These posts are based on a speech I gave on November 6th as part of the Leaders for Life session through the Order of Angell in partnership with the Alumni Association on “Being a change agent.” The previous posts can be found here and here.
The first post provided an outline of a cycle of action that I put together to help guide me through a time of change. I am now addressing specific points from that framework.
Step 2 of my framework is about ideas. Obviously I love ideas, having been involved in 1000 pitches and developing entire classes focused on developing ideas, I this is an area enjoy pursuing and framing into actual outputs.
Clearly, ideas are very important ingredients of change and success. However, in my observation, the initial idea is almost never the most critical part to success. In practice, there are always many more ideas than solutions and you will only know about the value of an idea once you start working on it. Even the best ideas almost certainly will have to change as we go forward through the process of implementing them.
Nevertheless, we want to start with an idea that stretches our thinking yet remains achievable. Typically, before I spend any time on ideas, I think through a few basic questions:
- Is this idea actually addressing the pain or opportunity?
- Do I understand the critical piece of this idea to make it happen? Bringing an idea to the table is almost never enough to recruit the best team! If I don’t have this unique enabling skill, I cannot become part of the solution.
- Who is winning if I am successful with my idea? I want to recruit the first followers or early adopters from this pool.
- Who is losing if I am successful with my idea? I want to learn about the potential resistance to change and/or potential problems with my idea from this.
- How can I proof quickly whether there is anything there? This is perhaps the toughest question, but also the most important. I do not want to waste many months on an idea that has a fatal flaw/s. The only way to know is to start pushing forward as quickly as possible. Through this process, I either get rid of a flawed idea, or I gain confidence in it.
Basically, an idea creates a direction; an initial approach. But, now comes the main task: we need to get buy-in. That means we need to completely dissect the idea/s and their viability.
To really check my idea Step 3 focuses on getting buy-in on the general direction. Here, I do not worry so much about the details of implantation, but I want to listen to the necessary reactions and learn from feedback.
First and foremost, there is a very obvious rule: if people feel engaged in building a solution, they are much more likely to support it. It is therefore critical to ask questions and listen carefully. The toughest part is to find out what feedback to take: otherwise you will never do anything. I frequently find myself hanging out with people who I expect may become a headache later. All these critical voices, eventually you are going to answer to them – on the podium or in front of a camera. Often, the message needs a small change and I can turn a vocal opponent into an ally – now we’re talking!
As a physics student in Switzerland, I only ran for student government because I was upset the leadership never took on a problem that actually made student life better. Instead, they spent time supporting a free-spirited arts community that had taken over a building. Being in a Swiss university, I was worried that we did not get the best professors for us, people who actually were top-notch with a world-wide reputation, but who were great at teaching. I started selling this idea. But, the ongoing student government did not want to leave quietly. I could not find a way to move them. So, I plotted a take-over: I brought my friends into the pivotal meeting and we took over after a highly contested vote. For weeks, the guys we kicked out of office did not talk to me and left the room when I entered. It hurt. But, I listened to them and immediately addressed a change I knew they were very passionate about. Through some maneuvering and lots of convincing – I talked the administration into 1) a student representative on each committee, 2) a 1 hour time-slot on the schedule of each faculty candidate who interviewed on campus. Suddenly, my former enemies started engaging and became once again became active. We had a wonderful team there and achieved many things that are still benefiting students today.
The point of this story: the feedback loop is absolutely critical, even if you cannot totally follow all the recommendations that are pushed forward! I have seen people fail here – they don’t listen. They are like a radio, they make sound, but they don’t listen. People who communicate like radios are not likely going to be change-agents! Encourage this discussion! It requires letting your pride take a back-seat – take the criticism and do your best with it.
Do you have experiences in getting feedback to your initial ideas that helped you be successful?