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How Good Ideas Die

Sometimes a new idea arrives, a change, or even a paradigm shift, that speaks to many of us for some reason. A seed dropping onto fertile ground. For once, the claim for change is within the realm of the acceptable. Example: When millennials arrived in the workplace, many people already in the workplace said: “Millennials are different!” No surprise so far. But they also said: “Let us adapt our ways of working and leading, so that we can encompass the different ways of the millennials!” I am a member of Generation X. When I arrived in the workplace, no one said such a thing. People said: “Here are the rules of the game, see how you can adapt. Welcome to the serious world of work.” Heck, at the time I didn’t even know my generation was called Gen X, and most of the people around me didn’t, either. Why this difference? One way of looking at it is that so many things Millennials stand for actually speak to unvoiced dreams and sufferings of the older people in the workplace. The claim becomes acceptable.

When such a change arrives, usually two sides come with it, one positive, one negative. The positive side is that there is a willingness to change, an enthusiasm, which makes it relatively easy to overcome the typical obstacles to change, such as old habits or systemic reasons. But the flip side of the coin is that with this enthusiasm comes a readiness to keep critical reflections to a minimum, to put ideas into action no matter how naive they are, to think less about the blind spots. The result: avoidable failure and unintended consequences, which leads to frustration, cynicism, and the general idea that it was all just another fad. At the moment you can see this happening with Agile, New Work, Self-Organisation, Diversity and Inclusion, and probably quite a few more.

And that is how good ideas die. 

What’s the antidote? Whenever there’s a lot at stake, don’t let your enthusiasm switch off your brain. Understand that critical thinking is constructive thinking, that exposing your ideas to the arguments of the opposition, if done constructively, only means that you leave the table with better arguments. Make sure that criticism is seen as being constructive by everyone, for example by separating respect and appreciation for the person from opposition to their argument, by searching for the common ground, by working towards enlarging the common ground, and by eschewing any purely rhetorical, or eristical form of argumentation. Be humble and curious, always in search of opportunities for learning.

But below all that: understand that you are in no need to put up a façade, let alone defend it. No gemstone will fall off your crown just because you put forward an unfinished thought, and expose it to contradiction.

You are good enough the way you are.

You are worth it.

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