Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Idea Guy

Some stories would be really funny if they weren't so true. My friend, John, has successfully gotten his hefty graphic design projects out the door for the holiday season. He was right on-time and under-budget. We had coffee yesterday now that he's successfully dug himself out from that pile of work. He was re-counting some of the sad and hilarious moments of the season and one of them really caught my attention. Well, actually one of the characters really caught my attention - his boss, Tom.

John largely does graphic design work for print. However, many of their clients are looking to them for web design work as well, specifically for social media. John doesn't know much about this field so he had to dig in, learn the details, and then reconfigure his skills to get the job done. They had some big budget and time constraint decisions to make on some of his projects. He assembled the details in a clear presentation and then gave the decision options that were possible with the constraints they were under. After a 15-minute presentation, Tom cut in with some SWAG (Super Wild A*s Guess) ideas. Apparently, his company is fond of this SWAG idea to develop things like budgets, business cases, colorful PowerPoint presentations with smiley faces on them, etc. Poor John....

Professionally and tactfully, John explained why they really needed to choose from the options that he had presented. Tom stands up, and raising both of his hands to point at himself, says, "Tom, you're not getting it. I'm the idea guy." And gesturing to the rest of the team in the room says, "You guys need to make the ideas happen. I don't care about the details." Ouch. One of the team members actually rolled his eyes and plunked his forehead on the table. I feel another comedy sketch coming to me. And this would be a funny story, if it weren't true. All we could was laugh as John was telling me this story. Otherwise, we'd have to cry. 

I love ideas; I can't stand "idea people". I'm not talking about people with ideas, innovators, product developers, etc. I'm talking about people who are full of hot air - lots of ideas with nothing to back them up. They have no ability to execute or even think about how it could be executed. And as a result, nothing gets done, the "make it happen" people leave, and innovation stalls. It's a sad state of affairs. 

I have a simple piece of advice for companies that have people who refer to themselves as "idea people". Get rid of them! Seriously. We all have ideas. All of us. The companies and people who win are also the ones who are movers and shakers, meaning they have ideas and they actually do something with them rather than just verbalizing them for their "minions" to do. These "idea people" are dangerous because they degrade others, as happened to my friend, John, and his team. By proclaiming themselves Lord of Ideas, they make everyone else feel small. If companies are going to get through these rocky times, teammates need to band together with a will to win. "Idea people" destroy the team dynamic, and that team dynamic is an asset that companies cannot afford to lose.  

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