Are your managers killing the next great idea? | Column

By Mike Cook
For the Bellingham Business Journal

The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant.” 

 – Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg News, 01/14/2007

Few of us have ever missed hitting the barn by as much as Matthew Lynn did in January 2007 when he wrote the piece titled Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late Defensive Move. I’ll ask you to take a look at this piece from a number of perspectives:

With your 2015 eyes simply enjoy the article for the sense of irony you experience as you read each argument Mr. Lynn outlines.

With your 2007 eyes (you must keep them somewhere!) stand alongside Mr. Lynn and imagine the world he was living in at the time he wrote his article.

Matthew Lynn was simply a columnist writing for a daily publication that focuses primarily on matters related to business, not technology. As you go through his column you’ll find clear references to the audience he believes he is addressing. Words like, “…it is too early to start dumping your Nokia shares…” would seem to indicate that he knows the readers of Bloomberg Daily are investment savvy, financially motivated and management oriented. If he had been writing for another type of publication, Wired magazine for instance, he may have taken a different approach. Actually, it doesn’t sound like he is part of the Wired readership either so that example may be a bit far fetched. But clearly he was writing for an audience that he thought he understood.

With an entirely different set of eyes see if you can imagine what the world would be like today if Matthew Lynn had been head of product development at Apple and the idea for the iPhone had been brought to him. Hard, right?

Now ask yourself how many improvements, much less paradigm busting ideas, get shot down by managers (maybe you) in your organization each year because when new ideas are presented they get viewed through eyes that know their audience wants the future to look like the past.

Here’s the rub: Matthew Lynn still writes for Bloomberg Daily. He’s not a bad guy, he just couldn’t see the iPhone for what it was. All he could see was what it wasn’t and he knew nobody wanted that. Oh yes, and one more very important thing—nobody had to listen to what Mr. Lynn had to say, either then or now. Bloomberg News is very clear with their readership about that. His byline says, “Matthew Lynn is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.”

I am betting in your organization when employees bring an idea to a manager and he/she doesn’t see the merits they don’t quickly follow up by saying something like, “But hey, I only work here and this is just my opinion, you should feel free to ask the boss what he thinks of your idea, or better yet try it out on your own and let me know how it goes.”

Honestly, using Matthew Lynn’s column from 2007 is sort of a cheap trick. There are not that many iPhone ideas floating around any organization. But all good ideas don’t have to be as great as that, maybe it is just as important that all new ideas get a fair hearing by more than one set of eyes and ears. In my experience it is very engaging for employees to know their ideas will be given serious consideration. Grown-ups know they will not get everything they want, they don’t expect to always hear yes, but knowing they were authentically listened to will keep them coming back.

Do your employees feel invited to present new ideas even when they don’t necessarily agree with past practices? Ask yourself to recall the last time someone in the organization came forward with a new idea. That should give you some indication of how welcome they feel.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He teaches in the MBA program at Western Washington University and also runs a CEO peer advisory group in the Bellingham area.

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