February 15, 2006

Business Ideas - The Great Divider

Watching an Olympic Hockey Game this morning reminded me of a company where playing hockey could get you a promotion and access to the "inner circle".

The "inner circle" is the group of individuals in a company that formally and informally makes hire/fire/investment decisions. Normally decisions by this group is done in a board room where someone takes minutes. In the case of the hockey example, decisions are made in the locker room.

It's human nature to pitch your ideas and career aspirations with the boss. This happens in every company and especially if you have something in common with the person. In some organization that commonality is golf, in others it's an executive's favouritre charity. I worked in a company where it was hockey.

Q: What happens if you don't skate? A: You get shut out.

What happens is the bonding done on the ice - or wherever - is carried over to the locker room and maybe out for a drink and conversation turns to work, ideas are pitched, and decisions made.

As an aside, watching newbie hockey playing software geeks out to advance their careers is, to say the least painful.

As you read on, you may be thinking that I'm going to focus on the "human" impact of this issue. In fact I believe it leads to all sorts of dysfunction...but I will leave that analysis to others more focused in that dimension.
My focus is Idea Generation.

In my experience, whenever I hear a client complain that their organization cannot come up with great ideas I discover that this sports bonding effect is at play. What happens is that only a handful of people pitch ideas. Although most of the general employee population have great ideas, they are not connected into the flow. In the simplest terms - the don't play hockey or equivalent.

Why are employee ideas important? Its where your next breakthrough product idea will come from. It's where your critical knowledge resides. According to Cluetrain - "As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company — and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines." The fixes to most of your issues may already exist.

The bottom line is: Take a close look at your company. Is there a free flow of ideas? Or are only a select few putting them forward. It's time to open the flow of ideas in your business and take it to the next level.

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