How do you Reject Ideas?

Any good suggestions scheme will generate a large number of ideas; millions in the case of a company like Toshiba.  In addition you will have ideas coming into the funnel from idea events and other sources.  Obviously not every idea can be funded, developed and implemented so many will have to be rejected.  There is a tendency to accelerate this process by rejecting all outrageous ideas quickly so as to move on to the safe, steady, incremental ideas.  But it is worth remembering what Einstein said, ‘“If at first an idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

Shell’s famous Gamechanger programme is designed to encourage ‘non-linear’ ideas.  Employees can submit ideas that they think will result in increased revenues for Shell and the ideas are reviewed initially by a panel of their peers – not senior managers.  If the idea looks promising experts review it and can immediately grant funding and skilled resource to enable the originator to build a prototype or develop a business case.  One of the criteria that the evaluators have to use is this – how much would Shell lose if we rejected this proposal and it turned out to be everything that its proposer says it will?  By considering the downside of missing out on a radical idea the risks and doubts are put into context.

Ideas that are rejected should be parked in a database so that they can be resurrected when input is needed.  An idea that was rejected as unfeasible a year ago when oil was $50 a barrel might be compelling when oil is $200 a barrel.  The old rejected ideas can later prove to be useful stimulations for new ideas.

The way in which the rejection is communicated to the originator is important.  Creative people are sensitive souls.  They care about their ideas.  It is essential that they receive proper feedback and know that their idea was carefully considered.  They need to hear the reasons for its rejection.  A brusque – ‘it did not fit our criteria’ – will not do.  If the rejection is handled properly they will continue to contribute ideas.  If the rejection is handled badly then you may just have lost another source of future ideas.

Taken from The Innovative Leader by Paul Sloane


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