Imagine you’re sitting in a meeting with your company’s learning and training team, trying to come up with the next idea for an eLearning program. A member of the team comes up with an idea that sounds so totally obvious that it is immediately dismissed. Everyone just assumes it’s either already been done or simply doesn’t have value. But dismissing obvious ideas just might be the biggest mistake you can make. Here’s why:
The Obvious Ideas Can be the Best Ideas of All
How often do you hear people say something along the lines of there not being any new ideas out there – all the good business ideas have been done, all the good books have been written, and all the good movies have already been made, right? Wrong! If that were the case, there wouldn’t ever be any fantastic startup stories, new best-selling books or box office smash hits. When an idea occurs to you and your first reaction to it is, “But that’s too obvious,” stop yourself and hang onto that idea! As it turns out, obviousness is a critical piece of the creative process.
The critical mistake people make around the seemingly obvious idea is to assume because it seems so obvious to them, then it must be obvious to everyone else. The reason an idea seems so obvious to you is that you’ve seen how the pieces fit together into a synthesis. But other people may or may not see it with the same clarity that you do. And you might be surprised to find out that your obvious idea actually hasn’t been done, or at least not done the way you see it. You just assume it must have already been or is about to be realized by others. You let the idea slip away, and maybe kick yourself later when you realize you should have pursued it.
Obvious Ideas Can Solve Real Problems
What generates ideas in organizations? It happens when someone sees a problem and then comes up with a way of solving it. Everyone does this day in and day out in their daily lives, and many an obvious idea has been applied in an organized fashion across the instances where the problem occurs. But a surprising number of them haven’t caught on in a wider fashion or haven’t been scaled into broader solutions people can use. When your idea seems like a clear “no-brainer,” that’s when you know you’re really onto something good.
Here’s the most important thing to remember: Your own ideas will almost always seem totally obvious to you and not at all special. But when other people are exposed to your idea, there are going to be those whose reaction will be to ask you how you came up with such a great idea. Your reaction might then be something almost like guilt because you don’t feel like you did anything to come up with the idea. After all, it seemed obvious to you!
Replace Brainstorming with Brainwriting
Everyone has sat in meetings that included a brainstorming session, but the dirty secret is that in-person brainstorming isn’t nearly as effective as everyone wants to think it is. Whatever ideas are mentioned first are the ones more likely to become the focus of everyone’s attention. The session becomes “anchored” around the earliest ideas mentioned, and then “conformity pressure” sets in to further limit the discussion to those early ideas. It just naturally happens. If you want to get the most ideas possible on a topic or problem, start with people writing down their ideas and having them posted on the wall without names attached. Then have people vote on what they think are the best ideas (after consolidating duplicates). Only after that has been accomplished should actual discussions take place. Follow this simple twist on traditional brainstorming and you’ll be much more satisfied with results than the usual approach. In fact, the researcher who developed the alternative approach found that using it resulted in 20% more ideas and 42% more original ideas (source).
Ignoring Obvious Ideas Can Have Real Consequences
I’ve already mentioned one problem with ignoring an obvious idea, which is that the idea might only seem obvious to you because it’s your own idea – it may be brand-new to lots of other people and turn out to be an excellent solution to a challenge being faced. It’s kind of like the old adage one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Just because your idea seems obvious to you doesn’t make it a bad idea. But there is definitely a kind of stigma around obviousness, which is unfortunate. Or perhaps you remember teachers or managers who say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Your idea should never be dismissed by you (or anyone else) because it seems obvious. Obvious can be good.
The takeaway from this article is relatively simple: The next time someone on your learning and training team comes up with what feels like an “obvious” idea, don’t just dismiss it or quash it. Instead, let it play out – you might just be surprised what it leads to!