How to harness your big ideas, especially in a time of crisis

Which type of leader are you: a visionary or an operator?  Every business needs both as one cannot succeed without the other. Very few leaders are able to see the big picture and manage the details.  

Visionaries are those that see “what could be” and come up with new ideas regularly.  As an entrepreneur and CEO, I put myself squarely in the visionary bucket as I’m constantly jotting down new product or service ideas, new ways of creating value for my own business and for others. I journal every morning as a way to channel that energy and document my thoughts.

Generally, this passion has served me well. However in times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this “idea engine” can go into hyper drive.   Why? Because visionaries tend to see challenges as opportunities. Opportunities to create solutions, adapt and pivot into new drivers of value.

The challenge is this:  If a visionary jumps on every new idea without discipline, it can wear on the team, shift focus away from priorities and cause frustration because not all ideas can, nor should be acted upon immediately.

If you’re the visionary in your company, here are five strategies that have worked for me, which could be particularly relevant during this time.

  1. Resist the urge to communicate the idea to everyone, immediately. Communicate with one or two top advisors in the company, typically your COO. It will give you the satisfaction of verbalizing it without prompting action right away.  
  1. Sleep on it.  Context is everything. Tomorrow or the next day, the idea might not seem as ground breaking. This doesn’t apply to the small stuff, where the risk is minimal, such as an idea for a new marketing tactic. Rather, I’m referring to the BIG ideas that would take considerable time and effort to execute.  
  1. If the idea is still burning a hole in your psyche in the following days, gather your top advisors and apply a quick framework for evaluating how it ranks amongst the other big ideas you’ve undoubtedly had this month and how it fits within the current business priorities. I am a big fan of quadrants which allow you to evaluate your ideas, in context of the others, on the axis of impact vs. effort.
  1. If the idea is worth pursuing, develop a high level road map that you can now share with the team. It must be clear where this initiative fits within the larger picture and how it will contribute to the goals in the current strategic plan.  
  1. Finally, it is highly recommended to set aside specific times throughout the year for structured visioning exercises to manage this process with a bit more rigor.

No progress is ever accomplished with status quo thinking. The ability to envision – e.g. conceiving of something in detail - is a massive competitive advantage. However, you can drive people nuts if you don’t harness your passion (or so I’m told). If you're an operator, send this blog to your partner in crime as a gentle nudge. You're welcome.

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