Give Your Idea to Someone Else to Run With – Sometimes a Horse Needs a Different Rider to Win

First, here’s a little exercise for your mind.

An aging monarch decides it is time to name an heir to the throne. The monarch’s two children are identical twins and no one is now sure which one was born first. Both twins are excellent riders and each owns a very fast horse. So the monarch decides that the heir will be decided by a cross-country horse race.

On the day of the race, the twins arrive on their impressive mounts. As they wait eagerly at the starting line, the monarch says to them, “I am glad to see you are ready, eager, and prepared. Here are the rules. Ride as fast as you can, but the twin whose horse crosses the finish line second will become the heir to my throne.”

Photo Credit: Fadzly @ Shutterhack via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Fadzly @ Shutterhack via Compfight cc

The signal is given to start the race, and the twins trot off on their horses shaking their heads. Totally puzzled after hours of trying to ride more slowly, they come across a wise elder sitting by the road. They explain their predicament. The wise elder says two words. The twins jump back on their horses and ride as fast as they can to the finish line to win the race.

What did the wise elder say? The answer is at the bottom of this post, but see whether it occurs to you while you read the following paragraphs about getting innovative ideas implemented.

Ever run into a situation where a good idea for an innovation doesn’t get the attention it might because of who introduces it? Maybe the person suggesting it has a reputation as an empire builder and the innovation looks like it’s a prelude to a takeover of some kind. Maybe the person with the innovative idea wants the credit, but is not an effective or persuasive presenter.

We understand the importance of people taking “ownership” of an idea when it comes to implementation. We even talk about that transfer of ownership as “buy-in.” But it also matters who owns the presentation of the idea if you want it to get fair and open consideration. Here are some possible strategies:

1. If the idea or innovation requires some significant shifts in resources where there may be winners and losers, get someone who is a neutral party or honest broker to present the idea and make sure they set out both costs and benefits from multiple perspectives.

2. If the person with the idea is more junior and doesn’t feel confident in presenting the idea, she or he can partner with someone more senior who can help prepare the presentation and test the idea with potential supporters in advance. This is a great opportunity for staff development and collaboration.

3. Take the idea to someone who might be open to the idea and is in a position to experiment with it. Help them design an experiment and suggest they present the idea as an experiment to the authorizing manager.

4. Few innovations are entirely original. If some other company has implemented something similar, arrange a visit to that company for key people who would need to implement the innovation. This approach also gives you the opportunity to see first hand what the challenges were in implementing the innovation and how they were addressed.

A willingness to give away an innovative idea or at least share the credit gives you a better chance of seeing it implemented.

The wise elder realized that the monarch’s statement of the rules applied to the horses, not the riders. The two words the wise elder said were “trade horses.”  Sometimes the horse can get to the finish line faster with a different rider. Which also goes to show that if you are an heir apparent, you might want to find a wise elder to advise you.