The next time someone brings an idea to you instead of responding with, “That won’t work” say, “How do you see this working?”

How do you know it won’t work? Even if it’s something that’s been tried before that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work this time. Shutting down ideas without trying them shuts down people’s thinking and forces people back down to “tell me what to do.”

On board USS SANTA FE we operated by a set of guiding principles. One of our principles was innovation. Simply stated, innovation meant that we were always looking for new ways of doing the same thing. We also had an unwritten rule, “because we have always done it that way” was not acceptable justification for doing something. We had to intimately know our craft and the “whys” for what we did. This pursuit of intimate technical knowledge resulted in new ideas for improving how we did things.

Unleashing that creativity of the team generated many improvement ideas; including some that had been tried before. Using the approach “that won’t work” was not an acceptable reason for not trying something, even if we had tried it before. New perspectives, new technologies, and new team members with new experiences can generate great ideas. Shutting down ideas without investigating the details is a sure way to shut down your teams’ initiative. Simply listening to how they see their ideas working can encourage your team to look for ways to make things better. You may even find that it provides your team more efficient ways of accomplishing your mission.

When you hear an idea that you have heard before, remember to ask, “how do you see that working?” You might just find a new and better solution to an old problem.

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