my boss won’t let me come up with new ideas

This was originally published on May 6, 2009.

A reader writes:

I am a dreamer. I have lots of ideas and I can see the big picture easily. While in school I wrote articles and presented at conferences, but was met with lots of frustration with the people I was sharing my ideas with because I obviously didn’t know how to fit my improvements into their job. Most complained they were too busy or too bogged down to really implement anything I dreamed. I took a job 2 years ago to gain in-the-trenches experience and really implement my ideas.

The company I work for misrepresented themselves in the interview. While I get to work on many projects, I’m managing other people’s ideas and am never given the freedom to implement my own. My boss has reined me in, limiting what areas I can suggest improvements for and now who I can talk to. (When I talk to employees similar to my age, we tend to come up with many ideas but are told that the company can not do them for various different reasons. My boss suggests I not talk with these individuals because then I wouldn’t have as many ideas.)

While I find the professional experiences I’ve gained here very valuable, I’m miserable. However, with the economy the way it is, I’m afraid to apply for new jobs because I’ve not lost mine, I’m just unhappy. Last year, I was hospitalized for stress-related pain and I’m frightened to apply for a job and lose the health benefits and trust I’ve built at my current job. What advice do you have?

Without hearing your manager’s perspective, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on here. There are a few possibilities:

1. You are coming up with good ideas and your boss is shooting them down for reasons that aren’t legitimate — he’s lazy, he doesn’t like change, he feels threatened by ideas that aren’t his own, he takes new ideas as criticism of his own way of doing things, etc.

2. You are coming up with good ideas and your boss is shooting them down for reasons that are legitimate — for instance, the ideas would require putting time and resources into areas that aren’t priorities for the company right now and would pull them away from areas that are.

3. You are coming up ideas that actually aren’t that great or that simply aren’t good fits for the company.

I have no idea which of these three it is. I’ve worked with bosses who were horrible roadblocks to change and they eventually drove off all creative staffers who got tired of hearing “no” all the time. I’ve worked with people who had fantastic ideas and we still couldn’t implement all of them, for legitimate reasons (although we implemented quite a few). I’ve worked with people who had a flow of ideas so constant that it did become annoying, because while fresh ideas are great, it can’t get to the point that it’s disrupting people’s ability to get their work done. And I’ve worked with people who saw themselves as visionaries but most of their ideas were terrible, and they sulked and sulked because their terrible ideas weren’t used, and I’m sure they’re out there right now complaining about how their brilliance was unappreciated.

Good managers encourage fresh thinking and create a welcoming environment for new ideas. If they don’t, people stop making any suggestions, and that’s bad. If your boss is doing that across the board, he’s a bad manager. But if he’s only doing it with you, it points to a problem between the two of you. (Although if he has concerns specific to you and hasn’t raised them candidly, he’s also a bad manager.)

Anyway, here’s what we do know: The fact that your boss is limiting the areas you can suggest improvements in says that, at a minimum, he wants you to stop spending time this way. I think we can be sure that, if nothing else, you’re annoying the crap out of your boss.

If you want to stay at this job and do reasonably well (at least while you’re under him), you’ll need to change your approach. You can either rein it in, or you can tackle it more head-on. That would mean sitting down with your boss and saying, “Hey, I definitely get that you want me to make fewer suggestions for change. Can you give me some feedback so that I’m on the same page as you about this? Were my ideas just not that good, or were they potentially good but not areas we want to be focusing right now, or something else? I’m open to whatever the answer is.”

This will give you interesting information. Be open to whatever he says, even if you ultimately decide you disagree with him.

If you do decide to look for a new job, keep in mind that in many fields, it’s pretty hard to find a job that’s built around being an idea man/woman. Not in all fields, but many. And often getting that kind of job requires getting more experience first. If you can do it, great. But if you look and you’re not finding what you want, be open to the idea that your expectations aren’t in line with the reality of the type of work you do. At that point, you might consider other types of work that would fulfill those expectations or even working for yourself (where no one gets to block your ideas).

Good luck!

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Clever Name

    This is a really good response from Alison.

    Another thing to keep in mind: for most jobs, especially lower to mid-level jobs, people are hired because the company needs to get stuff done. As Alison alluded, most companies aren’t hiring because they are in desperate need of new ideas.

    That’s not to say that new ideas are bad or never appreciated. Just understand that it’s probably not what you were hired for.

    1. Anon 1

      I would somewhat disagree. For many lower to mid-level jobs companies need to get things done, but they need to get things done efficiently. I’ve worked in many admin jobs where I had process ideas to make things smother, quicker, or use more up to date technology. These ideas were always valued. I think even lower to mid-level jobs have room for ideas, so long as they are appropriate to the job and type of work.

  2. Lanya

    OP, just so you know you’re not alone – my boss doesn’t act on my ideas either. He says he wants to, but then it never exactly comes to fruition. In my case, it’s more his lack of ability to follow through on side projects, than a lack of enthusiasm. Like Alison said, maybe your boss just doesn’t have a lot of extra time/energy to dedicate to extra-curricular stuff.

  3. ZSD

    I would really like to read an update from this OP now that five years have passed. Are they cringing at their youthful arrogance, or were they in the right to begin with, and have they now found a place where their creativity is rightly appreciated?
    (Also, now they could change jobs without worrying about the pre-existing condition!)

    1. ZSD

      Oh, I just read the OP’s response the first time this was posted, and I see that they said that when their own ideas were presented by another member of their team, the boss would pick them up. That could indicate that they were actually (sometimes) in the right, and maybe now they’ve found a place with a boss who’s willing to listen to them more often.
      (Or it could indicate that the OP’s co-workers were better at *communicating* ideas than the OP was.)

      1. Florence

        +1 to that last sentence. There are a lot of people at my job who describe ideas to me, and I can pretty much guarantee that if they put it to their manager the way they put it to me, it’ll never fly. One of the things I do in my job (I’m kind of a half-manager; I spend half my time in one position and half my time doing low-level management) is liaise between my coworkers and management, letting them know how to communicate in a way that is effective. A lot of people don’t have that skill innately, and it’s not something that’s directly taught anywhere.

  4. Nonprofiter

    I have found that different jobs have different attitudes about ideas in general. For instance, when I worked for Boston Public Schools on strategic planning I was given a mentor who told me, verbatim, “new ideas never get anyone anywhere.” He saw it as his job to just do what he was doing as well as possible, and never try anything new!

    Whether or not your ideas are good, if you like to think that new ideas can make the world a better place then you should change jobs for a place where they are more receptive to that line of thinking. You don’t have to lose your health insurance until you take a new job, so I’m not so sure what you are concerned about, aside from everyone’s normal reluctance to make changes. Looking only takes time, though.

    A critical question is “why does this new idea matter?” If it is just a question of improving a company’s operations, then there are often strong incentives to avoid new ideas (they cost time/money to implement often, and money is the point of the company).

    If you’re working for a non-profit, new ideas can help achieve the mission (although there are also incentives against new ideas there). Still, if you are not working in a mission-driven organization then perhaps you should be. That way your ideas can be about something that you know matters to your organization.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      One thing I’d add is that new ideas often require saying no to something else. If we’re going to do X, that might mean that we have to say no to Y or Z. Which is sometimes people (including managers) don’t always take into account.

      1. Laura

        THIS. We have a design for a tool at work that everyone loves and would love to have.

        But we’d have to lose a month’s worth of someone’s time to implement it, and we can’t afford the consecutive down time.

        (Although, that said, it may slowly happen: we’re supposed to train in new technologies, and I’m contemplating implementing it as a learning project, because it IS in a technology I still need to learn much better. Ironically, that will make it -slower- than if one of our experts did it, of course…but it will get started, and serve two purposes, so it may be allowed. Waiting for final word on that.)

    2. Florence

      I work for a nonprofit, and I like the way they handle my ideas (I’m very ideas-driven as well). They treat them kind of like I was asking for a pet (“you have to feed it, take it for walks, and take care of it”)–I am essentially allowed to implement any idea I want as long as it doesn’t take away from what other people are doing. So if I want to get a client a job, I have to find one, contact the people, and arrange transportation for that client to get to her job. I still have to clear ideas with my manager, but because that’s the way things are handled I almost always get a “yes”.

  5. Puddleduck O'Leary

    OP, at risk of sounding harsh or taking your words out of context, this really stood out to me: “but was met with lots of frustration with the people I was sharing my ideas with because I obviously didn’t know how to fit my improvements into their job.”

    In general, jobs that are idea-centric tend to require the ability for the visionary to guide others in how to implement their ideas. It’s generally not enough to just have ideas, you also have to know how to execute them. Fire, the wheel, and electricity are no good if people don’t know how to use these tools to improve their lives.

    1. Kathryn

      I might have some additional insight on this.

      Like OP, I spent a lot of time and energy in school on my own “big ideas”. I went to a huge university, so making any changes, especially as an undergrad (and just generally being a 19 year old kid), seemed like a herculean task

      I totally agree with your insight that one can’t just communicate an idea without a path forward and expect implementation. I would say it was my experience in school that taught me this lesson (since I learned it the hard way!) but it was still really frustrating to experience.

      That said, I think having new and great ideas comes hand in hand with this kind of frustration. Just as an inventor might have a world changing idea for an invention in an evening, but take ten years to be able to actually build and perfect the invention.

    2. Anonsie

      Absolutely.

      And also, I have to say: There is nothing I find so infuriating and useless as someone who refuses to focus on the ground feasibility of a project. If we are trying to get something done and you insist on “ideal” results and a “dream” end state without ever letting anyone bring it down to what can actually fit into your work place, you are just wasting time.

      “You’re getting caught up on the details,” they’ll say. And when those details derail the whole thing and it gets scrapped at implementation, they act like they couldn’t have seen it coming.

      1. Gail L

        I know! I hate it when someone with a grand and brilliant Idea comes and tells it to me and then just looks at me like I’m supposed to get it done. Sometimes I’ll even lay a path for them and say, “if you want to get that done, you need to get Martha and Jane on board, figure out where the money is coming from, and then work out a training program to make sure people know how to implement it on a regular basis.” And they look at me like I’m the crazy one for … what… not jumping up and saying halleluja? Half the time I’ve thought of it myself but don’t have the time to walk that path.

        I think the author Neil Gaiman said something like this too… people always approach him with ideas for stories, like this is something he desperately needs. But truthfully, most people have ideas for stories, and Neil himself has so many stories he’ll never write them all. What makes him a writer, though, is that he *writes*. 5% idea, 95% writing it down and making the idea work. That’s pretty much how I feel about most ideas… if you want to spend time generating them, you’re time is mostly going to be occupied with getting them implemented.

  6. Twocents

    I’ll admit I’m skeptical as to how great the ideas are that you’re bringing in given the bosses response, but I may be biased by my own work environment.

    I work for a website and frequently see suggestions for improvements that aren’t remotely practical- something as seemingly simple as asking that the site be touch-screen friendly would require a huge overhaul of the coding and pull resources away from more immediate needs. Other “simple” suggestions would require redoing massive amounts of content on site for very slightly improvements in functionality.

    It’s not that they suggestions are bad per say, so much as they are ignorant and don’t take into account the work and effort require to put them into play and whether the outcome would be enough to justify it.

    1. LMW

      I run into this frequently as well. People have lots of ideas for content or a marketing campaign or a new logo or a website redesign but have no comprehension of all the details that go into starting a new project or changing something technical. Or the resource expense.
      We also have lots of “idea people” (and that term is frequently used with finger quotes in the office) who are constantly suggesting “brilliant” ideas but never put them into action — they just expect other people to go through the details and do the work. An idea without a practical plan for implementation is pretty worthless.

      1. Artemesia

        oh yes. The other word for ‘idea person’ is usually ‘never gets anything done’.

  7. Apollo Warbucks

    Change always causes hassle, I work with some really convoluted business processes and a computer system, everything is so inter connected it’s hard to manage the impact of changes. That’s just the technical side of things, getting people to buy in to the change is another thing entirely, so there are a number of considerations that might seem abstract to the change, but in fact are really important to consider along side the change proposal. Bare in mind that your boss has a broader overview of all sorts of things that could impact on implementing a change such as budgets, politics, recourses and other things like that.

    My suggestion is to be selective with changes you take to your boss, focus on a couple of ideas you think will be easy to implement and be well received by the business and see how you get on with those, demonstrate they add value to the firm and then you’ll have built up some credibility and if all goes well you should get more scope to implement more suggestions.

  8. C average

    Another possibility: your boss is in a position that makes him a catch basin for a lot of other people’s ideas, which can be really frustrating when processing and responding to feedback isn’t built in to your role or workflow.

    I’ve been in positions where I was highly visible but didn’t have a lot of actual authority, and as a result I’d get presented with many ideas–some good, some bad, almost none of them actionable by me. I’d then have to either ignore them, figure out who to pass them along to, figure out who to connect the person providing the suggestion to, etc.

    It got really tiresome, to the extent that I became really resistant to hearing ANYONE’S ideas about anything. It just seemed like noise to me, and it distracted me from the defined parts of my job.

  9. TotesMaGoats

    If you took a job for “in the trenches” experience, then you are being paid to do in the trenches work. Your focus and most of your energy expenditure should be on what you were hired to do. Not that idea generation isn’t necessary but it probably wasn’t what you were hired for. If your boss is “reigning that in”, it’s probably because you need to focus on your job duties.

    I don’t know how much you flesh out all these great ideas but may the reason they are getting knocked down is because it’s just the idea and not any implementation. The next time you’ve come up with something great, put together a proposal. Lay out exactly how and why this should be implemented and what will be needed.

    1. Mallory

      And I would go a little further and say that the ideas probably need to come more organically from your direct, in-the-trenches experience. Start small at first, with something that you’ve run into in the course of doing your job, that you are able to 1) outline specific steps for changing and 2) communicate the specific benefit to the company from the change.

      Disseminating ideas indiscriminately with no experience to back it up will wear people out and cause you to lose credibility with them. You have to build credibility with smaller, more practical ideas before people will want to take any chances on your more imaginative ideas.

  10. Jen

    I think I understand a little about where you’re coming from.

    In college I was really involved in student government. If you could dream it, you could do it. It was a nice “idea” environment.

    In my first job, my ideas were less appreciated. It was hard for me to understand the budget constraints of a smaller organization. I wanted to do this new thing and that new thing and I couldn’t understand why no one was excited.

    In time, I learned that most jobs either have not enough people to get things done or not enough money. Rare places that have plenty of money and plenty of people also have a fairly rigid system to get things done and that system has allowed them to reach a level of success where they have enough people and enough money so they’re hesitant to try something new unless they have to. If it ain’t broken, why fix it?

    But for most jobs, if there are not enough people – everyone is very busy just doing their current job. A new idea means that something else would not get done. If there’s not enough money, that means that current projects would likely be cut.

    It may seem inflexible and it probably is but most jobs are kind of inflexible.

    Another thing, often some people take “ideas” as criticisms. They think you’re saying “I know better than you how to do X,Y and Z.” So too many ideas that involve other people’s jobs aren’t handled well.

    I remember once a new hire typed up a whole page of ideas for the whole department. He thought we should be doing TV PSAs. He thought we should be more proactive. We probably should have. But we were all barely keeping up with our work load as it was. Taking time out from the day-to-day work that needed to get done was impossible. And a TV PSA would have cost about $30,000 more than any of us had sitting around.

    1. Sunflower

      Yeah all of this. An idea might seem cheap or free on the surface but you’d be shocked at how much these cheap projects end up costing.

    2. EngineerGirl

      I’ve seen this so many times! People tell me they have a great idea but have given no thought in to how to implement it without it becoming a huge cost and hassle. If it is truly a great idea:
      You know how much it will cost the company
      You know how much hassle and change it will create with ALL the stakeholders
      You know if it will/won’t break existing processes/software
      You know how to sell it to people
      You know exactly what the benefits are: cost, productivity, reducing mistakes, creating a competitive edge.
      You are willing to implement it on a small scale to test it first

        1. Jamie

          Next time they have a planless idea ask them to submit a cost benefit analysis for it. Even if they don’t have all the data they need for a final, it will cause them to think through the plan and what it entails in a broad sense.

  11. OriginalYup

    I remember this post, and I still think class-factotum’s response in the original nailed it. Is the OP just generating lots of ideas, or is s/he really digging in to the cost-benefit analysis, the implementation path, etc.?

    I used to work with two separate ‘idea’ people in the same department. One came up with really original ideas and got them implemented because she did the groundwork to refine & polish them. The other one was this endless churning vat of shiny cool ideas that popped out at random like bingo balls, nearly all of which were totally impractical and just new for the sake of new. Don’t be the bingo ball person.

    1. class factotum

      class-factotum’s response in the original nailed it

      (Goes back to the original post to see what she said.)

      PS Wow! I have been reading this blog for five years!

  12. Overkill

    I’d direct all of this creative energy and frustration towards starting my own company. Just saying.

    1. Anna

      That won’t do a lick of good if the what the OP is struggling with is doing the homework on how to implement a new idea or process. A person like that will have a ton of started projects that get dropped at the first stumbling block.

  13. ZSD

    I notice that a lot of people respond to these re-posts as if they were new, and the person who wrote in was still in the situation. For people who do this, is it because you miss that it’s a re-post, or are you just writing as if it were a current situation because that is easier/makes syntax less convoluted in your posts? (I’m not trying to be snarky. I honestly realize that people could be doing this on purpose.)
    If people are missing that these are old posts, Alison, might it help to make the font bigger on the announcement of when they were originally posted? Or perhaps to save re-posts for Throwback Thursdays?
    Or maybe nobody but me finds this odd. In that case, carry on!

    1. JMegan

      Ha, I wondered this too. I am about to type an answer in the present tense – partly because the syntax is easier, and partly because there may be someone new reading the blog in a similar situation.

      Also, everyone else is doing it, so. :)

    2. Lynn Whitehat

      I assume the original person has resolved their situation sometime in the last five years. But Alison is re-running it because it’s still an interesting question, even though it is kind of hypothetical.

      1. Mallory

        Yeah, I’m typing in the present, even though I understand that the OP’s situation either resolved, devolved, etc. five years ago, as sort of a hypothetical exercise with a general/universal “OP”. And also for the less-tortured syntax.

    3. Jake

      I try to respond in general terms for reposts. That way I can put in my 2 cents without seemingly responding to a 5 year old question.

    4. Jennifer

      Sounds like most people are just chatting about the topic in general, not advising someone 5 years late specifically.

    5. Persephone Mulberry

      Lets call it Flashback Friday, because Friday afternoon reposts appear to be becoming a thing.

    6. Ask a Manager Post author

      To give more context, one post every Friday is a re-run (Flashback Friday!). I do that to (a) give myself a break on producing new content and (b) expose people to the post who might not have seen it the first time. I pick posts with an eye toward what will still be especially useful or interesting to readers. (After all, if the point was only to be helpful to the question-asker, I would just reply to everything privately and never publish them. So that’s not the point.)

      1. Persephone Mulberry

        Do you notify the original LW’s that you’re reposting their letter? I assume you must, since the OP has checked in below. :)

      2. Persephone Mulberry

        Also, maybe start titling the reposts with “Flashback Friday: Post Title.”

        (GMTA!)

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          A good idea in theory, but in practice it leads to harder-to-navigate search results when a bunch of posts start the same way. I learned that the hard way with “short answer Saturday,” etc.

  14. Jake

    I think most people have ideas that aren’t nearly as big picture as they think. For example, a coworker and I ran into a brick wall when it came to a certain filing method. We proposed to my boss that we overhaul the department responsibilities to make the filing fit into engineering instead of QC.

    It was a fantastic idea that would have improved productivity and organization. It was not possible to implement though. The big picture that we fixed was actually the medium picture. The big picture was actually that by contract with our client, our QC department was required to be responsible for this set of files. Our contract was 3850 pages, and the line requiring this was in an obscure section completely unrelated to the files at hand.

    I guess the lesson learned is that describing anything as “big picture” probably isn’t accurate because there will always be a “bigger picture” that you cannot possibly be privy to. That isn’t to say proposing new ideas is bad, just that sometimes there are very legitimate reasons that ideas can’t be implemented, and many times it is easier for a manager to say “no” rather than have a half hour conversation explaining the entire situation, especially if new ideas are constantly coming from the same source.

    1. ZSD

      This is a great story and a great illustration of workplace truths. I’ve come up with a few brilliant ideas that turned out to be illegal in the state of California.

  15. Just a Reader

    I remember this post, and I remember thinking it was really naive. The best way for people to respect your ideas is to have and implement them for your own work first before you start trying to improve areas that other people own.

    Not every idea needs manager approval or has to be big picture. The road to credibility is paved with ideas in action. Starting small and working up to bigger ideas once a track record is in place is usually the way to go.

    Plus, I wonder if a “dreamer” really knows how to implement an idea, or if there’s an expectation of dreaming up the ideas and having other people execute. Because that’s a leadership role–and even leaders get their hands dirty.

    1. Mallory

      This is a much better-stated version of what I meant (and thought I was saying, until I read this) upthread.

  16. Sunflower

    I deal with this a lot in my job and while it’s a mix of everything, some things are just so obviously the company not caring. For example, we have a staff of about 5 people who travel to our conferences. These conferences are huge money makers and some of our only face-to-face interactions with our clients. There are a lot of changes our team would like to talk about and we’ve been trying to have a meeting since January. Our company president has all but completely shot down the idea of having a meeting to TALK about things. Stuff like that is just really frustrating especially because this is a resume builder job and I’ve been sitting on a great idea I’m really excited and passionate abut and it’s frustrating that no one will even listen.

    We also just brought on a social media/marketing guy and they’re giving him free reign to do whatever he wants because none of the higher-ups understand any social media. Wouldn’t be a huge deal except he’s slightly above entry-level and it would help to, ONCE AGAIN, have a meeting where all the departments can work together.

  17. CaliCali

    The biggest roadblock to implementing new ideas is having a clear vision for their actual implementation. Have you analyzed what kinds of resources your ideas require? Are those resources free? Do they have other processes constricting the adoption of the idea? I think leadership is far more likely to espouse a fantastic new idea if you get more into the nitty-gritty of WHY it’s a good idea and HOW this idea is going to be accomplished. It does my boss no good to say “Hey, we should set up a new location in NYC,” for example, if I haven’t demonstrated the business case, a potential implementation path, risks and mitigation plans, etc.

  18. pomme de terre

    Oh man. The opening “I am a dreamer” line really turned me off, as did the self-congratulatory mention of seeing the big picture. I would say this person really needs to develop his implementation skill set. He sounds like he’s so enamored of how the plebes just aren’t a visionary like he is, and also like he wouldn’t know how to actually DO anything.

    I have a friend like this, who has had a million jobs and seems to want to jump straight to being a consultant without realizing consultants usually have tons of hands-on experience which informs their big-picture thinking and makes it valuable.

    1. Artemesia

      I have seen many an undergraduate whose goal is to be a lobbyist (which I find sad as a first choice career at 22) or whose goal is to be a business consultant. When I ask what advise they would feel prepared to offer a business, I get a blank stare. I guess they join one of the big consulting firms where they gather the same old data and crank it into a boiler plate report just like the one sent to the last 10 clients, but tweaked with find and replace.

  19. JMegan

    Question for you: At what stage of your “ideas” are you bringing them to your boss? Are you coming in with a well-thought out plan, specific goals and deliverables, and rough timeline and resource requirements?

    Or are you bouncing into the boss’s office every other day going “I have an idea! We should get a pony! And a cotton candy machine! And my other idea is that we should all have Friday afternoons off!” This example is a bit extreme, but generally most bosses would prefer a defined plan, even if it’s rough, than a series of free-floating “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” type thoughts.

    One thing I have found really helpful is called the “value-feasibility” matrix (you can google for it, there are lots of examples out there.) Basically, it’s a way of evaluating new ideas on their value to the organization, and on how easy they would be to implement. It’s a really great way to organize my thoughts, and figure out whether what I’m presenting is reasonable and a good use of other people’s time.

    I too would love an update on this one!

  20. Jenny Wren

    Alison (and the commentariat), I’d be really interested to hear how you’d tackle this question from the manager’s perspective. How do you deflect or downsize Bad Idea Bears whilst at the same time creating an environment which encourages and nurtures new thinking?

    1. Us, Too

      Have them follow the process Class Factotum outlined. Seriously – it helps them learn to think through their ideas and allows everyone equal footing.

  21. JaneJ

    You say you took a job 2 years ago to gain experience and really implement your ideas. Are these ideas you had prior to taking any job? Just ideas about work in general? I guess I’m wondering what the nature of your ideas are, because I don’t see how you could have specific ideas about a job/company prior to actually working there. At least, not any specific, helpful ideas that are in line with the company’s goals.

  22. Rev.

    Class factotum’s original response:
    (done as a public service to those of us too lazy to click back)

    “…When you have an idea, write it up. One page of the idea, exactly what it will accomplish (how will this make $$, improve productivity, gain us new customers or share), what it will take to accomplish it, people, $$, and other resources, timeline, specific steps, obstacles, etc.

    You really think this will work? Convince me. Do the work. Don’t give the the Big Picture and make me figure out the details. Maybe then I’ll consider it. Otherwise, don’t waste my time. Oh — and make sure you still get your real job done…”

    This, and remember, one of the basic motivators of human behavior is, “What’s in it for ME?”

    1. Purple Dragon

      Class factotum’s original response:
      (done as a public service to those of us too lazy to click back)

      Thanks – as someone who didn’t click back.

  23. Jennifer

    I have come to the conclusion that grunts are not there to give advice and suggestions–that’s what managers are for. I have certainly learned my lesson to not suggest any improvements to management because every time I get blown off or basically told that she wants it the way she wants it. And this was minor stuff like “add one clarifying word to the webpage because a vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend.” My boss agreed with me that the addition was needed, then she got told a long spiel about how generic was good. Sheesh. Never bloody mind.

  24. The Reader

    I was the original person who asked the question.

    An update:

    I’m still at the job, but my boss hired someone in my department that became my best friend and we worked together for the past 5 years as a great team.

    I gave her every idea I had and she presented it. We made alot of changes and improvements for my organization over the years.

    Now I’m looking for a new job, and she has moved on too.

    Nothing was wrong with my ideas, and some in my organization have noticed that I have great ideas and requested that I work with them on projects.

    I still don’t get along with my boss, she still tells me that I should come up with more ideas like my coworker who was presenting my ideas.
    Thankfully things have changed for my boss too. We’ve lost almost all of our middle management, and since she has been downsized, given more projects, less responsibility, and a smaller salary. She needs successes so she leaves me alone mostly. Now I’m training a new coworker to fill that void.

    It takes a lot of trust, but it is working so far.

    1. Fish Microwaver

      It’s very interesting to read how you have matured with 5 years experience. I’m glad you found a colleague who complemented your ideas with her presentation ability, although your boss seems to see the finished product as the idea, rather than the refined and presented idea. Good luck with your job search.

  25. Editor

    While it is true a lot of dreamers are not practical doers who can implement new ideas, I would like to defend people who dream up ideas. I think we’re too stultified and too calcified in a lot of situations. Managers dealing with the annoying dreamers should require them to draw up plans or tell them explicitly why the idea won’t work. This contributes to strengthening future ideas. And if someone is always impractical, then the manager should say so, not just allow a lot of sideline eyerolling.

    I remember being young, and, together with another member of my university alumni class, coming up with an improved plan for getting regular donations from classmates. We suggested our plan. We were told it was not cost effective and wouldn’t pay off in the long run. Fifteen years later, research proved that actions like our plan did pay off for university fundraising in the long run, so a plan similar to ours was being implemented with young alumni (of course, we got no credit for this because we hadn’t done the research — we’d just begged and pleaded). At the time the research was disseminated, we were lobbying for some more development support for our volunteers, and were told, oh, we’re concentrating that on the younger classes now. Great — you blew us away when we were young, you’re blowing us away in middle age, and when you want support when we’re older, you’ll wonder why we aren’t giving. Bah.

  26. The Reader

    I also wanted to add that I’ve been doing two things with my ideas.

    1) I write them down and create a flushed out plan over time, so when my boss is looking for some new solution, we can just whip out the idea and it can solve things. IE we bring the idea up when she’s receptive to ideas

    2) If I think its a good idea I talk to people about it casually. Like hey what if we ___. Then over time I build buy in from my coworkers or can polish the idea to be even better for when it is shared.

    3) Do everything for the betterment of the customer and the the company. I gave up expecting praise or acknowledgement that I did a good job. I’m o.k. just seeing that the customer is served better and the organization functions better.

    4) Pursued a life outside of my job where I could find fulfillment. I became more than just an employee and didn’t feel guilty about taking vacation or time for myself.

  27. Hazard girl

    I work for a Fortune 200 company. We have a program globally that does a great job of funneling this kind of energy. It’s based on six sigma and “lean” manufacturing and saves the company a ton of money every year while making continuous improvements. Everybody at all levels are trained in process improvement. We have “Just Do Its” for quick fixes in your own department with manager approval. People can also submit suggestions for teams and volunteer to lead them. Our executive leadership team reviews the submissions and approves the teams based on where they want resources focused. Teams meet for 5 days (it’s as if you’re out of office, you can’t even check email). They gather data, review processes, meet with stakeholders, implement and test, etc. during that week. Longer term solutions are assigned to specific people/teams with due dates. The teams are cross-functional and always and include people at all levels, as well as some who do not do anything related to the process being worked on and process SMEs. At the end of the week, the team presents their findings and improvements to the executive team and anybody else who wants to attend. People at my work really love doing these teams. It’s a great opportunity to be that ideas person and have the resources to make big things happen. It also makes things happen like a tech on the production floor presenting to the divisional Vice President and corporate executives that they would never have contact with. Every quarter, the team with the biggest impact also receives a monetary reward that’s pretty decent. This program is probably a big part of why my company is a Fortune 200 company. My other point being that a career in lean manufacturing might be a great option for an ideas person as they would guiding these kinds of teams. Also, that this person might be a lot happier at a place with this kind of program that spends a significant amount of resources implementing ideas.

  28. Geegee

    I think people who really do have great ideas work for themselves and they come up with things like Facebook an start companies like Apple . The rest of us just work for these folks so that we can buy their products.

  29. Vicki

    I had a situation like this at a former job. My manager did NOT want to hear ideas, suggestions, ides for process improvement. (Oddly, when review time came around, he rated me low on ingenuity. Funny, that.)

    I can’t remember why, but I found myself talking to someone in our HR group. She had the title of “employee advocate” or some such. We made a deal – I could bring all of my suggestions, ideas, etc to her. She would not get annoyed. If the idea seemed reasonable, she would pass it on to the most appropriate person.

    This ensured that I had:
    – a sounding board
    – a place to send ideas
    – a one-step path to the _right_ ear in the company
    – no more confrontations with my manager over my “waste of time” ideas.

    ** NOte that this was neither my first job, not the first in which I had made such suggestions. It was the first n which my attempts to make those suggestions were shot down on a regular basis. Given my history, I would guess that in 2009 the OP a) came across as ‘young and inexperienced’, b) may have needed to present things better and c) had a bad manager.

  30. plain jane

    One thing that jumped out at me is all the people mentioning that the ideas are just not fully fleshed out enough – that they don’t take into account the difficulty of implementation etc..

    Something I’ve seen in the past is people who have lots of great ideas, and they spend so much time having great ideas & advocating for them, that they don’t have any time/energy for the job they were hired for. This leads to frustration for their team and the manager.

  31. Anonymous

    I had lunch with two directors and a VP before I left. The VP asked if I told my clients yet that I was leaving, I said no. My director piped up ‘do we even have to?’. The VP gave me a look and was like, ‘she’s been here for 6 years, they’re going to notice.’

    Others were never allowed to say goodbye to their clients cause eventually my boss would tell everyone ‘his version of why we left’.

  32. Romola

    I wouldn’t call myself a “dreamer,” but I was in a similar spot. I had been hired to change and move forward an organization’s communications strategy, but when push came to shove, the media and content strategy plan that my boss had approved and I had presented to the board was met with stonewalling/outright refusal to implement by the staff, who were reluctant or refused to change the ways they had always done things and were very afraid of trying new technology.

    So I had great ideas that I knew were great; that were presented at conferences and that other organizations thought were great, but I couldn’t make any progress in my organization where I was hired to implement these great ideas. The organization’s management team could care less about a communications plan and the board and my boss had no control over the rest off the staff (who I didn’t supervise, so basically I was stuck).

    I was also worried about leaving a job at a time when I really needed health insurance and stability.

    I continued to promote my ideas with white sheets and conference presentations (the organization I worked for did not have an NDA or proprietary agreement), and actually met someone at a conference who really valued my ideas and offered me a job, but without health insurance and without the stability I needed.

    So I turned it into a side gig doing freelance consulting and marketing work (something I had never done before), and it was the best decision I ever made. Sure, I was working a lot at the beginning – putting in hours for my freelance gig after my 9-5 every day. But I got some great successes to add to my CV – successes I couldn’t have gotten in the tech-fearing culture of my 9-5 job.

    Within months, I was able to land a plum job in a creative corporate firm where I basically think of ideas and implementation all day long and I’m in a company that values my job and expertise :)

    I love it. My advice: I think you can’t go wrong by working hard, not losing hope, and saying yes to opportunities.

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