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  • jpreese735

Big Ideas!

B is for… BIG Ideas

Big ideas drive the entrepreneurial organization. They bring new things to life. Big idea thinking usually rests with the founder/visionary, but can and should come from all levels of a business. Without big thinking, no business would get off the ground, fewer necessary risks would be taken, and much less innovation would happen. In short, big ideas are the lifeblood of the entrepreneurial mind and the businesses that stem from these minds. Big Ideas challenge the status quo and keep businesses moving forward.

I have enormous appreciation and respect for big thinkers, primarily because I am not one of them! In fact, I have spent my career working with big thinkers, being inspired by them, frustrated by them, implementing their ideas, and picking up the pieces when big thinking has created problems. It goes with the territory.

Not everyone in the organization needs to be full of big ideas, but the more entrepreneurial people at all levels of the business, the better. In the ideal world, everyone on the org chart would think like an entrepreneur, not only in creating new products and services to bring to the market but in finding new and better ways of doing what is already being done. What we are talking about here is innovation (more on that when we get to the ‘I’s). In short, the more big ideas that are coming from all areas and levels of a business, the better off the organization should be in meeting its objectives and in securing desired levels of success.

Is this realistic? I’m not so sure, but I love the notion. The caveat here is that those of us who do not have an entrepreneurial mind should not be considered lower-level performers. We need team members who roll up their sleeves every day, dig into the corners, do the dirty work, and put the puck on the stick of talented scorers. We need hard-working grinders who plug away day in and day out; they are the glue of the company. Their contribution should be valued, not overlooked! Sadly, they often are.

Every big thinking visionary needs a stable, organized implementer as a wing person. Batman/woman/person needs its Robin or else there will be chaos, not improved results. I have witnessed businesses, both small and large, that have made the error of only hiring big-thinking entrepreneurial people. The ideas come fast and furious, and, quite frankly, they often struggle to turn their ideas into meaningful action. Or there is a closet filled with the remains of half-implemented ideas. If everyone is meant to be throwing ideas around, who is going to deal with turning these ideas into reality?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about filling the ranks with non-thinking robot types. I’m just pointing out that there is equal – perhaps greater – value in having a good balance of personality types in the business. This ensures that great ideas are freely flowing and that there is equal effort and resources put into effective implementation, execution, and measurement.

What flows from a never-ending source of big ideas is confusion, which is often dismissed. Strong, focused businesses have a controlled flow of new ideas that are carefully rolled out to all members of the team. The resulting alignment and engagement is what keeps the wheels moving. Too many ideas that are poorly implemented cause confusion in the ranks, leading to poor results, lessened productivity, and damaged morale. A constant change of direction can, in fact, be destabilizing and counter-productive.

I am a big proponent of quarterly planning, where the leadership team meets, measures the previous quarter’s success, identifies current issues, and agrees on the key objectives for the coming three months. This keeps everyone committed to top priorities and execution and builds accountability. Plus, it allows the business to respond with intention to the current reality. This type of planning also provides a formal venue where ideas can be generated, discussed, and sifted through in order to agree on the critical must-do priorities for the coming quarter. All key people get to participate and throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks. The business remains nimble and responsive without upsetting the productive flow of the team.

The fact is that everyone in the business lies somewhere on the innovation spectrum, with one end being idea generation and the other being execution. No one is fully on one side or the other, although some are close to the endpoints. I happen to fall more on the execution side of the equation. This does not mean I don’t have great ideas from time to time, but those tend to fall more in the realm of innovation more than new product generation or clever marketing ideas. I am an operations person for a reason, a strong number two whose career has been built on being a complementary piece – and sometimes foil – to the entrepreneurial minds I’ve worked with.

It has only recently dawned on me that my point on the spectrum is, in fact, a great strength and something to be valued. In business and society, we tend to place high value on the ideas people – it’s what we are taught to revere. There are good reasons for this, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Big idea generators often lack the ability to execute, and when they do, they do so reluctantly and tend to lose interest in it quickly. In small businesses, the owner tends to fill both roles of visionary and implementer. At some point though, something has to give as these are very different mindsets, each with their own requisite skills.

As the business grows, creating a role on the Organizational Chart for the Implementer, or in the language of the Entrepreneurial Operating System, the Integrator, is a vital addition. To succeed, the vision holder must be willing to fully delegate, with accountability, and not micro-manage.

Someone in the organization must be the one to harness big ideas and turn them into concrete action, backed up with a meaningful plan that the entire team has bought into. That someone is generally not the one with the most entrepreneurial way of thinking, and that someone should be as valued in the organization as the one bringing 100 transformational ideas to each meeting!

Now that I am firmly in the second half of life, my thinking around big ideas and those who generate them has begun to shift, and I think that shift has been slow and subtle. I wrote earlier in this post that we need big ideas, perhaps more than ever, and I admire those who put everything on the line to bring their ideas to life. This has led to considerable, and rapid, change in our world – some changes for the better and some not so much.

I fear that we in Western society have come to place rock-star status on the entrepreneurial mind, especially disruptors, and place lower value on transformers. Don’t get me wrong, I share some of that thinking with everyone else; however, I’m left wondering if this reverence is misplaced.

What would it look like if our admiration for those big thinkers whose disruptive ideas lead to the creation of mega wealth – Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg, crypto dudes…insert billionaire villain of your choosing– and shifted more to those whose ideas are focused on much needed transformational change in our world? We place value on those whose big ideas make things bigger, faster, stronger, more powerful, more profitable, more efficient, easier, and convenient yet much remains to be done to solve fundamental issues that threaten the basics of human life, dignity, and the viability of the planet that sustains us all.

So, yes, we need big ideas now more than ever! Innovative and transformational ideas that will break us out of the current impasse in which we find ourselves, ideas that promote truly human values beyond personal gain.

Until next time!

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