Don't dismiss what could be the next big idea at your company

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, January 14, 2007

Few of us have ever missed hitting the barn by as much as Matthew Lynn did in January of 2007 when he wrote the piece entitled “Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late Defensive Move”.  You can look at this piece from a number of perspectives:

  • With your 2017 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. Phrases 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 oriented, financially motivated and management oriented.

If he had been writing for another type of publication, Wired for instance, he may have taken a different approach.

Clearly he was writing for an audience that he thought he understood.

Now, 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 in organizations each year — maybe even yours — because when new ideas are presented they get viewed through eyes that know their audience, the owners, the investors, the family members etc., wants the future to look like the past.

Here’s the rub, Matthew Lynn still writes. 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 Lynn had to say, either then or now.

How about in your own organization, how are new ideas greeted? I am betting when you bring an idea to a manager and he or 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 my boss what he thinks of your idea.”

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, but knowing they were authentically listened to will keep them coming back.

Do you or your employees feel invited to present new ideas even when they don’t necessarily align with past practices? How about those reporting to you?

Here’s a few ways to encourage a regular flow of ideas:

  • On a regular basis ask the employees in informal settings about what they are working on and whether they think the process might be improved.

  • Ask employees while they are performing their functions whether, if it were up to them, they would continue to perform the way they’ve been instructed.

  • UsE your own powers of observation; watch people working, and where you see what seems to be a struggle ask how things might be done differently.

  • When someone offers a change or improvement idea that works, make a big deal of it and thank the contributor, without saying “This is what I expect from all of you.”

See, it’s not so hard, but it does require you to be engaged as well.


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