Monday, April 25, 2011

Better Begins With Action

Executive Summary:
Every day we imagine, see, hear, or otherwise come upon good ideas.  Many times we acknowledge those good ideas, but don’t act upon them.  If we want things to be better, for those good ideas to take hold, we must take action and make an investment of our own energy to make those ideas real.

The Rest of the Story:
I have a coffee mug that was given to me at a predictive maintenance conference I attended years ago.  Printed on it is a saying, the source is not identified, which reads, “Never doubt that a thoughtful, committed individual can change the world… in fact, it is the only way that significant change can begin.”

Now, I don’t want to get carried away and talk about changing the world, but we certainly should discuss changing things in your workplace for the better.  Answer for me two questions.
  1. How often do you create or come upon a good idea, something that you wish might come true?
  2. How often do you start the process of making that good idea something real?

Don’t worry, there’s no one reading your mind to make you embarrassed or ashamed of the answer, so be honest about it.  I myself have a huge list (huge cannot be underemphasized) of great ideas that I haven’t either completed or put into action.  Why is that?

I think that we often pass on acting on good ideas because we either don’t know how to get them started, or we don’t feel we have the time or energy to see them through.  Fair enough.  But what about when that good idea will genuinely make things better for us?  Why wouldn’t we act on those?

If we step out of our professional environment for a moment, I think we might all agree that those ideas that make life improvements and tangible rewards are the ones we do act on frequently.  We act when we believe we need a new employer.  We act when we see a solution to a household problem.  We experiment and try new things to find the best restaurants, cleaning products, TV shows, investment portfolios, and parks to which to take our children.

Sometimes though, we don’t act on good ideas.  It seems to be a cost-benefit equation.  If the good idea costs too much or is otherwise beyond reasonable means for the reward, we decide that it’s maybe not such a good idea and we pass.

So let’s talk briefly about why we don’t act on good ideas at work, ironically a place where we are probably paid to come up with and execute good ideas. 
  • At work we are often busy, and are probably deliberately kept busy. 
  • At work we may not have the authority we have in our personal lives and we tend to leave ideas alone that we cannot implement ourselves.
  • At work we may be reprimanded or embarrassed if the idea turns out not to be as good or effective as it first seemed.

I’m sure that we can come up with more excuses, but so many seem to fit the three above, I think we can work with them well enough.

We’re busy, we don’t have authority, or we might be punished instead of rewarded, are fair reasons not to take the initiative.  But I challenge you.  If it were important enough you would a risk, right?  When the good idea affects our health, our family, or our job or career, we tend to act with great resolve.

So, I believe that importance is the key.  Challenge yourself to introspection on why it isn't important enough for you take some action to make more god ideas real.  I believe that importance is a matter of decision.  If you decide it is important to act on god ideas, you will find an appropriate way.

We are all busy, but if you read, or hear, or have a good idea to improve things for your team, then begin the change by practicing the idea yourself.  If it is a good idea, the results will be worth the time and energy invested.

If you need permission or another authority to understand the idea and act upon it, then introduce that authority to the idea.  We may need to be polite and tactful when we do so, but we should make the effort.

There is only one way to be sure that any idea is good or bad.  We must experience it.  Be bold, give the ideas a try.  If the effort to incorporate the idea turns out poorly, and a leader of yours is giving you grief, politely apologize if necessary, but by all means challenge the behavior.  Say, "I'm sorry that my theory didn't pan out, sometimes mistakes are how we learn.  May I try another idea in the future?  I don't feel it's right to stop trying to improve."

Perhaps you may get some constructive advice that you can use next time.  Perhaps you will need to put up with some scolding or a period where you need to regain some faith.  Compare that outcome with looking back and knowing that you did nothing.

One of the greatest wastes for any business is unused ideas.  Imagine that 80% of the good ideas would indeed produce a benefit.  How much of that benefit is not realized because we are afraid to act on those ideas?

I'm pretty sure that there is more to the formula for changing the world than thoughtful and committed behavior, as my coffee mug would suggest, but I think that implied in the message is that we should be courageous enough to commit our good thoughts to action.  We might not change the world, but we might make a big difference to those around us.

The next time you are reading a blog, or a white paper, or hear something helpful on the radio that you recognize as an idea from which your team would benefit, take some action.  We waste the great ideas when we recognize them, but fail to act upon them. 

If you happen to be the guy in charge, examine objectively whether the environment you have created encourages others to try, share, or introduce you to new ideas.  If you think it might be better, find ways to remove the discouragement of asking permission, fearing embarrassment, or being too busy.

You don't have to be the one in charge to act upon an idea.  Introduce it, try it and share it, or make some time every day to plan and execute improvements.  Occasionally, you might face some resistance or negative feedback, but over the long haul, you'll be glad you did, and others will appreciate your initiative and leadership.

Stay wise, friends.

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