for the sake of a good idea? Or maybe you have a completely different take on the issue? I’d love to hear about it.
Have a good week,