Taking Ideas Into Action

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The idea for today’s post comes from a personal pet peeve and really tries to tap into the very fundamental challenge of taking ideas into action. Often we find ourselves paralyzed at the idea stage and can’t get past the wall between ideas and action. Everyone is capable of coming up with great ideas, some of them can work and some of them don’t. Our ideas are discussed among peers, we enhance the idea and we make it stronger. How often have you seen someone I like to call the “ideas person”? This person has great ideas, probably talks about them to anyone who is willing to listen and sounds like they are ready to change the world? How often are you left wondering what change this person is bringing?

Ideas are only as good as the actions they bring forward. I know many people who can sell many good ideas about changing the public service, changing the world or truly making a difference. There is no harm in refining, brainstorming, shaping, conceptualizing an idea before you act. However, the limitation of an idea is the lack of actually changing or doing anything. It’s just an idea and unless someone acts nothing changes. And in the way of acting, is the barrier of taking an idea (and sometimes our ideas are very pie in the sky) and defining how we’re going to make it happen. As a result, many of our ideas begin to lose momentum, we start to lose support and we start to lose the will to follow through. We talk up a big storm and we never get anywhere.

How do you take an idea to action? You have an idea and you validate it with the appropriate audience to a “good enough” stage. Avoid falling into the analysis paralysis trap where you spend too much time planning and “re-jigging” the idea. Take your idea and lay out a solid “next step”. What is one tangible and real step I can take to take action and make my idea come to life? As you get better at defining your next steps take this concept even further and define multiple steps that will lead you to successfully following through with the idea. For example, I’m working on a social media pilot project for my Section. I floated the idea with my peers, refined it and made it better. I took the idea to the next level by defining real and measurable steps to take action.

Why does this method work? Defining exactly what we are going to do in clear and measurable steps forces us to move beyond trying to achieve a “perfect” idea and beyond procrastination. It forces us to take ideas and make them into action. Some ideas are destined to fail and this method will not save those ideas. I challenge all readers of this blog post to take one idea they have, one thing they’ve wanted to get working on but never found the time or the support and define one real and achievable next step they can take to turn their idea into action.

Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca

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David Dejewski

Good post, Scott. Having clear and measurable next steps helped me a great deal once I got the hang of it. I needed to work to make this a habit. As a practical matter, I created a meeting form & took it with me to every meeting – whether I was chairing or participating. The form included things like meeting attendees, agenda and notes, but the very bottom had a table for SMART goals & action items. I made it a point to “run the sheet” at every meeting.

Once I got into the habit, I delegated the recording of SMART goals and action items to one of my executive assistants or staff members. That person was responsible for (and dedicated to) listening for action items and recording the SMART criteria for each. He or she was invited to address the group throughout the meeting for clarification. At the end of every meeting, that person was asked to read the list of action items back to the group. At the beginning of each subsequent meeting, that person was asked to read the action items and update the status for each.

I found that this method worked really well for me. It added accountability. Everyone knew they were on the hook for making progress towards those action items. Everyone knew who was responsible for what and when. I could demonstrate clear and measurable progress towards realizing our goals to anyone who asked.