Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

The Display Continuum

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My Great Idea…February 2004

The other day, I had a really great idea. It was one of those moments of pure inspiration when the solution to a difficult problem suddenly comes bubbling forth, and it seems that nothing can hold it back. There is an emotional high that accompanies such a creative moment – that instant when all the pieces seem to fall into place and the solution to a difficult puzzle is deemed complete. But what should one do with such brilliance? It must, of course, be shared with others or it will wither and die from lack of use.

Because my idea was so great, it was my immediate desire to call a colleague and to tell him how I had solved the difficult problem we had been pondering just a few days ago. I knew he would immediately share my enthusiasm and we could then share the solution with the rest of the organization. The implementation would be quick and effective.

But, it didn’t happen that way at all.

Haystack Rock

Instead of sharing my enthusiasm, he listened carefully and then brought up several concerns – actually objections. As we spoke, I felt the weight of what I perceived as negativity gradually squashing my enthusiasm and my great idea. Why couldn’t he see the elegance of my solution? Not only that, he was suggesting significant modifications! My enthusiasm had not only evaporated, it was now changing to downright resistance. Nevertheless, we continued the discussion and I had to admit that he just might have a few good points that could resolve the few "minor" weaknesses in my great idea. After a half-hour of conversation I was beginning to feel a bit less resentful and could actually see that we were making some progress toward common ground. And while he never exhibited any signs of the emotional high that I had had, I could see that he too was beginning to like the outcome of our combined effort. We agreed that the next step was to share our conclusions with the rest of the organization.

Not surprisingly, when the proposal was made to the larger group, once again resistance was encountered. However, this time I was emotionally better prepared to handle the objections and to demonstrate a willingness to listen and to take all inputs. And, of course, the discussion with my colleague had already smoothed out some of the rougher edges so that the inputs from the group were not as challenging to the basic concept. Nevertheless, a few participants still had serious reservations. Our choice was to either try for an immediate push to a majority acceptance or to allow a few days to pass so that the key concepts could be discussed in smaller groups or person to person. I remembered something that a colleague in another organization had once told me. He said that it was always necessary to "socialize a proposal." What he meant by that is that we all need some time to accept a proposed change and that this acceptance often comes from having informal discussions with our colleagues. Taking this good advice, we decided not to push for immediate acceptance by the majority, but to let a few days pass for everyone to think about it and to make further suggestions.

I must admit that the final outcome was superior to my original inspirational moment of finding the "perfect solution." My ego would have liked it better if no changes were necessary, but realistically I had to admit that the group had made significant improvements that I had not thought of during my "ah-ha" moment.

All this should not be a big surprise to any of us, although it seems that periodic reminders are needed. Management studies have shown time and again that a group decision will produce a better result than the work of any one individual – even if that individual has considerably more expertise than the typical member of the group. Management trainers demonstrate this by creating exercises where groups use their combined knowledge to solve "survival" challenges.

What is, therefore, difficult to understand is why so many managers forget this important learning in the way they run their organizations. And sometimes the participants are all too willing to go along with this "wisdom from the top." It’s far more likely that such an approach will destroy an organization rather than save it. Perhaps the real brilliance of top management lies in knowing when to accept the inputs of others and when those inputs are so diverse that some common ground must be sought. Selecting this common ground that makes an organization successful may be the rare talent that is so hard to find and when found should be properly rewarded.

I too have found in my consulting role that people at all levels in an organization have a good understanding of what is really going on and what it will take to make the company a success. If their ideas are suppressed, they will stop offering them openly. But the private conversations will intensify and the concerns will grow. The consequences are all too predictable.

It has been my observation that while all of us may have some slight tendencies toward laziness, when confronted with a challenge – one that we can understand and accept -- we as a group can rise to greatness that produces outstanding results for the overall organization. These results will be far superior to what any one person, no matter how brilliant, could have imagined.

For a very real and recent example, that was the inspiration for this column, I will mention the work of the Executive Committee and the Program Committee for the 2004 SID International Symposium that will be held this May in Seattle, WA. While I am the General Chair of this year’s Symposium, much of the success will be because the members of these committees did their part – and did it extremely well. Early on, we decided to try to make improvements to various parts of the conference program. The diversity of inputs and suggestions had an immeasurably positive effect. The wisdom of the group was far greater than any one of us could have achieved. I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to be a participant in what should turn out to be an outstanding Symposium.

Should you wish to comment on this column or others, you can reach me by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, by phone at 425-898-9117 or by fax at 425-898-1727. I look forward to seeing you all in Seattle this coming May.