Monday, September 8, 2008

Ideas - Being Heard

I learned something about myself, about job satisfaction today. I learned about my ideas, and how sensitive I am to how they are received. The situation was simple, and the guy who revealed my sensitivity is a great guy, so he'll hopefully forgive me for using him in my example.

We've been talking about doing a team outing/team building exercise. Our CTO, asked for ideas. I felt strongly about our activity being of value to the company, and that it also be fun and socially acceptable for the group. Falling backwards into the group in a trust game wasn't going to cut it for these guys. So I spent a couple of hours on it, now I had a time investment and an emotional investment in this idea generation.

I came up with two, a treasure-hunting service that focused a lot on the team aspects I thought were important, and a cooking class since Adam had suggested dinner as part of the exercise (I figured we'd work together at a common goal - getting fed - and solve our food challenge all at once). I sent the ideas off to Adam, who then forwarded them to the team.

A member of the team responded with "I vote against a cooking class." and then went on to suggest his own activity.

I was devastated. I didn't want to suggest any more ideas. I was done with helping the activity. I was turned off, tuned out, I wanted no part. But I didn't know it. I knew that if you asked me about it I felt poorly, but I didn't understand why or what the extent of the affect was. I thought it was just another email until later, when our CTO asked me to just send those ideas to the group on my own, no reason to make him the bottle neck. What he asked me to do made me think about why I didn't do that in the first place.

As a group, we're young, naive, new, green. We don't know how to talk to each other so that we get our ideas out and heard. In this situation, my idea went out, it was read, but not heard. The recipient dismissed it without really chewing on it, thinking it over, and replying with why it didn't work for him. Was it that he doesn't like classes? Was it that he doesn't like fire? Is he on a specialty diet and doesn't want to impede others? I have no idea. What I do know is that his message implied "Will, your idea is bad, so bad I can't even build on it or respond to it." Ouch. I know the sender didn't mean it that way, but that's how it made me feel.

Now put me in a room, and ask me for an idea. How likely do you think I will be to share my thoughts? If I say something, it'll probably be safe, something that has already been established as accepted by the group. My ability to help the group innovate, to be creative, has been destroyed over time on an unconscious level by experiences like the one above.

But I do still contribute ideas. I do it because it is rewarding to be heard - it's why I like working in small companies where everyone has a voice. And there are people who hear me, like our CTO, like Matt. When I say to them "I have a crazy idea [blah blah blah]!" they listen and say "That is crazy, but I see where you're going, what if we..."

And that's how I know I'm being heard. That's how I know that they're communicating. That's how I know they understand me. And from that point, we could go anywhere.

1 comment:

Matt Magurany said...

Good observation. I would argue that most people experience this type of thing when they young, naive, and.. uh.. green.
I know that I use to get really defensive when I wasn't heard. At that point, my idea didn't make any sense because I was so flustered. I don't think I'm alone.
Even after failure after failure, we (developers) should keep suggesting those wild ideas. Put ourselves in front of all our smart coworkers and one day, we'll strike gold.
When we do strike gold, we will most likely realize that your idea was the dynamite that blasted the first few layers of rock out of the way. It is the team that take the picks to the rock that bring us closer to the goal.