DrawingFishBowlAt a recent meeting, I was reminded how hard it can be to separate the quality of an idea or the validity of a fact from the popularity or authority of the person expressing it. Have you ever suggested something at work and been pooh-poohed, only to have someone ELSE suggest the same damn thing…and this time the original naysayer thinks it’s brilliant? Really frustrating, wasn’t it?

As annoying as it can be not to receive credit for your work, this isn’t the only  problem that arises when a group can’t separate ideas from their owners.  The folks who are shot down eventually may stop contributing. And the whole team or project can suffer from lost opportunities when they discount good ideas because they were generated by someone without the seniority, status, or assertiveness to promote them.

Here is one method I’ve used during an ideation session to help a team separate the ideas from their originators. First, give the group a few quiet moments to write their idea or solution on an index card. Put all the cards in a box or jar and mix them up. Pass the box around and have each participant pull a card and read it out loud. This way, everyone knows that the person expressing the idea is NOT the one who wrote it, and can listen to it for its own merits – all ideas carry the same weight. Giving folks a few minutes to think and write allows folks to express themselves thoughtfully, and is helpful for the folks who are shy or need more time to organize their thoughts. Finally, it can be interesting to hear whether and how much the proposed solutions overlap and intersect with each other. Now, all the ideas are collectively owned and can be discussed and modified without concerns about either offending their creators or giving more weight to those proposed by more senior team members.