The Road To Nowhere, © 1998 M.C. Lester. Pt. Reyes National SeashoreThe other day, I was chatting with a friend who was complaining about a project that had gotten so off track it felt like they were on the road to nowhere. After we'd stopped singing the chorus of the Talking Heads tune of the same name, she shared a great idea to fix the problem, adding dejectedly that she couldn't get anyone on the team to listen to her.

A few minutes later, we figured out why. My friend was so frustrated that even her suggestion sounded like a complaint. Her state of mind was betraying her great idea because it impaired her ability to explain herself thoughtfully and calmly.

How many times has this happened to you, or have you been on the receiving end of this? A lot, I'm thinking.

A better way to offer ideas & alternatives

Especially in times of uncertainty or change, new ideas are frequently articulated in high volume as complaints without rationale and without specific action items for timely and constructive resolution. It's a situation in which nobody wins. The person with the solution feels unheard and unhappy, and the team doesn't benefit from a better way.

To circumvent this cycle, I use the What-Why-How Strategy™. It includes the key information anyone would need to give preliminary consideration to a concept:

  • What do you think we should do?
  • Why do you think it's a good idea?
  • How do you know it will work (evidence, examples)?
  • How should it be implemented for maximum value?

The only rule for using this is to keep your answers as concise and clear as possible. The idea is to give a top-level look at your idea, not an in-depth report.

An example of an idea proposal

Here's how it works:

  • What do you think we should do? Try this handy tool the next time you want to float an idea or ask others to propose one.
  • Why do you think it's a good idea? It makes the proposal process faster and more productive because it takes complaints and frustration out of the process. It also helps the idea person better vet their own proposals before presenting them.
  • How do you know it will work? I first used this process to generate ideas on a volunteer committee I served on. We got higher-quality ideas and were able to evaluate them faster. I've since used this with client teams and gotten the same results. In all cases, the people offering the ideas felt  higher satisfaction with the process and there was more buy-in in the overall process and the ideas eventually executed.
  • How should it be implemented for maximum value?
    • Explain why you want to change the way ideas are floated in your group/organization.
    • Emphasize that you know everyone has good ideas and this will help them be considered more effectively.
    • Distribute the template with an example so people have a model to follow.
    • Include any criteria your group may use, like SMART goals or whatever, to help users form their ideas in accordance with the standards you follow.
    • Do one yourself so they can see how it's done.

You can use it just like this, or write a sentence or paragraph for each point. Heck, you can even make slides from this.

That's another reason I like this approach -- it's flexible. If you needed to make a longer pitch, you've got the bones here and can simply add more relevant details to fill it out into a full report. [More on how to write better reports]

What do you think?


The What-Why-How Strategy ® 1995-2012 TTMS, Inc. Used by permission.