When Good Ideas Go Bad

Have you ever read or heard about a new way of doing something that appears to be a much better way of doing it? Have you ever tried to implement the new way into your life or your work and had it end up not turning out quite as well as you had expected it to? This is a more common occurrence than most people realize.

Frequently, the reason for failure has little to do with the validity of the new way of doing things, and a lot to do with both the context you are applying it to and how you go about implementing it. Almost anyone who has ever held a job or been a member of a team has experienced a ‘change’ in how certain things are to be done, in order to improve productivity.

When things don’t work out as planned, management usually attributes the failure to a lack of ‘buy-in’ on the part of their underlings. While this can be the case, more often than not, the lack of ‘buy-in’ is a result of poor communication and implementation of the change. In other cases it’s a total misunderstanding of the dynamics that must be in place in order for the change to work.

Many executives, managers and coaches read articles outlining changes that lead to more productivity and success. Unfortunately, a large percentage of them get excited about the bullet points in these articles and miss the key elements surrounding the bullet points. Let me give you a couple of real world examples in business and sports, where good ideas were wasted as a result of their poor application.

It has been proven that having everyone stand in meetings gets people to talk less and thus shortens meetings, freeing everyone up to do more important work. Well one manager at a tech company saw a derivative article on these studies which stated that having people stand when they talk in meetings causes them to talk 50% less, so he decided to implement this into their daily status meetings.

It failed miserably and here are a few of the reasons why: 1) he only had the person talking stand and not everyone else. 2) the meetings were conducted remotely, so everyone in the meeting was alone and receiving no visual feedback whether standing or sitting. If he had read and understood the studies, and not just the bullet points in the article, he would have realized a big part of what caused people to talk less was seeing the body language of the other people standing as they spoke.

Here’s an example from the world of sports of a great idea so poorly applied it undercut its own power before it had a chance to do what it was designed to do. On the first day of Fall practice in 2014 the University of Oregon football team issued players shirts to be worn under their shoulder pads that had a blue collar. Then they proudly told the assembled media about the shirts and how the idea was to remind players that to achieve their goals, they needed to have a blue collar attitude towards hard work.

Sounds great on paper right? The problem is that the way our brains work, once you tell them what the blue collar is for, they disregard the message you want to be sending. Conversely, if the coaches had never commented on the blue collars it would have acted on all of the players on a subconscious level throughout the year and served as a powerful reminder, just like they intended. It also would have likely been extremely effective when coupled with the coaches preaching of the message about having a blue collar attitude.

We live in a fast paced society and most people look for shortcuts that get results or attention immediately. The few who have the courage and discipline to see things through to their maximum effect and avoid gimmicks are the ones who tend to last. As I like to say, ‘The worst idea applied well, is often better than a good idea applied poorly.’


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc



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