Sharing an Idea is Just the Beginning

I attended a TEDx event today.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with TEDx events, it is a locally licensed event by TED, an organization that encourages “ideas worth sharing” (for more information about TED go to  TED is a great venue where some of the major thinkers of the world in areas of science, arts, technology and design, global issues, and business operations share their ideas.  I often ask participants attending my executive and leadership development programs to watch recorded presentations from such people as Dan Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, and others.  TED encourages the continuation of idea sharing in local communities by local organizers who put on a smaller event in the format of the larger TED events.

The event today was in a great location and it had reached its 100 person maximum allowed under TED rules.  As I looked across the room I didn’t notice any of the community’s major decision-makers in the audience; none of the political leaders, business leaders, or community service leaders; at least none of the ones that I knew, and I know several.  The attendees were mostly young professionals from the community, and these were the same kinds of people who were sharing ideas.  It is unfortunate that we didn’t have more community leaders listening to some of what these young speakers had to say, as there really were some good ideas.  Yes, some of the ideas weren’t fully fleshed out and needed some more work, but they were the beginnings of something that could provide an impact on the community if someone was there to help make it happen.

One such idea was presented by a young woman who is a known artist in the community.  She had done a lot of the art objects around the university area and downtown.  She was sharing about the issue of graffiti and vandalism on the community and was proposing that the senseless acts of graffiti be replaced with areas that actually encouraged graffiti; a place where the young graffiti artists could display their work.  She indicated that it could cut down on the random graffiti that was destructive.

At a break shortly after her presentation I shared with her some of what Gainesville, Florida had already done that was similar to what she was advocating.  I was actually shocked at her reaction.  She was rather dismissive of me, as if what happened in another community had nothing to do with what she was talking about in her community, despite the fact that her community and Gainesville were similar communities.  I then asked her what she was doing to make her idea happen in her community, and she waved her hand toward and across the room and said “I shared my idea with everyone here,” as if that simply was going to make something happen.  I asked her who in the audience was going to make her idea happen, and she turned to me and asked if I could.  I replied to her that I was not one of the people who could make it happen, but that I could help her make a plan to make her idea happen.  Another person walked up and started talking about the idea, and she soon found a way to walk away.

Like so many others, this woman thought that it was enough to have an idea and to share it and that should simply be enough to make something happen.  Or perhaps she felt that no one could make it happen, as she had mentioned during our discussion something about someone she knew approaching the city council and getting turned down.  The problem is that things rarely just happen on their own; sometimes it takes the right people talking to the right people to make things happen.  Either way, the sharing of ideas at TED isn’t to simply share ideas, but to see that they grow and have an impact.  This person had an idea, shared the idea, and had a couple of people who were interested in helping her make that idea into an actionable plan, and she walked off, perhaps losing the perfect opportunity to have her idea come to life.

When TED says “ideas worth sharing,” I don’t think that they meant that great ideas just get shared and that they are not put into action.  It is the sharing of that idea that can actually lead to action, but we can’t simply get caught up in just the sharing.  In the Innovation Cycle, having an idea is only the first step, and we have to do more than just share the idea if we really want it to grow and become something more than just wishes and dreams.  We have ideas all the time, but not all ideas are actionable, for a variety of reasons.  As we share our ideas it gets others involved to help us figure out which ideas are actually actionable. As we discover those that are actionable, we continue to share as we work on them and refine them so that we have something that will actually work.  But even that isn’t enough.  If we simply focus on only sharing we can end up in a creating – refining cycle that leads us nowhere and the idea has no impact.  If we don’t execute that idea, carefully selected and refined, by putting it into action, we’ve simply had an idea and wasted a lot of time and energy.

Hopefully one day that young lady will figure this out, as she does have an idea worth sharing and executing.  Hopefully it will not die with a sigh from her about how “the powers that be just don’t listen to the younger generation.”  I think she will find that there are those who will listen to an idea that has a well-designed action plan so that they can better see and understand the execution of that plan.  It doesn’t matter what age you are; share your ideas, but be prepared to receive some pushback from others as they challenge your ideas and help you figure out which ones are worth advancing, refining and executing.  Just remember that sharing isn’t the end, but the beginning of the journey.

Make a Great Day!

PS — The event was really worthwhile attending, and I encourage anyone who has an opportunity to attend a local TEDx event to take advantage of it.  A big “thanks” to Chris and Chris and their friends for the hard work that they put in to making this TEDx event a success!