How To Sabotage Your Ideas and Influence (Part One)
You already know that launching and developing a good idea takes massive amounts of influence. Many fantastic ideas lie on the ash heap of history merely because someone couldn’t influence others to adopt the idea. But you may not realize that you might be sabotaging your own idea and influence. Often, the selling of an idea was actually sabotaged by the creator because he or she hadn’t developed the skills to persuade others to give credence to the idea.
If you have read my previous posts, you know I firmly believe that influence is not static and can be developed. As you develop your influence, don’t sabotage your ideas.
Here are some of the worst ways to sabotage your influence.
Demand Bureaucratic Obedience
The sabotage | Insist on a sign off of every single action taken by you and your superiors. Maintain proper channels at all times and never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to speed up results.
In his book Duty, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates writes how long it takes for the Pentagon to procure new equipment for the armed forces. When the US forces in Iraq were getting decimated by enemy IED’s blowing up underneath their transport vehicles, a form of IED prevention armor was developed by a private firm for use in such situations. Upon directing his staff to secure this needed equipment for the troops, he was told normal bureaucratic procedure would take over a year. Gates grew irate and blew up the bureaucracy by establishing a special group to ramp up procurement. The IED prevention armor was on its way in a few short weeks. His willingness to go outside the “normal channels” saved thousands of US soldier’s lives.
The alternative | Be willing to break up bureaucracy and use your influence to expedite results. While a bureaucracy can be a safeguard to prevent foolish decisions, some decisions are so obvious (such as the example above) that these “safeguards” should be bypassed on a case-by-case basis.
Keep “Selling” Endlessly
The sabotage | Talk often about your idea, and keep talking even after you’ve convinced someone to take the action you desire. Make sure you allow no space for questions to arise, as questions can lead to dissention or people changing their mind. When someone brings up anything in a conversation, quickly figure out a way to steer it to your idea. Try to be smooth when transitioning the conversation, but you are dismissing them after all, so don’t worry about it too much.
If you haven’t learned the art of when to be silent and let others do your influence work, consider reading the legend from India of The Turtle Who Couldn’t Stop Talking.
The alternative | Listen first and speak second. Stop acting from a place of fear, which leads to control, and instead operate with a sense of trust. When others question facets of your idea, see it as an opportunity to improve the idea and gain their buy-in as they help shape it. People are most invested in what they have a role in creating.
Run Everything Through a Committee
The sabotage | Refer all matters to a committee for “further study and consideration.” In order to get larger buy-in to your idea, make the committee as large as possible.
There is nothing that kills an idea faster than sending it to the subcommittee of a subcommittee. Many an important idea has become so unrecognizable after it emerges from all the partisan interests of the members of a subcommittee that it becomes far from its best.
The American Airlines website for years was a “designed by committee” site. As a result of multiple interests, everything had to hit the front page (frequent flier sections, book a trip, buy products, business trips and agency references) which turned the site into a scrambled mess that was challenging for site visitors to use. It became an inside joke among web designers that if a site had shifted to design by committee, it had been “American Airlinesed.” This drove web designers mad to such a degree that one well-known web developer designed a new version of the site and sent it in a famous open letter to American Airlines (see the Fast Company article). Its simple function was beautiful. Finally, American Airlines took the hint, and today their site looks much like the design sent in the open letter.
As a second example, let’s revisit the situation with Robert Gates. By necessity and rule of law, his Defense appropriations had to be run through congress. Many times he realized a multi-billion weapon system was not necessarily the most needed in the current landscape of armed conflict. However, when he tried to cancel these weapons systems, every congressional subcommittee member and then committee member had to check to see if it pulled any money or jobs from his or her constituency. If it did, they would attempt to ram the program through even though the Secretary of Defense had said it was not needed. He was stuck with many weapons systems the army did not want or need.
The alternative | Create small teams who are empowered to review and give feedback on the idea or decision of an individual. Individuals, not committees, create ideas and pull decision triggers. Teams can bring the base decision to greater fruition, but committees are lousy designers and decision makers historically.
Haggling and Bottlenecking Inspections
The sabotage | The idea might morph a bit if you don’t control everything about it. Haggle over the exact wording of documents, memos, minutes, and resolutions. Even if correspondence carries the big picture and spirit of your idea, make sure every detail meets your exact specifications. Demand to see the iteration of each item.
There is a famous tale that President Ronald Reagan told his staff, “Beat the Russians, restore the economy, any questions?” upon which he summarily dismissed them. He gave his team a great deal of latitude in how they accomplished his big picture. President Carter, on the other hand, was a micro-tasker and micro-manager. Historians have rated President Carter’s presidency low in its effect and positive influence.
The alternative | Hire people who can get the idea implemented, and give them a lot of latitude. If they cannot handle the responsibility, find those who can.
More to come…