The Risk of an Idea

Why innovative people in your firm may not be sharing their best ideas

Albert Einstein once said “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” How true. When someone comes up with a radically new idea, it is often hard to determine whether the new idea is brilliant or stupid – even for the person who had the idea in the first place.

As a result, it takes a brave person to propose to their firm a truly innovative new idea. The perceived consequences can include ridicule, loss of respect from management, missing out on future promotions and more.

Of course it is not only brave people who have brilliant ideas. Shy people, people insecure about their jobs, new people who are unfamiliar with corporate culture and people who do not like to make waves (which, comprises the majority of us) are likely to keep radical ideas to themselves rather than risk the consequences. As a result, most organisations miss out on brilliant ideas with substantial potential returns.

The consequences of this are tremendous. By our calculations, a firm with 1000 people is missing out on one or two revolutionary ideas (ie: ideas that have a significant affect on turnover) every year.

There are two solutions, both of which should be implemented in every organisation that wishes to maximise their innovation potential:

  1. Ensure that there is an environment of trust within the organisation, particularly with respect to idea proposals. If every idea is treated with respect and even proposers of impractical ideas are rewarded for sharing their ideas; staff will be more comfortable about contributing ideas to the organisation, even ideas which may seem absurd. Such an environment of trust cannot be created instantly. It takes time to create and promote the mechanisms that support the environment. Even then, trust will only come with time.

  2. Create a process that allows an employee to propose ideas anonymously, but provides a mechanism that allows that employee to be recognised should her idea be implemented.

Only in this way can employees feel secure in proposing potentially absurd – but also potentially revolutionary – ideas to their organisation.

If your idea proposal system is an old-fashioned suggestion box, you could simply provide idea paper with receipts. Anonymous proposers could retain the receipt and show it later, once the idea is to be implemented.

Needless-to-say, innovation driven firms need to combine an environment of trust together with a means of submitting anonymous ideas to management.


Based on an article (by Jeffrey Baumgartner)

© 2004 Jeffrey Baumgartner