A rising optimism lifts all ideas

Ideas are abundant, but evidently sharing those ideas is pretty scarce in professional environments. Towers Perrin global engagement study reveals sadly only 21% of us would self-describe ourselves as “engaged” in our work. All in and loving it – excited working with our colleagues, dedicated and passionate about the projects we engage in, propelled by a belief that we are actively making a difference, and recognized and rewarded intellectually and emotionally by our efforts.

Gallop extended the engagement inquiry to ask in their survey how readily people actively share ideas collaboratively internally and with external customers. According to them, people who describe themselves as “engaged” in their work are five times more likely to proactively share their best ideas with colleagues and customers. We all have ideas – everything from how to improve a product or process, to where to have lunch. Ideas are power – they have the ability to captivate, energize, and propel innovation, yet if only about 15% of us are willing to share them what’s going on?

Jeffrey Pfeffer at Stanford University suggests one of the primary reasons we don’t share our best ideas is fear of our colleagues’ reaction to them. Pessimism stands out as the easiest mechanism to defend the status quo, and reject any novel idea. And so to avoid the expected objection of any new idea, most people just keep quiet. And wind up keeping their best ideas to themselves out of fear of being dismissed or ridiculed.

In a number of recent conversations I’ve found many people often describe themselves as constrained by process, policy and regimen, and find that their team’s best collaborative efforts is around crises. The suggestion is that the urgency of a crisis makes innovative and novel approaches permissible. In a related conversation one executive said unfortunately their company kneels at the altar of process, and attempts to accomplish any new initiatives frequently involve months of plodding meeting monotony.

Here’s an idea to encourage idea sharing and eliminate pessimism: Build positive anxiety instead of the negative fear-based kind. Imagine you work for Steve Jobs and every day have the nervous energy associated with wanting to perform at a high level, keep your mojo hot and be a major player. So you don’t work for the kind of person who inspires? Focus on encouraging the best in those around you. A rising tide lifts all boats.