These 7 Ideas Will Get You Fired…Or Promoted

by Lisa Bodell for [email protected]

Leaders are constantly asking employees for big ideas — “the more disruptive, the better!” — and they’re often disappointed when their brainstorm sessions don’t yield groundbreakers. After years of working with organizations like HBO, Starwood, and Google, I strongly believe that taming a wild idea—not improving a mediocre one—is what actually leads to innovation.

Recent studies suggest that the first part of a brainstorm merely recycles existing ideas; the middle portion yields incremental ideas; and the final block of time is where the breakthroughs happen. Unfortunately, most brainstorms stall before the third stage. We’re too focused on judging other people’s ideas—or pre-judging our own.

To improve your odds of coming up with a groundbreaking idea — and impressing the leader in the room — ask yourself “what ideas would get me fired?” This simple perspective shift gives your brain permission to stretch its thinking and imagine truly disruptive ideas.

When I open a session with the “get you fired” question, people look surprised. Then they ask for clarification. I challenge the room to think about the kinds of ideas that would give their CEO a panic attack. Ideas that clients would love but would never expect you to actually do. Ideas that are outrageous in theory but transformative in action. When I’m working with a company in a regulated industry like pharma, I remind them to think within legal parameters, but otherwise, no boundaries are given.

The whiteboard is initially filled with predictable things like “no dress code” or “three hours for lunch” and “Martini Mondays.”  But once these are aired, the next wave of thinking is far more creative than anything prompted by “give me a big idea.”

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