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Building Upon Ideas

Shoulders slump forward as they pull along an imaginary ball and chain in the dreadful hallway on way to an inevitable fate. They walk a version of the Green Mile every Monday, Thursday and Friday morning. That would be the day of your sales, service and install meetings. An outsider’s look at this motley crew?  Prisoners on their way to the torture chamber. An insider’s look? Pretty much the same.

Did you ever get into an exciting conversations with your friends? Perhaps you were sitting around a fireplace on the first day of vacation. The relaxing notion of five more days of freedom, a few cold ones and no one looking over your shoulder sets the stage for a spirited exploration on launching a make-believe company. Ideas build upon ideas and soon everyone starts raising their what-if? / could we? eyebrows.

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Perhaps it wasn’t make-believe. Maybe you, the warehouse manager and one of your installers started talking about ways to improve your warehouse operation. Ideas started building upon ideas. Like a rock climber who gains a toehold over another building upon his ascent; incremental progress leads to new vistas.

Being aware

Along with two other gentlemen I started a website for the HVAC industry back in the late 90’s. Individually, we had raw ideas. But once the three of us sat down ideas started forming on other ideas. It was crazy. Never in my life, on my own, could I have come up with the stuff that we did together. These sessions were absolute catnip for me. (Here’s a recap of what we did overall) 

The opportunity to watch one another’s ideas meld and grow opened my eyes to possibilities outside of our website. The day job for instance. What if, instead of droning on every week in our service meetings on policies and procedures, we spend time trying to generate ideas to make the department better?

Are your eyes open?

When something successful happens at work or outside of work, do you try to understand why? Can you replicate it? Can you use it elsewhere within your company?

Science came along.

At some point I noticed cognitive scientists writing about the beneficial effects of collaboration. They spoke about the whole idea building upon idea thing. Then I read the book The Knowledge Illusion and it nailed it.

The authors believe that we are all not as smart as we think, and that our knowledge is really out in the environment and with other people. A case in point is NASA. No one person had the ability to put a man on the moon. It took many people and many organizations to do that. We think we’re smart because we are unable to discern outside knowledge from that which is in our head.

For the busy business owner, this book is not an easy read. The authors spend significant time building their case. I might take a shot in the future at distilling this book and applying it to our professions. In the meantime however, I recommend sitting down with some of your colleagues and or coworkers and applying the realities that the book uncovers. In a nutshell: We over me. 

Get More Business Building Strategies

Intent. Generate a lot of ideas, build upon them and then choose one to move forward with. Embrace this process and accept that answers require time for idea building.

Define the problem. It’s possible that the problem you first think of is really not the most critical problem you’re facing. So at first spend time looking at the problem from various perspectives. Ask who, what, where, when, why and how. Then ask why a few more times.

Throw out ideas. The next step is to generate a lot of ideas. This is where others’ ideas will give you ideas to build upon. The key here is to try and not shoot ideas down too soon. During this exercise someone’s idea will catch another person’s fancy. And then like rock musicians sitting around riffing on their guitars, that person will add to the idea. Interest increases and the next thing you know, you’re on the way to a song.

Test. Following this step move forward with one of your ideas. Build solutions, test them out, collect feedback, refine and retest until you are either satisfied or feel the need to start with another idea.

The key takeaway from our cognitive scientist friends is that knowledge is in our environment and in other people. How might you take this understanding and eliminate the Green Mile walk at your company (or at least minimize it)?

What if? You know those policies, procedures and other mandates that you mandate every week over at your meetings? What if every once in awhile you hold a session with your coworkers to try and improve them? Give them the opportunity to firestart ideas and see if together, they can build upon them and make an improvement in your operation.

Facilitate communities of knowledge. There are factions of cognitive scientists who believe that the next great advances in technology are not to come from artificial intelligence and human-like computers, they will come from a smooth facilitation of information within communities of knowledge.

Your company, trade organization and or contractor support groups are communities of knowledge. Think in terms of disseminating your ideas, knowledge and wisdom. While we wait for the technology guys to make their advances, try stuff on your own.


Radical idea. We know these advances are coming by way of technology. In the meantime, pursue innovation without revolving it around technology or at least keep it to a minimum. How? Work on getting people together. Work on generating and building upon ideas. Work on using them

Topics: Building a Business, Management, Employee Engagement

Posted by Dave Rothacker on Mar 26, 2017 5:00:00 AM

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