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Why ideation doesn't have to be scary – 3 simple steps to start harnessing your workforce

By Sideways 6 Head of Customer Success, Jake Dipple

We were recently invited to speak at one of our customers' brilliant two-day event focused on empowering and enabling volunteers across the organization to bring ideas to life, using the concept of a flywheel and the breakthrough momentum it can create to unleash the power of employee ideas. We closed this presentation with a video entitled “Ideas are scary”. 


Ideas can be scary, but they don’t have to be. 

And this notion, easily misinterpreted, can hold organizations back from tapping into their most valuable and untapped resource, their employees. 

We all have ideas. Ideas that can save time, ideas that can reduce risk, ideas that can add revenue. But we don’t all have an ecosystem which first listens, then empowers, and ultimately holds us accountable to make a difference. To create impact. 

Adam Grant in his book “Originals” talks about how non-conformists can change the world, and the distinction he makes in the opening pages discusses two routes to achievement, conformity and originality. Originality, the road much less travelled, is about championing ideas which ultimately make things better. Ideas, when encouraged and nurtured, can have a profound effect. 

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World: Amazon.co.uk: Grant, Adam:  9780143128854: Books

There was a study conducted by Michael Housman, a leading economist, tasked with understanding why some customer service agents outperformed others. Through initial studies he found that those agents who used either Firefox or chrome as their default web browser were consistently higher performers than those who used Internet explorer or Safari. Not only did they perform better but they had longer tenure and less sick days. Further research showed it wasn’t the browser that made them better at their job, rather the route they took to get that browser. These days most computers are pre-loaded with Internet Explorer (Microsoft devices) or Safari (Macs), to get chrome or Firefox you have to download an alternative, you have to find a better way, you have to show initiative. 

So, do you want to run the type of team, department, or business, which restricts initiative? Which gives people just one way of doing things? Who’s only route to achievement is conformity? Or do you want to open up your internal operating system and encourage originality? 


There are so few originals in life, mainly because people are afraid to share their ideas.

-----  Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments, LLC -----

Ideas are scary. For employees, and employers. But they don’t have to be. 

So how do you remove this fear? We’ve looked at some of our most successful idea programs and pulled out three easy steps to start harnessing the power of your employees and inspire originality. Here’s to the OGs. 

Step 1 - start small 

The best things come in small packages. 

Tiny acts of kindness can make someone's day, Lionel Messi (known as the little magician) is 5 foot 7 inches tall, Mahatma Gandhi was the small-statured and inspirational leader behind India’s struggle for independence. Even my Simba pillow is made up of tiny lightweight nanotubes, which work together to create the perfect place to rest my weary head. 

At Sideways 6, we’re fortunate to work with large, broad-reaching, high-impacting ideas programs that gather 1000s of ideas a month. But this isn’t necessarily the right approach for every business, and even if it was, the journey to getting to that point started with something much simpler. 

Small is important when you embark on your first ideas campaign because by starting small and narrowing your focus it allows you to work at speed and increase your likelihood of initial success. 

Beginning with a small-scale ideas campaign allows you to handle the process more effectively. It's easier to manage fewer ideas, evaluate them thoroughly to find the best, and implement them more quickly. This approach prevents you from getting overwhelmed by too many ideas and ensures that each one receives proper attention. 

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A smaller campaign also requires fewer resources in terms of time, budget, and people power. It allows you to allocate resources more efficiently and assess the return on investment. This helps build a strong case for expanding future campaigns, building the right internal champions, and securing necessary resources as you look to embed your ideas program within your organization. 

We typically advise our customers to start with an engaged area of the business. That can be either a particular division which has trialled something similar before or a more creative and open team who are used to putting ideas out there to be evaluated. 

If not a team, then a small-scale challenge the business is currently facing. Sideways 6 recently moved office and we needed help designing the space, so we asked for help. It’s not going to change the world, but it encouraged people to share their ideas, a key cultural value which we want to promote, so when trickier challenges come our way, we’re all more comfortable voicing our ideas on how we move forward. 

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Step 2 - get to “a-ha!” 

That moment when everything suddenly clicks. When you’re learning to drive and changing gears just feels automatic, when you’re trying to learn a new piece of music and suddenly it sounds like it should, or when you’re trying to write a blog post on why ideation doesn’t have to be scary and you stumble across what step 2 is. A-ha! 

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The A-ha moment can be so impactful, but it’s so often overlooked. 

When we talk about the A-ha in ideas, what we really mean is the first moment people realize the value of asking for help. This can naturally occur, but the best ideas programs map this point out, and the journey that is required to get there. Whilst almost all of our customers have an end goal or vision for their ideas program, the most successful break this down into clear milestones, to lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed and to celebrate the small bits of impact which can lead to big changes. 

It can be the first idea submitted, the first idea brought to life, and anything in between. But having clarity on what this point is, and the critical steps it’s going to take to get there, can add focus to those running and engaging with an ideas campaign. It also gives you cause for celebrating the little wins, which when it comes to change, should never be understated. 

To continue with the driving analogy, it also gives you a chance to step up a gear. How much easier does a car have to work in gears 2, 3 or 4? 


By understanding what the first successful milestone looks like, you break what can seem scary, into clear, manageable steps. Who’s ever been able to start a stationary car in gear 5? 

Step 3 - MVPs are VIPs 

You have to smash a few eggs to make an omelet, kiss several frogs to find your prince, there’s no rainbow without the rain, it’s always darkest before dawn, smooth seas never made skilled sailors, the journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step. MVPs are part of a very important process. 

When embarking on your ideas it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect from the get-go. James Dyson had over 3000 iterations of the bagless hoover before he struck gold, Picasso created over 15,000 pieces of work, of which only fraction have critical acclaim, the Princess kissed plenty of frogs before she found her Prince. 

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The fear of trying to create the perfect ideas campaign or asking the perfect question to get the perfect response can be paralyzing, and we always recommend designing something which can be iterated and improved over time. The important part is being open to feedback, looking at imperfections, and slowly building over time. 

During the MVP phase, the absolutely critical thing is to communicate openly. The worst thing you can do is ask people for help, and not be transparent when they open up themselves and try and solve your problem. This will discourage future engagement. 

Idea campaigns can be imperfect, and so can ideas. There is also such a thing as a bad idea, and that’s okay. 

Matt Damon recently gave an interview on the creative process he and Ben Affleck went through writing “Good Will Hunting” when he was 27 and Affleck 25. Ben Affleck turned to him and said “judge me for how good my good ideas are, not how bad my bad ideas are, and that sentiment was so important when embarking on a collaborative process. You have to throw ideas out there, you have to not be afraid to have bad ideas. You have to feel safe and free to express it” 


In summary 

By asking employees for help, you are showing your employees that you don’t have all the answers, and that can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. In the book "Culture Code" Daniel Coyle talks about the profound effect sharing vulnerability can have in high performance. By sharing vulnerability with your organisation, by asking for help, and by embracing bad ideas, you can remove fear, unleashing initiative to unlock originality and high performance. 

Be open to starting small, understand what initial success looks like, and embrace the concept of MVPs. Ideas are scary, but they don’t have to be. For you, or your employees. 

Get started with your non-scary employee ideas initiative. 

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