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Ideas that tread softly go further, faster

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By Dom Burch, managing director

November 30, 2015 | 4 min read

I love a good saying, especially one from five thousand years ago. It reminds you that however smart you think you are, there have probably been far smarter than you for far longer than you can even imagine.

Ideas that tread softly go further, faster

3000 years BC, the Chinese coined a saying: 'He who treads softly goes far.'

I was reminded of it when I read another great line in Harvard Business Review at the weekend about sharing ideas at work, and how any new idea is worthless unless you know how to sell it.

'The talk in your organisation focuses relentlessly on generating innovative, disruptive ideas. So why is it that when you throw out a creative idea at a team meeting, you get the death stare instead of a gold star?'

I've had my fair share of death stares over the years.

So much so I took a six month career break four years ago to try and suss out how I could carry on being me in the workplace (i.e. creative, impatient, not a completer finisher) but in a way that was celebrated by my colleagues not seen as disruptive.

My tendency to want to tell people my latest 'brilliant' idea before it is fully formed, often leads to disappointment on both sides. My need to share things is partly a deep held belief that putting it out there validates its potential, or kills it before I waste more time on it. But my approach is not without its flaws.

In the past I've often been guilty of blustering on with sharing an idea regardless, and then left wondering why my colleagues don't share my excitement or vision. 'Wouldn't know a good idea if it slapped them across the face,’ etc, etc.

Truth is, the first rule of influencing people, is talk their language. According to Liane Davey, co-founder of 3COze Inc and author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done, there is much more to it than having a great, creative idea.

"It’s equally about managing the first impression of your idea. This involves two components: how you position the idea; and how you address the first round of resistance that threatens to smother the conversation before it’s even begun."

In the hectic rush of day to day life, the temptation is to fire off thoughts before you forget them or before someone else has the same idea. But rather than think of ideas as some form of race, perhaps you should incubate them a little longer.

As Hamish Thompson put it on LinkedIn earlier today, 'ideas are like magnesium in a worldwide dusk.' He argues in marketing there is no long-term planning anymore. There is only the flare of the now. "The horizon is rushing towards us as we amble towards it." He urges us all to invest in ideas, saying they are everything.

That investment means having the patience to take the time to stress test them, resisting the urge to release them into the organisation until they have the best chance of flying, not shot down in their very first moments.

Tread softly fellow creative types. Tread softly and your ideas will go far.

Dom Burch, senior director of marketing innovation and new revenues at Walmart (Asda), explores the ever changing world of social media marketing in his 'Thought of the Day' blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @domburch

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