I put that on a slide at a recent conference, but it’s something that’s been rattling around my freshly-shaven and extra shiny bald head for a good while. And here’s what I mean.
Sometimes people are too smart for their own good. They essentially become your resident organizational skeptics. They’re so smart (and I’m not being sarcastic–they’re often really, really smart) that they not only know that every crazy idea won’t work, but also the reasons that idea won’t work.
It’s equal parts magical and mysterious and maddening to watch. Somehow, instantly–with no advance prep–they’re able to call to mind data and studies and a list of other organizations that tried what someone’s suggested and failed. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong at this point, and I’m not saying there’s not value in that sort of thing. Of course there’s value in looking at data, trends, and the track record of others who may have attempted something similar to what you’re discussing.
All I’m saying is that sometimes people are too smart for their own good. Sometimes organizations are too smart for their own good. They’re smart enough to have the good sense not to try stuff. They’re smart enough to know that an idea sounds crazy at first.
Smart and crazy aren’t mutually exclusive; but again, there are times that we’re too smart. We know so much that we know this or that won’t work, so we don’t ever try.
If you’re not careful, you’ll allow these organizational skeptics to kill innovation, creativity, and open discussion on your teams. Eventually, people will get tired of the aforementioned skeptic poo-pooing on almost every idea that’s brought up and they’ll give up. They’ll stop initiating conversations around their ideas. They’ll sigh in exasperation, shrug their shoulders, and decide they’re not going to waste their mental energy and effort on thinking of ways to make the business better because almost no matter what they say, your resident skeptic is going to shoot it down.
What if we turned the tables on our wicked smart organizational skeptics? We love having folks that smart on our teams–we really do. But what if we become skeptical of their skepticism? What if we kindly question the standard operating procedure of the organizational skeptic? What if we validate their concerns, but make it clear that sometimes we’re going to try stuff anyway? It sounds odd even as I’m writing this, but maybe we meet their skepticism with skepticism of our own that’s directed at their skepticism. I don’t mean that to sound as negative as it does, but I think you get the idea.
What if we helped each other be increasingly OK with being what others may perceive to be crazy? I won’t insult your intelligence by listing all the modern inventions that we enjoy that were initially met with some version of “That’s crazy. It’ll never work.”
So we have to embrace crazy a little more, because it’s crazy that creates. We have to challenge the skeptics’ assumptions. Are the skeptics always wrong? Of course not! Sometimes they’re spot-on.
But there are other times they’re not, and sadly we may never know which times are which.