Think BIG ideas!

Oh, how I continually fantasise about BIG ideas. For example, last week I had breakfast in the Shelbourne Hotel (recommend the smoked salmon bagel). In addition to the bill of fare, the conversation was fascinating. The guy sitting opposite was on fire.  His big idea: Irish social housing policy is fundamentally flawed and has been for many years. He wants to fix it.

Social Housing:

This person has been around the property business for more years than he’d care to remember. While he knows the game well, he doesn’t just want to continue to play; he wants to fundamentally change the rules. In order to do this, he needs to (a) diagnose this complex area of government policy – it costs the Irish taxpayer an eye-watering €1 Billion annually (b) set out the alternative strategies – fully costed (c) figure out a complex mix of political ingredients to generate forward momentum. That’s political with a capital P (policy issues) and political with a small p (how local politicians are expected to jockey someone’s Granny onto the housing list). Overall, a complex endeavour. We spoke about the 1 in 5 policy (20% social housing was to be part of all new residential developments, something which has since been quietly shelved). And we also spoke about property developers working through the labyrinth of the Department(s) of Social Protection, Environment and alongside Local Authorities.  This guy was wired – almost as if he had a personal energy supply from Electric Ireland. He understands the enormous € and social prize – if (and it’s a big IF), he can figure out how to crack the code, lining up competing horses to pull in harness.  A noble cause, for sure.

Accident & Emergency:

In stark contrast, a lot of managerial time is taken up doing what the Management Consultant Michael Stirling has labelled ‘A&E work’.  Firing a Marketing Director here, hiring a Secretary there, responding to the latest allegations everywhere. Most of the time it’s enjoyable – assuming that you are interested in people and organisations i.e. fundamentally nosey. It certainly pays the bills. Yet, every now and again, don’t you just long for complexity? Oh to wallow in the ‘don’t know’. I am fond of ambiguity in the same way that Hippos view rolling around in mud. It doesn’t look nice from a distance, but it’s wonderful when you are in the thick of it. The challenge is to work through the fog and get to the right answer.  YES! A couple of times each year (it happened 3 times during 2013) I get a chance to work on something really complex and inherently satisfying. Like cutting the grass, A&E work is ongoing and needed. But, it’s wonderful when this is interspersed with a bit of ‘garden design’.

BIG Ideas:

Now, back to live coverage. Who’s responsible for the BIG ideas in your organisation? Who is on trains, boats and planes to find out what’s happening in your customers’ world? Who’s completing a forensic analysis of competitors or stealing ideas shamelessly from other industries you admire?

Me? But, I’m far too Busy:

Perhaps you don’t have time for BIG ideas? Your diary is choc-a-bloc with staff updates, stakeholder communications or supplier negotiations. Irate customers looking for refunds are filling up your every waking moment. You are responding to upwards of 100 emails each day, swimming harder than Michael Phelps just to stay in the same place.  Yes, it’s clear that you go home tired every single day. What’s less clear is whether you are actually moving the needle.  Of course you don’t ignore BIG ideas. Each week you diligently read the business section of the Sunday Independent, which allows you keep an eye on the job market. You also maintain a subscription to Fortune Magazine (great for keeping up with the latest technology gadgets and getting tips for ‘Road Warriors’). What more can the organisation expect? You’ve already given blood donation – it’s unfortunate that it’s the wrong type.

holding-backWho Owns Tomorrow? 

If you personally are not in the ideas business, then someone else in your organisation needs to be taking care of tomorrow. In the song, Things Have Changed, Bob Dylan reminded us that‘the human mind can only stand so much’. Make sure that some of that overflowing in-box is focused on medium-term issues. Why? Oh, it’s just the small matter that that’s exactly what executives (i.e. you) are paid to do.

See You in Court

Hey, don’t sweat it if you’re not getting onto this future proof agenda. If it  screws up, you can hire someone like me to represent you at the Employment Appeals Tribunal. I’ll list all of your ‘inputs’ and ‘responsibilities’. I will craft an emotional appeal, stating how overstretched you’ve been and the personal sacrifices you’ve made just to keep up. And both of us will keep our fingers crossed that the Tribunal Members don’t understand the distinction between working ‘in’ and working ‘on’ the business. When it’s all over and the settlement is agreed, I’ll also help you put a positive spin on this.  We can ruminate about ‘lessons learned’ and about the potential of the ‘Next Chapter’ in your career.

OK, OK. Here’s an even better idea. Let’s never have that conversation. Start working on tomorrow now, before someone gets a really BIG idea about you!

Have a good week


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