my boss has ideas all the time — and I don’t know which ones she’s serious about

A reader writes:

I have a problem with my boss.

She is really good at the substance of what we are doing but has a random approach to management. She is very much an Ideas All The Time person; I am her unofficial deputy and I manage a lot of our department’s planning and all the finances. I never thought myself as organized as I do now! Mostly we are an okay balance for each other, but something happened now to make it feel different.

Recently we had a minor argument at a meeting — with the whole team there — where she said she wanted to do something new (totally out of the blue), and I pointed out that there were some resource issues there: one of our team could stop doing something, yes, but I would have to take on a new task, so it is not exactly resource-neutral. I am overwhelmed with work. It did not go well. I should probably have dropped it at the time, and I could have been more polite about it, but I still feel I was right other than that.

A few days after that, we had a check-in meeting and she brought this up (nicely). I asked if it would be possible for her to be a bit more conscious of resource issues when discussing new tasks. She said that while she appreciates that I bring these up, she was hired to have Lots of Ideas and she is that kind of person and that I should be approaching her ideas with more enthusiasm and only bring up concerns later in the process. She also said she is aware that not all of her ideas can be implemented but she needs to explore all of them just to arrive at the ~10% of implementable projects out of all of them.

I asked if it would be possible for her to say when she is brainstorming as opposed to actually giving a task and she gave a vague non-answer. So I am supposed to just guess when we are talking about the one in ten cases where she does expect things to happen.

Alison, she is my manager; I don’t know how to make this work. Am I missing something here? How do I handle this? I can, sometimes, play along and say “that is an interesting idea” and ignore that it is impossible until she arrives at the same conclusion. I would prefer to avoid this as I see it as pandering but okay, if this is how she works, I can do it. I cannot be guessing if she is serious all the time.

I wouldn’t like this either!

I’m guessing that you have a brain similar to mine, where when an idea comes up, you’re immediately thinking about the practicalities of implementing it — your thinking is racing ahead to “if X, then Y” and “Y is a big obstacle so that’s unrealistic” or “Y means we’d have to cut out Z” and so forth.

Sometimes this kind of brain is very, very useful. Other times it means that we miss out on really creative ideas because we’re too quick to shut them down on the practicalities … whereas if we indulged in longer brainstorming, we’d realize there are ways to make them work.

When you pair this kind of brain with your boss’s kind of brain, there’s going to be tension and possibly conflict, at least until one or both of you realize you have to adjust.

I would be much more concerned if your boss were coming up with a zillion ideas and telling you to implement them all. That’s impossible. But she seems clear that she’s not saying that. She’s saying part of her job is coming up with new ideas, and in order to do that she needs to talk to talk through lots of different possibilities. That’s how she figures out what is and isn’t something she wants to pursue.

You’d probably prefer that she do that thinking in her head and only come to you once she’s settled on the one in ten ideas that she wants to move forward with. But she doesn’t work that way — and moreover, she probably shouldn’t work that way since she needs input from you and others on your team to figure out the details/constraints/logistics/possibilities.

It sounds like ultimately the issue is that you don’t know when she’s in brainstorming mode and when she’s decided to move forward on a project. But you can ask! You can say, “Are we mostly brainstorming at this point, or are we at the point of moving forward to implement this?”

You can also say things like, “This sounds pretty resource-intensive so if we decided to move forward on it, we’d likely need to cut something to make room for it — but we can talk about that when we’re at that point.” That way you’re flagging that as a concern without getting into a whole back-and-forth when she’s still in “trying to figure out if this project even has value” mode. You’re also not shutting it down preemptively — you’re saying “we’d need to figure out X.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 271 comments… read them below }

  1. Madame Tussaud*

    I have a similar brain to yours, OP. And this would drive me up a wall. Here’s a suggestion though, that might work: As she’s having these ideas, write them down. Carry a notepad/tablet with you so that you’re never caught unawares when one of her ideas pops up. Then, at a later time – the next day? later that week? As her if she’s got a few minutes to talk about some of them with you. That gives her a bit of time for the idea to settle/formulate further in her mind so that by then her enthusiasm for some of them will have waned, and the details of others will have sharpened. This could work really well given the two types of brains you’re working with here, and together you could accomplish some really great things!

    1. Future Homesteader*

      Oh, I like this a lot! I know I always have an easier time being receptive to new ideas after having some quiet time to sort them out a bit.

    2. Moray*

      And in your discussion later, be totally upfront about barriers (don’t call them barriers, though). “This pivot would mean [x, x, and x] would have to take lower priority, and [Y] isn’t something I would be able to handle alone.”

      I normally do not believe in the whole “compliment sandwich” thing, but this might be a time to use it. Start with “it’s a neat concept, we haven’t done that before,” followed with your explanation of why it wouldn’t be feasible, but concluding with “but it’s definitely a cool option to explore in the future.”

      If she prides herself more on her ideas than her actual successes (ugh), this would be the way to shut them down without being “unenthusiastic.”

      1. Artemesia*

        it isn’t that it isn’t feasible, it is that it requires trade offs. So say it that way – we could do X and Y to make this work but it would mean pulling Fergus and Tangerina off of project Z and making that a lower priority and if I am to manage it we would also have to shift the Johnson project to someone else. What are your top priorities here; are we ready to commit the resources and re-shuffle priorities. AND be on the lookout for good ideas that would in fact be superior to what you are doing. I too have a more practical bent and it has on occasion made me stick to an old way of doing things when a new way really was called for; the new way required capital investment but it had to be done in the long run and doing it sooner rather than later would have been a wiser choice than my let’s make do with what we’ve got. Try to curb your immediate negative reaction to change.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      Also, not responding to the boss in the moment may also help OP to think through possible implementation alternatives. Okay, so maybe OP can’t take on any new tasks right now, but if she gave the idea mentioned in the letter a few days to bounce around in her own head, maybe she’d realize that there was someone in another department who has the time and particular skill set needed to make the bosses plan more feasible should she actually want to move forward on it. Or maybe not – maybe the plan truly isn’t workable. I think the OP’s boss just doesn’t want to hear some version of, “This won’t work” right off the bat because it makes it look like the OP hasn’t thought outside of the box or looked at the issue from all angles to get to that position.

      1. BethDH*

        I lean toward the “lots of ideas” wat of thinking myself, and what I would really value in someone in OP’s role is someone who does think about implementation but from a “yes, and” approach. So in the example OP gave, that might mean thinking about what tasks OP has that could move to someone else or whether additional changes to the idea could make it more efficient or whatever. That is, I would want OP to participate in the brainstorming by thinking of potential ways we could make that idea happen so we could then evaluate whether it is worth fleshing out more of a plan. Sometimes the process of working through the implementation possibilities, good and bad, leads to new ideas that are better than the original. When the boss says they want OP to buy in a little more, I think they mean to the iterative process of brainstorming, not specifically the ideas coming out of it.

    4. Blue*

      I’ve found this to be the most effective approach, too. Sit on it; maybe do a small amount of researching/brainstorming so you’re solid on your reasons for/against, and then see if they’re still serious about the idea or if (more likely) they’ve forgotten about it or have realized on their own that it’s a bad idea. I’d also limit the amount of direct challenging you do in front of the full team. Maybe voice some a few major concerns/objections, but save the bulk of it for a more private setting after it’s clear that they’re actually serious about the idea rather than wasting that capital on something they’re likely not going to care about in two days.

      My last boss wasted SO much time immediately researching every terrible idea his boss had when, almost inevitably, within 24 hours the shine had worn off and grand-boss had moved on. Don’t be like him (or me, who was stuck with his overflow because he spent so much time on wild goose chases.)

    5. Anonym*

      I’m in a similar position, and when I’m really concerned about a project I sometimes use a sort of work version of “Yes, and…” in which I outline (cheerfully) what it would take to do the highly impractical thing. “That would be really exciting! If we defer [important] Project X or find someone to take on Function Y, we could definitely make it happen!”

      And I agree, Madame, that while it can be exhausting to be this person with that boss, when you iron out the wrinkles and combine your powers you can do an amazing amount together.

      1. HerGirlFriday*

        I love this approach. It demonstrates your desire to support her ideas, “and here’s what we’ll need to do….”
        It reframes the conflict into a partnership and shows that you’re trying to give her additional information to consider as she fleshes out her ideas and decides on a course of action.

    6. starzzy*

      My husband is in exactly the same situation as the OP and is doing something similar to what you suggest.

      What he does is write everything down on a whiteboard and underneath, give the generalities of the resources needed and the approximate time frame the project can be done if all the other projects remain consistent. He then sets the priorities based on previous meetings.

      Then, at the next meeting, he shows the whiteboard to his boss and asks what different projects should move up or down on the priorities list in order to accommodate the new idea(s). Most of the time, the boss sees the crazy-long list of projects that cannot all be done at the same time and nixes the new ideas himself.

      1. MiddleChild*

        Agreed. This was my approach with my previous boss who overwhelmed me with new ideas on a regular basis. My typical response was that I’d add it to the list. I documented everything in MS Word, however minimal the details I was given, and ask in our weekly check-ins about priorities. We’d move items up and down the list based on what was actually needed, or drop items that no longer apply. I think this system worked well for us.

    7. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, definitely consider the possibilities of working with her on this rather than against her! My first job was like this – Boss 1 was an ALL THE IDEAS person, and Boss 2 was an ALL THE RULES person. They were impossible to work with separately, but brilliant when they worked together.

    8. Loves Libraries*

      Me too. It would definitely drive me up the wall. Good communication is the key but sometimes I’ve found the creative types don’t work that way.

    9. Dread Pirate Roberts*

      I was just coming here to suggest the same thing. Something that’s often done in formal conflict resolution settings is to do a brainstorming session in which everyone throws out as many ideas as they can, regardless of how absurd they seem. The idea is that immediately digging into the practicalities of each idea stifles the creative process – which seems to be big with your boss. How often do you and your boss check in? Would it be possible to write down all the ideas she throws out and bring them with you to your check-ins? Then, when you’re sitting down together in private, you can go over the list together and you can say something like, “here are the ideas I’ve heard you mention this week. Are there any on this list you’d like to pursue?” It’s also possible that if your boss sees in writing just how many ideas she’s throwing at you each week she’ll gain a better understanding of where you’re coming from.

    10. Alanna of Trebond*

      This is a good idea. I work for a similar personality type in a similar role, and one thing that jumps out at me was that the initial argument happened at a meeting with the whole team there. I can’t speak for the OP’s boss, but my boss would NOT like it if I spoke up at a meeting she was leading, or at a meeting with her bosses, to raise concerns about why one of her ideas wouldn’t work. Following up 1:1 later on, especially if you have a regularly scheduled check in, is a good time to raise issues and suss out which ideas she’s determined to pursue.

    11. Mary*

      The other advantage of this is that it gives OP something to Do which gets her out of the way. If you can’t do that kind of blue-sky thinking / brainstorming (which is ok! Teams need ideas people and practical reality people, and they don’t have to be the same person!) being the scribe can give you a task to focus on whilst your boss and the other people in the team generate ideas. Having someone there to capture what’s going on during the idea-generation stage so that you’ve got it there for the evaluation stage is genuinely useful.

      The other thing you could do is take some courses in creative thinking, OP. If it’s not already obvious to you, idea-generation is a distinct phase of planning and teamwork, and evaluating ideas and figuring out how to putt them into practice are separate stages. You might find it easier to deal with if you reconceptualise from “boss is X kind of person, i am Y kind of person, we clash” to “boss is good at X stage, I am good at Y stage, we complement each other really well”.

      1. Mary*

        (My other recommendation is HIRE THEATRE GRADS. I was in a team a few years ago where our most junior member—our graduate intern—was a theatre and performance graduate, and we ended up letting her lead this kind of meeting. Her training meant she had a perfect instinct for how long to let us brainstorm, when to move us on to evaluating ideas, when to start selecting ideas and moving on to practicalities and implementation, how to make sure that actions and responsibilities got assigned and written down. We had people in the team with twenty years’ experience but we deferred to her in those sessions because she was so damn good at it. I try to channel her all the time!)

    12. gawaine42*

      Along these lines… We collect things in a list called a backlog, and have a meeting without the team in the room to have management prioritize what’s on the list. Then we’ll estimate the top things on the list as a team. We have a timeboxed meeting to do this – no more than an hour to talk through the list every other week.
      Where management or other good-idea generators disagree on priority, we have them argue it out without us, with one person named as the ultimate priority-giver.

      The nice thing is that it gives us the ability to talk about higher priority/lower priority instead of good/bad idea. It doesn’t provide a throttle on good ideas, which can still show up faster than we can respond to them, but it does throttle their impact to the team. When the same idea comes back again, as often happens, we can point them to our write-up online and let them add their thoughts to it, and then can argue it out, again.

      Meanwhile, since the team can see the whole list, if they see things that could be done easily at the same time as other priorities, they can reach down and ask about them. If someone wants to paint the kitchen, and they see the dining room is further down on the list, they can always pitch doing it at the same time.

  2. Future Homesteader*

    Ah, the Good Idea Fairy. She does sound like this is her process, though, and while it’s frustrating (I have a brain like yours and Alison’s), I’ve become more aware over time of how negative I can come across, especially when the person I’m talking to is someone higher up. I think Alison’s script is a good way to be clear that you’re thinking *with* her, but while satisfying your role as the logistics person. And I would add that you might want to be extra careful of your tone there, as well. There’s a fine line between being practical and sounding churlish, and I know this because I have unintentionally crossed that line before.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I agree. When you brainstorm, you want the flow of ideas to keep rolling, so you voice challenges but you don’t terminate the idea. So you want to say, “If we open the Lama Facility to visitors, then we will need to hire more staff. Can we find the budget for that?” But you don’t want to say, “We would have to hire more staff so we can’t do it.”
      Even when ideas are flushed out and don’t go anywhere, the discussion can bring out new ideas. Maybe the challenges of opening the Lama Facility to visitors are too great, but talking about the concept brought up the idea of having open house days twice a year which is doable.

    2. JayNay*

      OH MY GOD did you have the same boss as I did? My former boss was full of ideas all. the. time. Sometimes these ideas would just disappear by the next week. Sometimes the ideas would be resource-intensive without any thought to whether they were actually worth the investment. I never knew what I was supposed to be working on. It drove me insane. I ended up leaving the team, partly because I found it impossible to take directions from her.
      I think my former boss would’ve been great as the ideas-generator of the team, with another person the “let’s think this through before we throw everything at it”-person. Sounds like OP is in that not-so-enviable position.
      Got no advice, only here to tell you you’re not alone and that misery is real.

      1. Liz*

        This sounds like my former director too! He’d come up with these wild ideas, which were almost impossible to implement without spending money we didn’t have on consultants etc. And then, when politely informed that no, this wont’ work, would just reiterate his desire for said new, wonderful thing!

        the best was when he wanted an app to do a function that almost no one except our dept. did. He thought we (my two bosses and I) could just “whip something up” and make it work. Um, i don’t have the first clue how to even create an app, let alone have ANY programming or whatever other skills might be necessary. Oh but he just wanted a simple one, to do A and B, SURELY it can’t be that hard.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I had a boss who would have all kinds of good ideas, but he would only ever remember a portion. I always just kept an ear out for the ones he mentioned a second or third time. I didn’t worry about the other ones unless he mentioned them again and paid attention onlyh to the ones that seemed to be gaining traction.

  3. LaSalleUGirl*

    I have a “poke holes in all the ideas” brain too, but I’m also the manager as well as someone who is truly interested in creative brainstorming from my team. But I had to learn how to signal to my staff that poking the holes was *part* of my brainstorming process, and that identifying potential problems was me trying to think of ways to make it work, not me rejecting their ideas out of hand. I found that starting my hole-poking by saying, “This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but we’d have to think through A, B, and C” helped a lot. It pulled them into the hole-poking process (because I needed to hear about potential problems from their angle too), and it signaled that I was taking the idea seriously enough that I *wanted* to think it through from lots of angles to try to make it work.

    1. Anonym*

      Hey, I am basically you and the OP and this is really helpful. Thanks for sharing!

      Tired of Being the Fun Police, But You Put Me in Charge of Budget for a Reason

      1. Future Homesteader*

        Fun Police unite! But only after submitting the proper paperwork for a permit and making sure that we have space available as well as appropriate funds for any snacks.

          1. OP for this*

            Hee, Fun police meetings sound good!
            It’s not even that I am especially rule-abiding by nature. It’s just that someone has to be!

      2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        LOL! I call our dog the Fun Police because he rats out the cats!

    2. Silver Radicand*

      Absolutely! My company summed this up in a statement for testing new ideas: “What would have to be true to make this work?”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes, you’re not shooting down ideas with a big old “Nope” bazooka, you’re finding the places where the road to get there is going to need to zig one way and zag the next in order to get it done.

      I like that you explained this to your team, it really is a huge thing in the end. Just like if the OP’s boss had just been able to explain that she gets her ideas are only going to “stick” 10% of the time instead of letting the OP chase fly balls all over the GD place for awhile until they had a bit of a blowout!

    4. Quinalla*

      Ah, this is excellent advice, thank you! One of my current bosses is a bit of an idea generator. He throws ideas out all the time, but he is very clear when something is just an idea, when something is in the “let’s figure this out” stage and when it is time to get rolling on it, so that helps me a lot with this issue, but still, I’m definitely one that gets to figure out how to make something work and this framing is helpful for sure!

    5. Kella*

      This was my thought as well! It seems like part of the brainstorming process *should* be identifying obstacles and brainstorming how you’d overcome them, otherwise, you’ll never be able to accomplish that task.

  4. Important Moi*

    I would also suggest to the OP, as an ideas person myself, letting go of the idea that your way of being more practical is better then being an ideas person. Consider the possibility that even if you haven’t the words it comes across in your interactions . This is just based on my experiences. By all means ignore this if it doesn’t apply to you.

    1. Jennifer*

      I was going to say something similar. I’m similar to the OP’s boss as well. It takes all types to make the world go round so it’s important to remain open-minded.

    2. Important Moi*

      Consider the possibility that even if you haven’t uttered the words it comes across in your interactions.

      I thought I made all the edits. :)

    3. GS*

      You might consider that the “practical” people might have MUCH BETTER ideas than you, because they actually can think through the implementation. I’ve found this to be the case – the “ideas only” people like you dominate the conversation too much, and waste a lot of time on things that get the group nowhere. People like you have wasted so much of my life in committee meetings! I’m a practical/implementer person – and I ALSO have lots of ideas, but ideas actually have a chance of working in the real world, thank you very much.

      1. mf*

        I have found that these kinds of “ideas only” people tend to come up with creative ideas but are very bad at weighing the cost/benefit of implementation. They get SO EXCITED about their fabulous idea that they don’t listen to the practical people in the room who are raising their hands and saying, “But what about X?” and “We can implement this idea but Y will be a significant barrier.”

      2. Jennifer*

        “People like you have wasted so much of my life in committee meetings!”

        This seems unnecessarily rude. There are creative, ideas-oriented people who are also capable of being polite and not dominating conversations. You have no idea what this person is like in meetings or at work in general.

      3. Observer*

        Except that the OP’s boss is not an “ideas only” person – she is absolutely willing to look at whether any particular idea is actually feasible and apparently know enough, per the OP, to be able to actually have that conversation. But her JOB is to have lots of ideas and then winnow them down to the few that will work.

        That’s a really common process even for people who are good at implementation – there are some kinds of ideas that simply won’t bubble up in a situation where you are looking at implementation problems from the start. I’m talking about actually GOOD ideas.

        But if you are going to be contemptuous of people with a different process than you have, of course you are going to wind up wasting a huge amount of time and energy.

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah – some people figure things out by talking them through with others, and some people like to think everything through before they bring an idea up to anyone else.

          Either one could be a better approach, depending on what you’re doing – for example, if I’m working on a team, the two least productive things are (1) someone who goes off alone and comes up with their own foolproof plan without any input from the rest of us and (2) someone whose main contribution to a brainstorming session is to explain why everyone else’s ideas won’t work.

          I think the OP’s situation isn’t really about this, though: the problem is that her boss isn’t giving her critical information, namely, “you should/shouldn’t be working on this right now.” It sounds like she’s defaulting to the assumption that she should be acting on everything unless told otherwise, but if the boss says she only expects 10% of her ideas to be implemented, maybe the assumption should go the other way.

          It might be helpful to just listen and take notes when she first presents the idea, then circle back to it the next day to ask if she wants you to move ahead with it, and use that second conversation to bring up the potential issues, which I think will come across as less negative and also give her time to reflect on it as well.

          1. Observer*

            I think this is a good suggestion. Certainly, I don’t think that the OP should jump to working on implementation plans. Find out which things the boss want to follow up on, and then find out what are the big questions the boss wants to answer to decide whether to look at it more closely.

        2. NW Mossy*

          Concur – good ideas can often come in the guise of bad ones, and it’s only through the discussion that we reveal them for what they are.

          When the criteria for even airing an idea is “all potential hurdles resolved,” it creates an environment where only low-risk ideas ever come up. It very effectively teaches people to self-censor out risky ideas, but risky isn’t the same thing as “doomed to fail.” There are other ways to manage risk without squashing the idea, and riskier ideas tend to be the ones with bigger payoffs if they succeed.

          1. Jaydee*

            It also limits the ideas that aren’t really risky but do require input or collaboration by multiple different people or departments. It’s a great way to duplicate systems, create silos, and come up with expensive, inefficient workarounds instead of finding actual solutions to problems.

            If I work in llama grooming and notice the llamas have dry skin in winter, am I limited to proposing solutions that are 100% in control of the llama grooming department (fancy new shampoo, more or less frequent grooming)? Or can I work with the llama nutrition department and facilities staff to figure out whether this could be improved with a dietary change or adjusting the temperature and humidity in the barn?

        3. Door Guy*

          Exactly. Some of the best ideas I’ve had have been piggy-backed off of bad ideas (either myself or someone else’s). There can be something in a wildly bad idea that makes a switch in your brain flip and suddenly you get that burst of inspiration. Maybe it’s taking 1 part of that bad idea and modifying it to fit your needs, or maybe as you’re all laughing at the bad idea someone else spits out what they THOUGHT was a bad idea but you are able to see a different angle and it could actually work and then begins to become an actual thing instead of an idea.

          1. Mary*

            Sometimes it’s also about establishing shared values. Ok, so our Llama Peer Mentoring Scheme probably isn’t going to work, but we’ve established that llama wellbeing is a priority for our team and if anyone has got some genuinely practical ideas for improving llama wellbeing, they can feel pretty confident that they’re going to get a positive reception.

      4. LQ*

        There’s a world of difference between an ideas person who processes outloud (which is what it sounds like the boss here is) and an ideas only person. And yes, people who process outloud have lots of good ideas too. This is a place to actually flex your diversity is a good thing muscle. It makes me uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t push all ideas to a better place to have multiple people work through them. So yes. You do need people like this too. Not just practical, implementable ideas people, but people who can work through an idea to make it better.

      5. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wow, no. That’s absolutely not true. (And you’ve presented it quite rudely. Please read the follow these rules.) People like the OP’s boss often do come up with better ideas than practical people, because they’re (often) more willing to brainstorm and see where it leads them, whereas we practical people are more likely to cut off the discussion early on practicalities which could turn out not to be obstacles.

        In any case, its really not about who’s better or worse. It’s about how to work together well.

        1. GS*

          I think it was the commenter’s name “Important Moi” – pretty typical sentiment for a self-proclaimed “ideas” person :-)

            1. Important Moi*


              It never occurred to me that my screen name suggested a sentiment. I just wanted some “French” in my name. My screen name is innocuous I swear. :)

              1. boo bot*

                It’s also a reference to the TV show Fawlty Towers, I think? It’s the end of a story Sybil Fawlty is telling, something along the lines of “and then she said, ‘well maybe your problem is that you’re so terribly pretentious,’ and then he said, ‘Important? Moi?'”


                1. pentamom*

                  That was “Pretentious? Moi?” in that case. And it was a rather full of himself guest that was telling the story to impress a woman.

      6. Gwen S.*

        I’ve found this to be the case – the “ideas only” people like you dominate the conversation too much, and waste a lot of time on things that get the group nowhere.

        So go join a company that wants people to provide 10 reasons why a new idea can’t work, instead of 10 ways of making it work. I’m sure that will be a long-lived and profitable venture where you will be valued.

    4. JayNay*

      You know, I’ve been pretty burned out from having an ideas person as a manager. As an organizer and planner, I felt super unappreciated when I didn’t jump on all her great ideas. Instead, I was trying to make sure our actual work got done, which was pretty chaotic because we spent so much time brainstorming ideas.
      The respect for different work styles definitely goes both ways.

    5. WellRed*

      Sure, but how do you suggest the OP not burn out in the meantime? The boss sounds hard to keep up with and it’s annoying to have stuff fall on your plate that then…goes nowhere.

      1. Observer*

        Well, Allison provides a really good script, to start with – ASK if she’s still in brainstorming mode, which needs a different response than “This looks like it might actually be useful. What do we need in order to make it work and is that feasible?” mode.

        In brainstorming mode, keep the questions and research to a minimum.

      2. Loves Libraries*

        It does sound like OP has too much to do in addition to trying to sift through all of the great ideas.

      3. Shirley Keeldar*

        boo bot had a good idea, above, which was similar to mine–jot the idea down, nod and smile, and come back to it a few days later–“So, where are we with dying all the llamas maroon? Should I be sourcing llama dye? Or shall we hold off on that while we finish the trimming?” Assume all ideas are ephemeral unless specifically told to start working on them.

    6. Observer*

      I’m sure it has come through, if what the OP writes here is any indication. “Pandering” is a really derisive way of describing working with her boss.

      1. Name Required*

        Yes, listening to your boss’s idea isn’t pandering … sounds like OP has some greater/different frustrations that aren’t being resolved, and these ideas are the straws that are breaking the camel’s back.

    7. GMN*


      I like to think of it in terms of “innovation height”, which is a common term from patent law, but applied to all ideas. An idea that is simply a change in implementation has no innovation height and is fully formed when it comes into your mind (let’s change the color of the teapot varnish). On the other hand, an idea that has innovation height requires original thought (it’s annoying when the tea gets cold, the teapots should have heating), and in its nature can not be fully formed the moment it comes to mind.

      And as an ideas persons, I can assure you this is quite annoying from the other side too. To me, it feels like I’m trying to figure out whether teapots should even be hot, while the details people are complaining that some specific teapot heating supplier has long lead times…which is irrelevant at that stage because there are a million ways to heat a teapot and if some specific way is bad, let’s just forget about that one and use a good way…

      1. greenthumb*

        Thank you for the gift of a phrase that captures an idea I’ve been trying to describe to a colleague for a very long time. *adds “innovation height” to online notebook*

    8. OP for this*

      I am trying, I really am! (I guess Yoda got that one right, though). And certainly there is no one right way to be a person, or manager.

      It’s just that it is incredibly frustrating to spend precious, limited time on things that… are not going to happen. And not having time for some thinking of my own. And being the boring, terrible “mom” who actually makes people brush their teeth.

      1. Mary*

        Genuinely think you should go and do some problem-solving or creative thinking training, OP. Because you’re also naming other problems here, but to me, you’re misattributing them. The problems that you’re describing — you’re not clear on which ideas should be taken forward, you haven’t got the space/time to develop your own ideas—have lots of potential solutions, but it doesn’t sound like you have a clear picture of how to move through a process of analysing problems and generating and evaluating solutions, either as a team process or as something you can do yourself. Is that fair? I have taught stuff like this in the organisational development part of my career, and this is stuff you can learn and practice. Eithe rproblem-solving or creative thinking might give you some structures for understanding what your boss is doing and how you can most usefully support her, the rest of the team and your own work.

        1. OP for this*

          Whoa, ok, it’s really interesting that it can look like that and I am certainly missing some potential solutions, being, you know, human and all. And creative thinking training sounds like a hoot! (Seriously).
          All the same: I am, as all people who approach Alison, describing about 1% of the full context, so I find it more realistic to say that I needed the input on this bit and just did not describe all efforts around the problem. She is my 11th manager, I never had issues with problem solving, brainstorming or creativity before – in myself or others. That does not mean I could not learn more! But I don’t think that alone could provide the solution.

          1. Mary*

            When I say I used to teach it, I used to teach it to senior managers and consultant-level doctors or nurse-practitioners with like 20+ years experience! I wasn’t suggesting it as remedial training or meaning that you were clearly deficient or anything, just that looking at it in a structured or more formalised way might help you find more solutions. But cool if that’s not something that resonates with you. :-)

  5. Alex*

    This sounds like a great place to apply the Socratic method. Instead of telling her your concerns you ask her questions that will lead to her thinking about it.

    “Who will be taking on this responsibility?”
    “How often will this task need to be done?”
    “What kind of training will the staff need?”

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Exactly! Blue-sky thinking is how we progress, but practical thinking make rhose ideas a reality. The Socratic approach acknowledges the idea, but also engages the idea-generator in thinking about how it could happen – or derail.

      Engineers are the most creative people I’ve ever worked with. They had to create the technology in order to make a product or system a reality. It used to be called ‘Pure and applied R&D’ but that was a long time ago.

    2. BRR*

      Ooh I like this. It both helps with the brainstorming procces and will lead the boss to ruling out the idea if it’s not feasible so the LW doesn’t come across as negative.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup, that’s what I do – I ask a lot of questions. Often, what will happen is the big Ideas person will talk themselves right out of the idea once they hear out loud just how impractical their idea really is when they can’t answer the questions fully, lol. I even do it to myself when thinking about taking on a new creative project.

    4. Name Required*

      I would recommend using this approach cautiously, especially as an employee commenting to a boss or manager. It can come off as passive-aggressive, especially if your role is to figure out the answers to these questions and your boss’s role to figure out whether to move forward or not. If you say, “What kind of training will the staff need?” when you’ve said, “We don’t have the time or budget to train staff on this idea” in every previous meeting … It may not read as a different approach.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        What’s being suggested here is that OP not say, “We don’t have the resources for this” upfront and just wait to ask questions like, “If we do this, what resources would we need to make this work?” That way, she doesn’t sound passive-aggressive but more open and collaborative.

        1. Name Required*

          I do understand what is being suggested. I’m not as optimistic that it will land as open and collaborative when the OP has a history of appearing negative and shooting down ideas. The suggestion only works if the manager thinks the suggestions are in good faith … but they really aren’t if OP already knows the answers to the question, and is pointing them out in the hopes that manager will follow OP’s logic and kill her own idea.

          It also seems like manager is saying they don’t want to go through these details at this stage of the brainstorming — question or statement, it’s still feedback the manager isn’t looking for at this stage. I feel for OP, though, because it’s not clear what feedback the manager DOES want.

      2. Alex*

        I would play this as attempting to understand the idea better, ask these questions as a follow-up when the boss is laying things out. You would not be asking for a fully fleshed plan, just trying to pull all the details together.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I wouldn’t even ask the questions right away because the boss is just spitballing ideas. When she comes to OP and says, “We’re going to move forward on X” is when OP can begin asking the questions to get more info as to whether this implementation plan is feasible or if it needs more work.

    5. Samwise*

      Sure, but let the ideas play out a little bit before you start in on the practicalities. I had a coworker once who was super practical, I am much more ideas and speculation oriented — we worked great together because we respected what the other person brought to the table. She let the ideas play out and *then* asked me to “bottom line” it. And I would work through the practical details and *then* ask, So what do you think about doing X apparent tangent that connects to Big Thing?

      Brainstorming is a piece of a process. Generate the ideas, play with them, get out even the crazy stuff, and then sort through it, think about resources and logistics, etc. If you don’t let the ideas play, you don’t get the benefit of the brainstorm.

    6. Aurion*

      While I like this idea (heh) in principle, but implementing doesn’t really go the way I hope.

      The “who what when where why” questions are, in essence, a softer way to point out the roadblocks, and I often see the Ideas Person wave it away with “we’ll figure it out later” or “X and Y can deal with that”. Such a dismissal leaves OP at the exact same place they started with, because they know the impractical details against the idea but the Idea Person doesn’t want to hear it. Figuring it out later just kicks the discussion about the feasibility (or lack thereof) down the road, and maybe X and Y can technically deal with it but there’s a host of impracticalities that come with dumping the new idea on their plate.

      I find this kind of Ideas Person exhausting, frankly. I fully understand sometimes people just want to think out loud and that’s how they process, but I feel like the whole point of thinking out loud and bouncing it off other people is that they will receive immediate feedback on the idea, whether positive or negative, and like all workplace feedback, one should receive negative feedback with grace. That isn’t to say we have to get into the weeds of the nitty gritty details of budget lines and regulations paragraph 12 immediately, but even at the big picture scope one should be able to hear “yay, shiny new idea will improve our market visibility by 10%!” alongside “sure, but we are at capacity in the llama department and this might force us to hire more staff”.

      1. DJ*

        Yes, I think this is my problem with it too — boss seems to be wanting to spitball ideas, but doesn’t want feedback, which makes it seem like maybe she should be holding off before bringing up the ideas in a meeting in the first place. I like to talk through ideas, but one of the points of this is that I want to hear what other people have to say. It seems weird to me to bring something up without actually wanting any feedback. Understandably if the OP were shooting down every idea with no consideration, that’s not good either.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It will drastically depend on the internal setup.

      It sounds like the boss is spitting out ideas and if it’s one out of ten ideas that stick, the people who are in the meeting already know they’re tasked with figuring out the “who, what, when, where” sort of thing. Which is why the OP is kneejerking with the “This is something that would fall on my plate and I don’t have the time to do it…” response.

      If you ask and you know darn well it’s a task you’d do, you’re going to still come across as aloof instead of combative.

      1. Alex*

        In that case you could try to phrase it as “Would this be something I take one in addition to *other task which will have the same deadline*?”

        1. Name Required*

          It’s all the same thing. You’re relying on boss being too obtuse to see the difference between asking a question intended to lead to a specific concerning result rather than making a plain statement of concern. Or they don’t see the specific concerning result and we’re moving forward anyway.

          Manager doesn’t want to hear these concerns at this stage, anyways: “She said that while she appreciates that I bring these up, she was hired to have Lots of Ideas and she is that kind of person and that I should be approaching her ideas with more enthusiasm and only bring up concerns later in the process.” Aurion said it well above — a question just a softer roadblock. Rephrasing the question just looks like OP isn’t listening to what Boss is saying.

          1. Grumpy*

            The boss needs to toughen up and not be so precious about their ideas. And not expect their staff to soothe their feelings. Or perform enthusiasm.

            And an objection is valid -or not- regardless of whether it’s raised 3 seconds or 3 days later .

  6. The Cosmic Avenger*

    To be blunt, OP, your boss is obviously a prima donna who doesn’t want to be told that it’s obvious that many of her ideas are impractical. But that’s who she is, it’s not your job to change that, it’s going to be your job to manage up, and write it out and bring her the cons and the pros of her ideas one-on-one later on. Think of her more as a client than a boss, because she’s acting like more of a client than a member of your team. This would be what would work for me because I’m in consulting, but maybe substitute “customer” for “client”. You obviously can’t do things that are either impossible or ridiculously expensive or impractical, but I think she wants to be heard and valued for her ideas more than she actually wants to help the company, so approach her ideas with that in mind.

    Good luck!

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yup. I’ve had bosses like this. They think they are brilliant and have all these great ideas and that Everyone Else is standing in the way of Their Greatness.

      Meanwhile they are asking people to do something wildly illegal (I know, let’s have llama rides along the shoulder of the highway as a rush hour special! We can just fling the llama poop over the back fence into the city reservoir, no one will notice and it’ll be much cheaper than paying the manure company! Well, being a veterinary tech isn’t hard so we can just hire anyone to do that job and they don’t need to be certified, I mean I give my cat her insulin every day and I’m not certified.) and then getting mad at those people when they start protecting their jobs by saying no.

      I’m inclined to vote start sending out your resume, but that’s really a mark of how much I *HATE* people like your boss.

      1. Justin*

        …that sounds like you’re talking abot your experience rather than what OP said? Certainly sounds pretty awful though.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Right. OP didn’t say her boss was coming up with illegal ideas, just impractical ones given their limited resources. This isn’t something OP should job search over when all she has to do is wait a day or two and come back with questions for her boss to have the boss determine whether or not the idea is reasonable.

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah, and in a day or two, the boss might have had second thoughts already. Or maybe the OP will have had second thoughts and come up with something that might make an idea work. You never know.

    2. Justin*

      Seems a little harsh. She, like Alison says, might just need to externally process, like many (not all of whom are prima donnas), and she isn’t making demands in the moment, so it can be handled the way Alison suggested.

      1. LQ*

        Totally agree. She thinks that 10% of her ideas are implementable. That’s not prima donna. That’s really practical actually. And she wants help to get through to the best of the 10% rather than dictating to the team without any input? I think this is a good boss poorly understood and poorly expressed.

      2. Lana Kane*

        Agreed, I think calling her a prima donna is excessive. This is a person who processes ideas in a different way than the OP. Learning to work with others is part and parcel of the working world. The suggestions Alison gave are, in my view, exactly the approach one would take when trying to work with other people’s styles.

        The problem here would be if the OP makes a good faith attempt to get clarity, and the boss refuses. Until the OP tries Alison’s suggestions, we don’t really know if there’s a problem.

    3. Samwise*

      Hmm, I don’t think assuming the boss is a prima donna is a good approach — that’s pretty combative and it will likely come across to the boss. One, she’s the boss, she gets to decide the direction. And two, her actual job is to generate ideas. She didn’t tell the OP, you can never tell me no. She told the OP, there’s a time and place for bringing in your planning approach and it is not when I am generating ideas. The issue for the OP is to get a better signal, or to work with the boss, to know when it is the right time and place. OP can do that in a number of ways others have already suggested.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Totally agreed. What’s the positive outcome from assuming your boss is a precious princess who doesn’t want anyone to rain on her parade?

        I suppose it happens a lot here, but it seems like with this letter, people’s previous experiences with dolts who like to brainstorm are really coloring their responses.

    4. smoke tree*

      It sounds less that the manager is being objectively overbearing and more that the LW is already overworked and is getting fed up with spending their limited time on ideas that may or may not lead anywhere. It might be worth having a larger conversation with the boss about prioritizing work and hopefully easing up the pressure if possible. Maybe the boss would prefer to just have a neutral sounding board on the ideas until they’re more developed.

  7. Falling Diphthong*

    Only bring up concerns later in the process.
    Can you try to get her to explain exactly where in the process she wants this feedback? Especially given that it will kill 90% of the ideas.

    When blue-skying, everything is supposed to be on the table and you don’t instantly shoot things down. So I get that part. But it’s also clear during the blue-skying that you’re not expending any significant resources on the 10 ideas–this is not where you start taking steps to restructure the department along the lines of an idea someone had an hour ago. You start with 10, quickly get that down to about 3–often with exactly the sort of “if we stop doing X we won’t be in federal compliance” boring practical detail that OP seems to excel at–and then maybe have 0-2 ideas that you look at more seriously, expending some resources to see how practical they really are.

    And if the context is not a blue-sky session but someone tossing out “Hey why don’t we get rid of Step 17b?” it should be routine for someone else to say “Because if we’re going to get any time on the servers, we need Step 17b–they won’t accommodate us last minute, just because everyone wants their last minute requests to be accommodated.” Sometimes there’s an answer to your outside the box idea, and that answer is no.

    1. Moray*

      Yeah, if “later” just means in an email or a 1-on-1 after the meeting, this would be annoying but not really so bad.

      If it’s “crunch all the numbers and write up all the details before shooting down something you knew off the bat wouldn’t be feasible” then this would be crazy-making and a terrible use of staff time.

    2. kismet*

      In my experience, one of the most effective ways to do this is to commit to asking a few questions about the upside of the new idea (e.g., what problem is this solving? how well does it solve that problem? are there other ways of solving the same issue?) that encourages the ideas person to really flesh out and explain the benefits of the new idea. Then–and only then–you can start with the “okay to make this work, we’d need to $X in resources, so we’d need to figure out a way to make that happen.”

      If you want to avoid getting a reputation as overly negative, it’s not just a matter of finding the perfect phrasing to talk about implementation barriers. It’s important to (at least appear to) want to fully understand both the upside and downside of the idea, so you are appropriately weighing things in a cost-benefit analysis. Otherwise, you’re only ever focusing on the “cost” side and you can start to get the reputation of a person who will shoot down any idea by saying it’s not possible (no matter how good an idea it may be).

  8. Tomato Anonymato*

    Ah, totally my boss, so I do commiserate.

    If the plans are not time-sensitive, how about having a monthly meeting to discuss new ideas? So if a new plan pops into her head, you can say you are writing it down and adding to the agenda. And others can add their proposals for discussion too, which might be nice. That way, hopefully she will feel that her plans are being appreciated and respected, but you don’t need to worry about stopping a runaway train in the middle of an unrelated meeting.

    And, if she is like my boss, there are some stick plans that will keep reappearing on regular basis, and then you will have your notes on how that was discussed and what were the reason to NOT proceed ;-)

  9. LinesInTheSand*

    Can you have a weekly 1:1 with her where you move from brainstorming to execution? That way you can assume everything is brainstorming until you’re told otherwise, and then you don’t have to worry as much. At the execution meeting, you talk about what’s worth pursuing and what the tradeoffs are.

    My boss is sort of like this too, and his instructions were, if we were worried about it, to ask clarifying questions like, “Are you asking me to change priorities?”

    But really, I’m of the opinion that bosses shouldn’t engage in this pattern around their directs. I don’t see any way of brainstorming without making the direct worry that they’re about to have more work.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I like the 1:1 idea. I also suggested that to expedite/focus this on ideas that boss has already suggested and not bog OP down in new great ideas, OP set the agenda and provide a review document ahead of time to boss.

    2. CaliCali*

      Yes! I really like this. I think she’s just an out-loud thinker, and when she’s presented with a summation, she will be better able to say which things may or may not work, what needs to be prioritized, etc. Ideas are usually ad hoc by nature; taking them to the next step in a really deliberate way will be helpful for you both.

    3. Antilles*

      But really, I’m of the opinion that bosses shouldn’t engage in this pattern around their directs. I don’t see any way of brainstorming without making the direct worry that they’re about to have more work.
      Agreed, especially since it’s usually very hard to tell the difference between “boss just tossing out ideas” and “this is actually something boss wants to do”. If you need to brainstorm a lot of ideas to come up with good ones, that’s fine, you do you…but due to the power/authority involved, you should at least be able to use some mental judgment to do a quick ‘fatal flaw’ type analysis to filter out ideas which are completely non-viable.

    4. Aquawoman*

      This is what I did with my brainstorming boss, I’d just keep asking him questions and eventually he’d say, “You’re right, it’s a stupid idea.”

    5. LQ*

      I disagree strongly that bosses shouldn’t do this around their directs. Where/how do you want people to learn how to work through these problems if not having some experience with their bosses? I also think a boss who is willing to say that only 10% will come to fruition is a boss who understands that it could be more work and that you need to get practical. It also makes me wonder if OP is doing things that the boss didn’t expect to go into practice and doesn’t need to be doing at all if they were taking the boss as entirely serious about implementing everything. It may be worth it to stop and talk through all the current work with the boss and the downsides of things that are currently happening. Half the work could be the 90% that shouldn’t have gone into effect.

  10. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I think your conversation with you boss is a good start, even though it left you with more questions than answers. Ask her to brainstorm and help you come up with process to give her feedback. I think the problem this time is that you you were stronger in your approach, and she replied in kind, this time and it made the meeting awkward for everyone. Work with her to create a game plan. She suggests ideas. You note everything. You give everything a review for maybe 1 or 2 hours each week. You send her your results. You meet and discuss the ones she wants to move forward.
    Like everyone is saying, take a step back, breathe, review, email, then meet.

  11. GS*

    OMG, I think your boss would drive me CRAZY. I can’t stand people who are like “I’m the ideas person!” and have no interest in the reality of implementing an idea. At one point of my life I was on a lot (way too many) volunteer committees, and they seemed to be chock full of “ideas people” (aka people who didn’t want to do any work but wanted the power to have things their way by coming up with ideas). Ideas are easy, dime a dozen, nothing special. It’s the people like YOU, who understand if an idea could become reality and then actually implement it, who are the gold. Don’t ever forget that. I don’t know if I have any advice – I would probably do what you’re doing (play along and say “that is an interesting idea” and ignore her). Maybe change your mental game and when she does this, remember that pie-in-the-sky “ideas” people are generally useless jokers, and you (the implementer) are truly the valuable one here?

    Signed – someone who clearly is still suffering PTSD from getting way too involved in super -pushy volunteer committees.

    1. WhoKnows*

      people who are like “I’m the ideas person!” and have no interest in the reality of implementing an idea

      YES, this kills me. Ideas people are wonderful and an asset to any business, but there also needs to be a part of your brain that understands execution. You can’t just be dropping idea bombs all over the place and walk away and leave everyone else to build it.

      1. NW Mossy*

        That approach can absolutely work, so long as reasonable structures are in place to support it. If everyone understands that Fergus’s job is to be an Idea Bomber, he has a clearly marked bombing range to drop his ideas in, and everyone knows who’s responsible for evaluating and deciding on what ideas move forward (i.e., Fergus is not the sole decision-maker), it can work quite well.

    2. BRR*

      I’m the same way. The saving grace for the LW’s boss is they know they’re brainstorming. It doesn’t sound like it’s reached the point where’s it’s exhausting and stressful, but it’s close. I’m wondering if part of this is because the LW is their manager’s “unofficial” deputy. I think this scenario works better if the LW is empowered to explore feasibility. I’m wondering if it might be better for the LW to take a step back during brainstorming.

      My previous manager thought the more ideas the better. She was basically incapable of implementing basically anything. Add to it that I had to explore the feasibility of a lot of things and it was a huge time suck. I’ve now watched her get fired from two subsequent jobs that I imagine she got because she had ideas but only had idea.

    3. Goldfinch*

      The reason this mindset frustrates me so much is that the CYA practical people are always “the bad guys” for nixing the big ideas (legal, regulatory compliance, and safety, to name a few). But if the company is in hot water, they are the ones that have to answer for it.

      Ideas people want the credit, but not the liability. I’ve seen firsthand how an engineer getting deposed magically transformed him from a pie-in-the-sky ideas man to a precise product designer. Getting grilled for sixteen hours about his education, experience, and R&D justifications was a badly-needed soaking in the cold water of reality.

      TL;DR: If the people coming up with these unicorn schemes are never held accountable when they go wrong, your job culture is not going to change.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        The boss wanting OP’s concerns “later in the process” concerns me. There are times when the answer is “that would run afoul of Regulation Z, which the State Legislature won’t repeal”, or “a good idea, but that would cost X amount of money, which the mayor/City Council won’t approve because they’re annoyed that the roof at Branch near Locally Significant Historical Event Park caved in last week.”

    4. ceci n'est pas une idee*

      Yes, in my practical, analytic mindset “Ideas People” are time wasters. And they don’t actually want to do the work it would take it implement their brilliant idea — or worse, they don’t care how much work (or money) it will take you, Practical One, to make their dream a reality. I am dealing with the implementation of a TERRIBLE IDEA right now at my job and the Ideas People who forced it through despite my repeated concerns are nowhere to be found. But of course, if something goes awry it will be my (the Practical One’s) fault – because, of course, the idea was the best idea! This specific idea is the main reason I am looking for a different job.

      I find that consultants are often times Ideas People. Sooooo very annoying.

  12. Needs to Not be so Negative*

    I have an incredibly similar relationship with my boss, who i’ve worked with for almost a decade. I got similar feedback about needing to be positive about new ideas and not jumping right to the problems with implementation. What I’ve come to is a script that’s loosely

    “That’s a cool idea. I like how it let’s us do X (or whatever positive thing it would provide). We should find some time to talk about what implementation might look like if we decide to go ahead with it.”

    This seems to work most of the time. Usually, we don’t even have a followup time because the idea doesn’t go anywhere so I save the time I would have spent arguing about why its a bad idea.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      The only-slightly more cynical version of this is to smile and nod and make vaguely positive mumbles during the brain storm. Then do nothing. If the boss eventually brings the idea up again, with some indication that this isn’t merely more storming, then deal with it at that time. Treat the brain storms as background noise until given some affirmative reason to do otherwise.

      1. Clisby*

        Seconded. I’m not sure why the OP thinks the boss throwing out an idea means the OP has to do something about it. If I had a boss like this, “I think this is an idea we should pursue” is something to file away, mentally. “I think this is an idea we should pursue – Clisby, can you meet with me on Friday to talk more about it?” is an assignment.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          I agree whole-heartedly. I am a “Boss with Ideas”. When I throw something out there, that’s neither an invitation to trample all over it nor to run out and implement it. It’s just me throwing out an idea. That’s all. If it’s interesting to you, say something. If it’s not, go on with your life.

          Believe me, if it’s super-important to me, I’ll bring it up again.

          1. OP for this*

            Oh, that is really interesting to see what this looks like from the other side (sort of)! I qualify that because while I am not in a military or anything like that, my boss legit could not say that out loud and expect all of us not to go to HR immediately. The company culture and rules do not allow managers to invite people to ignore them unless something is said twice, it’s just not how we roll.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              Yeah, I don’t want to overstate the case. I mean, typically direct requests, assignments, etc. are expected to be followed–as in any work environment, I imagine.

              I was responding more to the issue of spouting off ideas. In our work culture, we frequently get into discussions about all sorts of problems. Often in these conversations, I’ll come up with an idea. When that happens that is not equivalent to descending from Mount Olympus to say “Go Do This Thing Right Now”. I’m just coming up with an idea. If it has legs it will go somewhere. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

              You may be referring to a more formal idea-presenting type scenario–someone clicking through a PowerPoint presentation of their latest Big Idea–which indeed would complicate matters.

        2. OP for this*

          It’s a good question: because she does not differentiate between ideas and things she actualy expects me to do.

          And I never had a boss before to do that – if we were in brainstorming, I knew it (hints like “how about we try” or “I thought maybe we could” worked on me, as does “I’m thinking out loud here”), and could act appropriately. Or they asked is X possible? When they were telling me things to do, that was action time (with potential feasibility input expected).

          With this boss, I just don’t get that from her. It’s let’s do this. We should do that. And the roles in the team are clear enough for me to know when “we” is “me”, but the indication of “I am thinking out loud here” is missing.

          1. OP for this*

            Just to add to this: I am usually an excellent guesser (as in, there are a million things that I don’t have to ask, because I can put the answer together in my head, or do some research and figure it out). So this is confusing on a personal identity level – what the heck stopped working in my brain?

            1. Observer*

              Nothing stopped working – she’s just not giving you the hints, or at least not the hints you generally respond to. So ASK. There is no failure in that.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            How this plays out depends on your relationship with your boss, and whether or not she is insane. You need some variant of “Gee, Hildegard, you need to give me some clue that you were serious!” How precisely this is worded depends on the level of obsequiousness she demands, but it all amounts to the same thing.

  13. Amanda*

    Can you create a system where you document all of her ideas and reassess them at a monthly meeting? That way you both have some time to ruminate on them and them come together to decide what can/should stay and what is less feasible.

    1. Art Business*

      I am a “many ideas” boss at a small company who started doing just that, at the urging of a team member who felt overwhelmed, listening to my ideas and not sure which were actual tasks or projects to start on.
      We had a huge all-day team meeting at the start of the year, in which I shared what my biggest goals were for the company, over the next ten years. Not a woolly mission statement, but measurable goals like: we will achieve X revenue in Y time frame by reaching and converting Z more clients through method Q.
      Everyone in staff got large post-it notes upon which to write down problem/projects we wanted to solve or implement that year. Each project listed had to also identify how it moved us towards the big goal- how do we measure it?
      That way everyone had a chance to generate ideas equally, not just me. We all had a few minutes to describe reasons/advantages for our proposed projects. The team called out quick estimates, in weeks, of how long each project might take, which was noted on the post-it.

      Those who had the more practical/execution bent could spot problems but seemed more challenged suggesting new projects that might solve them. We were all were given a limited number of dot stickers to stick into various cards and “vote” for which problems/projects were most important to tackle that year.
      That’s where the ideas people, like me, got to feel a bit chagrined as some ideas fell to the ground through lack of votes, or shelved because it would take so long to execute compared to possible benefits.

      We also, and this is crucial, decided as a group to determine what success looked like for each project, and how it would be measured.

      We organized the post-its by votes and length of project, picked as many as seemed we might reasonably achieve in one year, and organized them into a company wide project board. (We use Monday because it’s clean and visual for big-picturecreative types like me, and has a lot of great detail for the folks who like to take it step by step and think through implications.) Each team member was given one project to lead on in addition to daily tasks.
      Every two weeks we review progress as a team, with quick updates.
      It’s made me a better manager, and it’s made the team see the value of the proposed improvements (the short term pain of imposing changes versus the long term gains of increased efficiencies).

      We’re doubled revenues this year as a result, and I keep raising salaries.

      Now when I or someone else on the team comes up with a “crazy idea” ears prick up to hear the possible merits, creative brainstorming is common and directed and profitable, and when we talk of how to implement I am forced to consider all the good work the team is already doing before adding/removing work from anyone’s plate. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s been a good way to make sure the merits of both creative and practical thinking are valued.
      I just want to add it’s very important not to be contemptuous of either kind of thinking. Both are such integral parts of personalities and mindsets it’s like expressing contempt of the person themselves, which is not going to help a team.

  14. OrigCassandra*

    It could be worse, OP. You could have the kind of Big Boss who announces new initiatives out of the blue in a gigantic public/open meeting that includes very high-level stakeholders! Having consulted absolutely no one in his own organization first!

    I had that Big Boss! I was hired to manage one of his out-of-the-blue initiatives! Unfortunately it was a few years after he’d out-of-the-blued it, so he didn’t care about it any more (he had plenty more out-of-the-blues to play with!) and neither did anybody else — everybody, not wholly unreasonably, resented that he’d forced it on them without the least consultation or even notice, and they (rather unreasonably) often took that out on me. It was an awful job and I am amazingly glad to be out of it.

    Anyway, I think a useful question to ask your boss would be “What can I/my team do to help you track and decide among alternatives?” With luck, this will help you put a boundary around having to investigate and forecast every last possibility your boss spitballs — you could drown your whole team doing that, your boss being as idea-prolific as she is. You could follow up with “How and when does an idea you’ve had enter our normal project planning/strategic planning processes?”

    It’s clear that what you don’t want to do is challenge your boss’s spitballing in front of your team. So don’t. Assume that almost all these spitballs will end up in the trash can, and don’t let them worry you. It does seem likely that your boss forgets most of them as soon as she tosses them!

    1. Willow*

      OMG, this is exactly what my boss does–tell her crazy ideas to the CEO who then says “let’s go for it,” leaving me to later explain how said idea will cost $1M and require a minimum of five additional staff (and neither of those things is going to materialize anytime soon) and then everyone gets disappointed that we’re not going to do the thing. (And then my boss will continue to talk about said idea FOR YEARS and how we really should do the thing and I keep saying “nope, nope, nope” and she looks at me like I’m ruining everything.) This is incredibly tiring and makes me want to quit my otherwise excellent job.

      1. Gwen S.*

        (And then my boss will continue to talk about said idea FOR YEARS and how we really should do the thing and I keep saying “nope, nope, nope” and she looks at me like I’m ruining everything.)

        If it’s a positive net present value project, you are ruining the thing. Merely saying “nope nope nope” isn’t helping your company.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Maybe. Maybe not. In the ongoing Jets vs. Sharks imbroglio that is this comment thread, I am definitely an Idea Person(TM).

          However, there are times when “nope, nope, nope” does help the company. I take Willow at her word that these ideas are resource intensive and that such resources are not forthcoming. I further assume that if these ideas were designed to sell more teapots or stimulate massive teapot demand or cause the manufacture of teapots to be significantly cheaper then management would eventually say “Who cares about the $1M, we’re gonna make $2M in teapot sales!”

          That makes me think that these are not “let’s respond to clear and present customer demand” type ideas; these are “wouldn’t it be cool if the website fired laser beams” type ideas. Some ideas really should be shot down.

    2. OP for this*

      She kinda does that, sometimes. Once even after IT and I explained the Thing is not actually possible in our IT environment.

      Usually she is great at taking the blame for these, so that is very good.

      And yes, speaking out like that in a meeting was a mistake from my side, no doubt. Live and learn…

  15. Birch*

    Ugh. My manager does this too. The only advice I can give if she keeps refusing to front-load the effort is for you to outline the logistics it would take for each idea and go back to her later to see if she still wants to pursue any of those ideas. Don’t put a ton of work into something until you’re given the all-clear to really pursue it.

    The other thing you can do, if you aren’t invested in the results of these projects, is just do what she says. Spend your work time pursuing ideas working down the list, and when a barrier comes up, put that one aside and move on to the next. Then update her on the progress. Go home when it’s time to go home. If she’s not willing to be practical or efficient about her projects, why should you care if they’re practical or efficient?

  16. Jellyfish*

    Ha, my spouse does this too. I’ve learned to ask, “Are we in idea mode or action mode?” If they’re serious, then I can start asking about logistics. If it’s still in brainstorming or even fantasy-idea land, I just let them have their fun. I don’t rain on the parade by pointing out obstacles, and we’re both happier.

    I think this approach could be modified to fit your boss pretty easily. Some people like to consider half baked ideas out loud because it helps them process. If that’s all your boss needs and you’re both on the same page about it, that could save you a lot of mental energy.

    1. Jennifer*

      I’m like your husband in my personal life too, lol. Sometimes it’s just nice to fantasize. Not every idea has to be immediately implemented. Good for you for not raining on your husband’s parade, even though your brains work differently.

    2. Name Required*

      Yes! I’m a hole-poker/implementation person, so I love this question. I would go back to your boss and ask it more broadly. “I asked if it would be possible for her to say when she is brainstorming as opposed to actually giving a task and she gave a vague non-answer.” … well, she probably won’t know because the move from idea to implementation isn’t always linear or clean. Another way to ask this question that might be easier for your boss to answer is, “What kind of feedback are you looking for when you present a new idea to our group?”

      It sounds like she’s trying to take a pulse on how enthused other people would be about this idea if it could be implemented. You might also try asking, “Tell me more about that idea.” which sounds encouraging but isn’t a commitment. You might also find from the answer to that question that your boss has thought more about logistics than you assume, but they just may not have all the information that you have.

    3. Door Guy*

      I’m the “idea guy” in my relationship, my wife is the hole-poker, which she does immediately when I start to get ideas.

      She phrases it as “I look at the future, she looks at the present.”

      We usually only run into issues when I get excited about something and get into “Big Idea” mode where I start to give her gray hairs because she doesn’t realize I’ve switched and thinks I want to do all that stuff NOW. (Recent example is I’ve really launched into woodworking as a hobby and she misunderstood my initial excitement and “Wish List” for things I actually wanted to try and buy right now. Between some really great deals at a local auction and her father perma-loaning me a bunch of tools from his (now passed) father’s wood shop I’ve got more than enough to get going.)

  17. pentamom*

    “So is this idea at the stage where we need to discuss what steps we can take on it, or is it just something you’re working on?”

    Getting her to change how she brainstorms out loud or signals “this is real” on her own initiative is probably not going to happen, but you can simply ask what’s the next thing to do with the thought, and then you’ll have neatly sorted out the difference yourself. You’ll also then know whether it’s time to bring up obstacles or challenges, or simply let her creativity flow for a while.

  18. NJ Anon*

    I had a boss like this. I would ignore his ideas until they were brought up again. I knew if he brought it up a second time, it was a real thing. If not, it went in the “idea” waste basket!

  19. Not A Manager*

    I’m similar to the OP. The thing about “resources” is that your time and attention are also resources. I understand that the boss doesn’t always know when she’s blue-skying and when she’s not – initial enthusiasm is part of her process. I’m sure that if you were able to leave her alone, she’d self-select away from many of these projects. The problem, at least for me, is that kicking the can – or running it up the flagpole, or floating it, or any other thing that you do with big new ideas – takes up MY time and energy. I’m a planner, and if you tell me you want a can up the flagpole in the pond, then I’m already making lists of equipment and vendors. It’s taken me a lot of time to learn to sit back and just wait to see where this is going.

    So my advice to the OP is to hang back a bit and try to become less invested in this process upfront, if you can do that without jeopardizing your own job performance. I like the idea of gently flagging ONE key obstacle in passing, while allowing the rest of the conversation to continue. But then I also think the boss needs to be super clear about what constitutes the end of her process, and when it’s appropriate to actually talk about implementation.

    1. Celeste*

      This is all so true. Hanging back will be a sanity saver. It can begin to feel like a parent-child sort of relationship if you feel like you have all of the responsibility of making it work, when all she has to do is dream it up. You need to have tools to keep the relationship from devolving into that, and this is a good one.

      1. Samwise*

        Not only that, hanging back will also let the boss, who was hired to generate ideas, generate ideas and possibly come up with things that planners would not necessarily come up with.

  20. Blisskrieg*

    I’m an idea person! I love new ideas. To keep grounded, guiding discussion around ideas (whether my own or someone else’s), the old newspaper questions “who what when where why and how” are really helpful.

    OP, when your boss has ideas, it might be helpful to come back with questions such as “who do you envision handling this?” or “how would we accommodate X?” While it’s not your job to weed in/out all her ideas for her, this might give you more input and control. You may also find yourself becoming interested if the logistics seem more doable.

    I’ve seen some of the best, most respected initiatives shot down at first over the years. Once some of the logistics are decided and it truly become collaborative, some good things can happen. Of course, if none or almost none, of the “newspaper” questions are answerable, the idea probably should go by the wayside.

    I also agree that people who CONSTANTLY generate ideas with zero meat to them present a problem in their own right, and are exhausting. However, a group comprised of ideas people and practical people can come up with some very special things if they keep their minds open (at least in my experience).

    1. Lana Kane*

      Agreed! This is a great mix of people as long as both sides come up with a way to work together and play to each others’ strengths. Easier said than done, I know. But both types are essential.

  21. Lora*

    We actually have a way to handle this in my industry!

    Whenever someone has a bright idea, we do a Feasibility Analysis right out of the gate:

    -How much will it cost in CAPEX and/or OPEX? Be sure to include all validation and “soft costs” (insurance, management overhead, consulting, procurement, regulatory oversight, permits etc). What is CAPEX and what is OPEX tends to vary both from location to location, tax authority to tax authority and even accountant to accountant, and they are managed very differently from a financial standpoint so it’s important to have it nailed down.

    -How long will it take and what would be the cost of disruption to existing operations? For this you need to know how much it costs to run per day, which in my field is about $750,000/day. If someone wants to make a change that will take two weeks to change equipment and then re-certify the room as ready to operate, that’s 10.5 M just in shutdown time because we run on weekends and evenings too.

    We don’t always do the calculations internally, sometimes we send it to consultants to figure out. And you have to choose consultants carefully as some will lowball you to get the actual work.

    The results of the Feasibility Analysis are then run up the management hierarchy to see if this is something they’d be interested in. Usually the answer is No, and the idea is killed – move on to something else, Ideas Person. And hopefully the Ideas Person learns that they need to curate carefully what ideas they say out loud to other people after too many of their ideas fail and they start making fools of themselves to the finance people.

    Even at a small scale – when I was in hardcore R&D, we ran small feasibility experiments to determine whether we should invest the resources in a real experiment. If you really BELIEVED in a bright idea with all your heart, you did a quick and dirty test run and figured out if it was worth more than a few hours’ worth of work to get a yes/no. If it wasn’t possible to do a feasibility-scale experiment that one person could run in an afternoon….tough, it didn’t go anywhere.

    There are also lots of ways to model a Bright Idea in silico so you can determine quickly if it’s a crap idea or something worth pursuing.

    The saying is, “if you have data, let’s look at data. If all we have is opinions, let’s go with mine.” If your boss wants a feasibility data analyst, then she needs to hire one.

    1. Yea startups*

      The results of the Feasibility Analysis are then run up the management hierarchy to see if this is something they’d be interested in. Usually the answer is No, and the idea is killed – move on to something else, Ideas Person. And hopefully the Ideas Person learns that they need to curate carefully what ideas they say out loud to other people after too many of their ideas fail and they start making fools of themselves to the finance people.

      Alternatively, Ideas Person leaves your plodding, bureaucratic organization that is so proud of shooting down ideas and forms her own startup that disrupts the industry (and makes her rich).

  22. Samwise*

    This caught my eye: ” I could have been more polite about it, but I still feel I was right other than that.” So maybe part of it is that you need to let her play out some ideas and bring in your concerns later (lots of good suggestions from the commentariat on that!) but another part is perhaps your tone or choice or words or both. Something to keep in mind, especially when it’s in a meeting with other people.

    Also, perhaps your concern over your own workload is coloring your view? It’s a reasonable concern, but unless your boss is saying, I have this fab idea and we’re implementing it tomorrow, you don’t need to press forcefully about it.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I got more frustrated with a boss like this when my workload was too high; it bothered me that they’d even consider doing X when it would tank me. But the problem wasn’t the considering of X, it was the workload.

      1. Door Guy*

        I’ve been in that position, but had no one to even talk to about it as the ideas/decisions were made several levels above my level. Part of why I left my last job, they would get an idea, hash it out at their level, and then send it down to be implemented. Which I understand is how upper management works and that it’s their prerogative, they used a “One Size Fits All” approach and we were told to suck it up or “make it work” or “It’s your job, if you don’t like it go somewhere else” when we brought up very real logistical complaints (and not just “We don’t like it!). Some of these ideas were actually causing the office to lose money on the work (spend $100 to make $75 type deals) but all we got from corporate was an attitude going “Tough.”

        Our office was on mandatory overtime with no end in sight (6 months after I left and they are STILL on 6-day weeks), they expanded hours on one of the business lines to 15 hours a day (7am – 9pm), and the company VP flat out told us in a meeting that he doesn’t care if our techs needed to drive 2 hours in a blizzard, they WERE going to the call and we were NOT to reschedule. Thanks to their “One Size Fits All” approach, they were trying to make our office (rural, covered a huge expanse of territory across 4 states) operate like one of their Chicago or Minneapolis offices in relation to coverage.

        What’s sad is that the company had been doing very well before, and in the 5 years I worked there, 4 of them were great! It was only my last year and a bit that turned it so far on its head. Our contract with our primary customer had changed after they were bought out and it put the crunch on corporate to find more clients (we were a “fulfillment” company, or 3rd party vendor) and every new client they found had their own requirements and policies and it got to the point where it seemed impossible to untangle without something giving (and something did give, ME). Client A wants you at their depot to pick up at 8am, but the job isn’t until after 4pm, and client B wants you at their job between 9am and 10am, and will treat showing up at 8:59am the same as if you showed up at 2pm AND they track that by requiring location services be enabled on your phone so their app auto checks you in when you show up at the address. Client C is pretty flexible on the times but requires 2 different apps AND a website to complete their work orders. Then, at 3pm, client B sends out a same day work order for another job and you have to be there between 5pm and 6pm (and again, not early). Complicate it further by all 3 clients want their jobs to be priority, and then throw in that none of these jobs are in the same city and there can and have been several hour commutes between them.

    2. JayNay*

      you bring up a good point “perhaps your concern over your own workload is coloring your view”. I can just picture the OP thinking “cool, you have a new idea, and guess who will need to implement it”. Of course that’s annoying.
      The OP says she’s her bosses’ “unofficial deputy” but also that she “handles almost all the planning and financing”. Sounds to me like boss is skirting some of her responsibilities as the team’s manager – she gets to focus on her ideas while her employee (not even deputy, just one of the team’s members) takes on some of the other tasks that are actually part of running a team.
      So, OP, maybe that needs to be spelled out more clearly? Like, if you’re doing all that work, can you get more recognition?

      1. Samwise*

        Hmm, I wouldn’t say the boss is skirting her responsibilities. It sounds to me more like, boss’s responsibility is, in part, to generate ideas, and OP does not have a good feel for how that process plays out, how long it takes, etc. Boss has asked OP not to start with the hole-poking until there’s been time to play with ideas. The problem, it seems to me, is that the boss is not signaling to OP when it’s ok to start with the practical can-this-work or what do we need to do to make this work.

        I don’t see that the OP handling planning and financing as being a problem of the boss skirting her duties — because that’s the OP’s job. And if it *isn’t* the OP’s job — that is, OP is doing planning and finance on top of whatever else their job is, well, that’s a different problem and OP needs to address that *separately* from figuring out when it’s ok to turn brainstorming to planning.

        1. OP for this*

          Honestly this is a little bit of both – officially she signs off on a lot of things that I prepare and do 95% of, and that works well, for the planning and finances. This actually is in my job description.

          I would go nuts if we had to brainstorm before a basic budget plan is done – once I put all the no-brainers in, she is welcome to think of anything for the remaining 15% of our budget, and I am perfectly happy to brainstorm things that will go in a “vision” type of plan for 2-5 years ahead that we are only sorta expected to execute.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      Agreed – OP’s tone may be contributing to the Negative Nancy vibe her boss is getting from her. That’s why the Q&A Socratic method mentioned above would probably be useful for her – if her tone is one of curiosity or inquisitiveness as opposed to brusque and to the point when asking her boss probing questions about one of boss’s ideas, OP will probably seem less abrasive to her boss.

    4. NGA*

      Really great point on capacity, Samwise.

      I ended up leaving my job with my Big Ideas Person boss, but learned lots of important lessons along the way.

      One, I had to teach myself to see the value in her approach. I am honestly naturally a huge bummer of a human person. I always see the practicalities, I am not great at improvising, I want every decision to be made and affirmed as soon as possible, and I would instinctively rather stay going down a B+ path because it’s planned than make a pivot that would get us to A+. There are strengths in my process: I can make damn near anything happen, and my systems are rock-solid. But there are many weaknesses! Working with my boss helped me develop flexibility and nimbleness, and get better at dreaming a little bit. I was talking with a mentor about my vision-setting ability, which I had at that point rated quite high. She really gently told me that what I had was an outcome, not a vision. Working with my big-ideas boss helped me grow as a leader to be able to observe what it meant to set an audacious vision for our work.

      Two, I got in better touch with the assumptions I was making about professional relationships. It was definitely true that every time by boss got one of her big ideas, it usually ended up being me who had to figure out how to make it happen in the budget and in staff time, which in all honesty, often sucked. But when she was ideating, I was going straight to the assumption that she was telling me about her idea because she expected me to make it happen. In reality, she was just spitballing, or even more often, just EXCITED by a possibility and had no expectations at all that anything was going to come of it. I realized that this was an assumption I often made in my personal life too: for example, a friend was visiting me a bit ago and mentioned that he wished he had some item; my brain’s immediate reaction was “WTF get it yourself,” when he absolutely had not intimated at all that he expected me to get it for him. It was a total assumption on my part that whenever a Thing is mentioned that needs to get done, the person mentioning it is also saying that I need to do that thing. When I was able to disrupt that assumption, I got better at working with my boss–probably with most people, really!

  23. Tomato Frog*

    I’m wondering if the “overwhelmed” might be at the heart of the OP’s reaction, versus having a different kind of way of thinking about tasks. At my last job, I had too little to do and was looking for challenges, and I was always happy to brainstorm and spitball. On the other hand, in my current job, I have a ton of challenging work to do and new, extraneous ideas that would involve work from me sometimes feel like an attack.

    In my case, these ideas are part of the culture, not just coming from my boss, so I can’t have a conversation with just one person about it. I’ve found I mostly need to let the initial conversation play out without my input, because my initial input often will be coming from a place of panic/resentment and will be unduly dismissive as a result.

    1. OP for this*

      Overwhelmed absolutely was a major part of my specific reaction at that meeting, and quite a bit of the overall frustration, too.
      I will have to learn not to interpret stuff that my boss says as “task” and more like “shiny-looking thing that potentially could become a task”. Somehow.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        In related situations, I’ve gone as far as buying a small piece of symbolic jewelry to wear in these meetings as a reminder to keep myself work-appropriate.

        For this, I might pick a set of thin bangles or stacking rings, the symbolic meaning being “boss emits a lot of these ideas; most are thin as thin can be and don’t matter.”

        1. pamela voorhees*

          I just want to second something like this — having a physical reminder in the space can often be useful to pull ourselves out of the thought process in our heads.

      2. LilyP*

        I think it might help to clarify this explicitly, at least for a while. If your boss says something that you interpret as a task, specifically repeat back to her that you’re putting [initial action item x] on your todo list and you’ll follow up with her by Friday on next steps, and if doing that would impact your workload ask or tell her about what would have to push back. If you’re not 100% sure it’s an assignment or a brainstorm, ask!

  24. NW Mossy*

    Another approach is to settle on an immediate next step before you leave the meeting, with a due date. A bite-sized bit of action to take away is a good way to keep things moving forward anyway, but it’s also helpful to get someone else to clarify their expectations and understanding of what’s happening.

    In your situation, you can do this by restating back what she’s said and cuing what you think would come next. A quick recap helps for two reasons – you’re making it clear that you’ve heard what she said, and it also gives an opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding. From there, you can pivot to the “and our next step would be to think about who has capacity to work on this – I can report back tomorrow on that” part that you excel at.

    The goal is choose your words in a way that communicates that you’re open to exploring ideas, even (or perhaps especially) when your gut reaction is “that’s the stupidest idea ever.” People really don’t like it when they feel judged before they’ve even finished their sentence, and that goes for bosses as well as peers. The quickest way I’ve found to short-circuit that thought path in my own head is to think about the questions I have and the info I’d need to answer them before I decide.

  25. AndersonDarling*

    Whenever I’ve been in brainstorming sessions, the leader will confirm that we are moving forward then assign tasks to the group. I’d assume that this manager should be taking on that role. If she actually wants to move forward, then she should have a few concrete steps to assign. I’d just wait for an official assignment.

  26. Anon for this*

    Let me take a counterpoint here. I’m very much an idea person myself (though I’m practical enough to realize what’s realistic and what’s not – I very much identify as an INTJ, to put it in MBTI terms), and through the course of my career (though I’m yet to reach a management position), I’ve gotten a lot of flack for periodically suggesting new ideas as well as tweaks to existing processes. In the worst case scenarios, this tendency has gotten me labeled as a dissenter or non-conformist , which I have felt is unfair. My intention is only to make things better through perpetual improvement. I hate to think in binary terms, but in my professional life I’ve encountered two main kinds of responses to when I pose ideas:

    1) “That’s never going to work”/”You need to consider XYZ before you even suggest that seriously”/”If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”/”Do you realize how much hassle it would be to implement this?”/”But, protocol…”/etc.


    2) “That’s an interesting idea. We’d have to consider XYZ as well, but that might be viable to implement as a way of improving ABC.”/”I don’t think that’s quite right for us in this case, but please do keep making suggestions.”/”That’s exciting, let’s pursue that!”

    I’ve come to the realization (10+ years into my career) that I need to find jobs/work environments within my industry that, as a whole or as a majority, are more like #2 than #1. Some of my unhappiest times at work have been in environments where almost everyone thinks like #1. But, I do hope that when I come into a management role (hopefully in the next few years), I won’t make people on my team miserable with my ideas. Ideally I would like to manage in a way where people at all levels feel free to bring up new ideas and that together we can critically assess their merit, find the best ones, and always be working to implement them.

    1. LizB*

      I’m sometimes an ideas person, sometimes a dream crusher — it kinda depends on my mood and my role on a team — and I’ve seen both of these types of responses. Category 2 responses lead to much better conversations, and they’re always what I strive to do when I’m playing the dream crusher role.

      I also think about the improv rule of Yes And: if you’re doing an improv scene with someone and they make a suggestion (“here, take this fire extinguisher!”), you never totally shut down what they suggested (“this isn’t a fire extinguisher, it’s a watermelon, this won’t put out the fire.”) because that kills the momentum of the scene. Instead, you roll with it and add to it/adapt it (“oh no, someone filled the fire extinguisher with vanilla pudding by mistake! quick, hand me that giant fan, we can blow the fire out”).

      1. Alanna of Trebond*

        “Yes and” is the best advice I ever got for dealing with my very ideas-y boss.

        One other thing to keep in mind if you’re a creative idea generator: bringing that same approach to resource constraints, priorities, etc. My boss is very much someone who does not want to hear “OK, but that would have to be Jane’s job, and Jane doesn’t have the bandwidth for it, so it won’t be possible” when she’s brainstorming a new project, because she often has a creative staffing plan, too — but she can’t elaborate on the plan in front of the whole team until other pieces fall into place. (For example, she wants to put the new idea on Jane’s plate, give some of Jane’s duties to Mark, kill one of Mark’s existing projects, and hand another Mark project off to a different team. But she’s not going to tell the whole team this when she initially comes up with the idea in case the other team says no, Mark threatens to quit, etc.) It doesn’t sound like this is what’s going on with OP’s boss, but it’s a good reason not to be too myopic about what’s feasible based on your view of your own workload.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Hello fellow INTJ! This really resonated with me because I get it a lot too.
      “I’ve gotten a lot of flack for periodically suggesting new ideas as well as tweaks to existing processes. In the worst case scenarios, this tendency has gotten me labeled as a dissenter or non-conformist, which I have felt is unfair.”

      It can be really tough sometimes because at a lot if companies you’re just expected to shut up and go along to get along.

      1. Anon for this*

        Thank you! It took me years and many bad jobs where I was a stylistic mismatch compared to most other work colleagues to figure that out. I believe there are better jobs/industries out there for people like us where can find allies in people who are open-minded to ideas such that we’re valued instead of forced into silence or the pariah role.

  27. Vimes*

    A couple suggestions as a very practical person with a very high energy ideas person boss myself. I am also constantly overloaded in my position so when my boss comes into my office to bounce five new ideas at me I want to collapse sometimes but we also have established a good open back and forth for ideas too so maybe these can help with that.

    1) You mention she asks you to bring up practicalities later in the process and I just want to suggested looking at if there REALLY is a process for project management and if there is discuss with her at exactly what stage in the process practicalities will be helpful.
    2) I always assume the first time something is brought up it is brainstorm time. And what I do is take out a notebook and start asking clarifying questions, “What is your vision for this?” “What resources are we hoping for?” Etc. Every once in a while I may say “I’ve seen this done before and usually there is X roadblock for that so we’d probably want to think about ways to negate that risk early in the process” but that early in the process I keep it more relaxed and less like “how could we possibly do this with what we have?” Even if I do feel like that.
    3) I try to follow up later in the week with a couple pieces of research (“I looked up how much doing X would cost generally”, etc) and then ask if my boss considers the project a priority. Often that idea has already disappeared from their mind by then and they tell me to shelve it.

    That’s the best I can offer! I know it can be really difficult because it is frustrating when you already have so many things on your plate to have a bunch of ideas lobbed at you but keeping things more inquisitive with “What” questions rather than “How” questions does seem to go over better at least in my experience.

    1. NGA*

      This is really great. I think #1 is particularly important. How is a decision made about whether something is moving from ideas to action?

  28. animaniactoo*

    I think the goal is not to shut her down, but rather to get her to think through the practicalities. Yes, this means her coming to the conclusion on her own, but it means you get to flag the practicalities upfront without an immediate shutdown.

    “Given that I don’t have the room to add new Task X to my workload, how would you see us handling that?”

    If she’s the ideas person – present her with the issue and let her flesh it out. Including if she wants to table it for the moment and continue to flesh out the broader concept for the moment. At that point, it will at least be on the table.

    Also, because here’s the key – YOU only see one track for this thing to take, and it’s possible that there’s something you’re just not seeing or are aware even could be a possibility given your current responsibility set. So letting her run with the idea is not “pandering” to her (as you describe it from your view) it’s letting her explore and see if there’s a solution you don’t see. And it doesn’t matter if 75% of the time you’re right. If there’s 25% of the time that you’re not right and the company thinks it’s worth investing a few hours into playing around with the idea, then it’s worth that exploration.

    However, you might also want to talk to her about the fact that right now you are so overwhelmed with your current workload that ideas which appear to result in having anything added to it causes you to panic some. That’s something you’ll need to work on from your end, but I think that you can ask her – in the spirit of collaboration – to be sensitive to that.

  29. Oryx*

    Oooooh okay, I had a previous boss just like this. My suggestion is to not shoot down the idea right away. Even if you think you are right or even if you ARE right. Acknowledge the idea, but be non-committal and suggest setting up a time to discuss implementation. In my experience at least, most of the time the ideas vanished as quickly as they came and we never needed to worry about the next step.

    Sometimes, Idea People haven’t thought of next steps. Especially not when they are just spitballing or brainstorming. That’s where the follow-up meeting comes in and you can press them on next steps or ask more questions. Sometimes, yes, you will have to challenge them, but I have found pushing back against an idea is much more successful in a 1:1 that is after the original Idea meeting.

  30. NJAnonymous*

    So this is actually a big thing in Design Thinking! To Alison’s point, there is natural tension between people who like to get down to brass tacks right away, and those who like the mental exercise of exploring where ideas might take them. But when brainstorming on possible ideas, it is *critical* to lay out up front whether it’s an open or closed session – i.e. are we only going to be looking at ideas in a blue-sky, anything is possible way (open)? Or are we exploring how we might realistically implement from a list of ideas (closed)?

    Your boss seems like someone who would really dig the tenants of Design Thinking as a structured approach to problem solving/brainstorming. If you bring that up to her, and point out the specific benefits and trade-offs of open vs closed thinking, you might be able to get her to pin down whether something is a task or simply an idea.

    1. ceci n'est pas une idee*

      Shudders. Design Thinking was huge at ex-job. I hated it, that job, and the awful boss who shoved Design Thinking down my throat. Now I understand why I thought Design Thinking was such a waste. I am a Practical Implementation person.

      (I wonder if we were co-workers…you resigned after me, then went back a few years later and are still there. I was a huge fan of a certain musician.)

  31. Door Guy*

    I’m doing something like this on a side (non work) project with a friend for a potential side business. We are both into miniature gaming and are working on creating kits for set pieces with actual motion. He is very design oriented (went to school for design, works for a creative graphics company) where as I am the technical/mechanical oriented (went to school for engineering, worked my way up from technical work to managing an office full of techs).

    We’ve hit a few bumps because his vision for the design competes with my ability to actually engineer the product within the limitations we have to work with, but we discuss them and sometimes I have to scrap an idea and other times he compromises on his vision to incorporate reality. (ie – he wants a part to be 9mm thick and no more, I successfully point out that I can’t do it in less than 15mm based on the other requirements)

    OP, communication is likely the only way forward without pulling your hair out. Part of what I took from your letter was that it may be your boss may have had issues with being called out in front of the team (unless that is something that is normal operation). You also admit to pushing it further than you maybe should have, and then brought it up again a few days later and she got defensive.

    As for “brainstorming vs. actual ideas”, how is it supposed to work? How is she (and by extension you) supposed to know if an idea is unfeasible without doing some actual work on it? She’s aware that not every idea, or even the majority of her ideas, will actually be implemented. Are her ideas typically good but rejected due to a logistics issue like this one, or does she have lots of fanciful ideas and needs you around to pick out the bits of brilliance buried in the bullsh*t.

    1. OP for this*

      I think when she says that only 10% of her ideas are good, she is underestimating. There is nothing wrong with over half of her ideas as such, it’s just that we don’t have the time or money to implement them. And if we were 10 times more in the team with 100 times the budget, it would still be more ideas from her than time in the day.

      And, look, I get this, I have more plans for my particular field than time in the day, too. But I don’t tell my reports about all of them, certainly not without specifying “this is for next year / after project y / the hypothetical time when we have time”. I wish she could make that distinction more often.

  32. Lisa Babs*

    My boss and I have a similar relationship. What I found works the best is first acknowledging why I agree that it could be a good idea before mentioning any drawbacks I find. It makes him feel like he’s being listened too and I’m not just tearing apart ideas as he comes up with them. Then highlight the problem you see without going in detail just a simple “we’d need to figure out X”.

    So it would go like “Oh opening the llama grooming facility for tours would really help our outreach to the community but we would have to figure out staffing”. Instead of what I used to say, “We don’t have the time or staff for that and no budget to hire more people”.

    ALSO, I treat ALL ideas as just ideas until he revisits them and says let’s go ahead. So there’s no guessing which one he wants to implement.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Hopefully you don’t have a boss who replies “You have the resources you have. Figure it out.”

  33. Llellayena*

    I have the same implementation brain and our clients are the ones with IDEAS. Telling them that “no we can’t get rid of *very important fire-code related* door just because you don’t like to see it there” can occasionally be an issue. I’ve been told I need to work on being more open/accepting to start with and see if there’s a different way to get the same end result. I’m trying…

    1. Door Guy*

      I feel this one currently. We have a customer who is looking to try and save on his budget and wanted us to get rid of the “EXPLOSION PROOF” upgrade to his door operator that is very much necessary as it about doubles the cost per unit.

      Sorry, but it is a legitimate concern in your industry, customer, and we are not going to risk blowing up your depot. We’re still waiting to hear back from them…

  34. Vimes*

    Oh! And my work does NOT have a concrete project management process nor someone who’s role is that so for my boss if she doesn’t say at the end “hey can you please look into X, Y, Z” or “put together X” I’ll go “what do you need from me at this stage?” Sometimes it’s nothing sometimes it’s a lot and THEN I’ll go “I have X Y Z on my plate where should I prioritize this?”

  35. drpuma*

    Sounds like you have my old job with my old boss! I’m sorry. Find a new job. She will never learn how to allocate resources nor plan more than a week or two ahead of time, no matter how big or small the project. She will never be able to account for all of the details (even ones there’s literally no way for you to know) and you will have to pick up her pieces because of this. Prepare to let others in your organization down due to her incapacity to understand the scope of her asks. She will throw you under the bus when you start to push back. She will not improve, she will not change. She doesn’t think she needs to. Start low-key job searching now so you can get out sooner than I did. I ended up totally demoralized and things didn’t get better until I got a new job.

  36. sofar*

    My brain is like OP’s. I’ve had various Ideas people as bosses and coworkers. And I recognize their value! My brain does get bogged down in implementation sometimes, and we need people who have that “spark” who can come up with ideas my detail-addled brain would never think of.

    I’ve trained myself to be enthusiastic in the moment and then ask follow-up questions later. Such as, “I’ve been thinking about X idea. How should we handle [insert roadblock here]”?

    In the past, I worked for someone who was SUCH an ideas person, that I’d just say, “Great!” in the moment and ignore the idea(s) completely unless he reached out specifically down the line and asked about it. “At which point I’d say, “Oh, sorry, was concentrating on [existing project] and had meant to ping you about [Your great big idea]. I can shift focus, though.” Half the time, he’d forget about most of the big ideas he’d proposed in the meeting anyway. And me taking a wait-and-see approach would help me gauge how important a subset an idea actually was. If he actually remembered an idea and approached me a few days later, it was actually important, and I could then present it as, “I can do existing plan OR Big New Idea.”

    1. theAutomator*

      I came here to say exactly this. If you are truly overwhelmed with work at the moment, I wouldn’t give a second thought to switching focus or even thinking about New Idea until directed. I’ve worked for a few think-out-loud types and changing my role in meetings from “giving input and feedback” to “listening and taking notes, in case this comes back up” has been a useful reframing. In the moment, I would recommend only being an active listener and doing your best to make sure you understand the idea. After the meeting, go about your work as your normally would. Later, if your boss comes looking for implementation, then you can ask about priorities and resources and start planning in earnest.

  37. Hazy days*

    We had this scenario in a previous team.

    The strategy we implemented was that after a5 minute blue skies chat, the proposer had to take it away to fill out a brief project overview form, with rational, timelines, goals, resources etc estimated. At that point it came back for s team meeting where it would be more formally discussed, and the practicalities and benefits explored. Then I think there was another project proposal getting this down on paper, before it got signed off.

  38. Savannah*

    This sounds like your boss is very extroverted- extroverts are prone to thinking out loud, whereas introverts are less likely to speak until they’ve sorted through ideas in their heads. Knowing this isn’t a solution, but it can help reframe the conversations in your mind as her natural thinking process rather than something she’s doing to you personally.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I speak a lot out loud but it’s usually mumbling because I process spoken word more than “silent reading” kind of words. This is also why I highlight and mutter to myself when reading new things [my own personal office, so don’t worry about me ruining everyone’s lives over here ;)]

      It’s a learning/communicating thing that can happen in extroverts and introverts, since I’m introverted AF.

    2. Myers-Briggs fan*

      This is not really an extrovert-introvert thing. It is much more intuiting (N) versus sensing (S).

      People put so much weight on E-I but there are four other variables that are equally as important!

  39. Heidi*

    Hi OP. I’m also on the practical and logistical side of my group. I think the bringing up all the possible points of failure in a meeting in front of other people is what is bothering your boss the most. Perhaps she felt that you were making her look bad. Even if you are correct in all of these points, no one is going to welcome a wet blanket. Probably a more diplomatic response would be to write down all the ideas and go over your concerns later. Maybe with the approach of, “This idea would help us in x, y, z ways. I’ve been looking into implementation, and it looks like we would have to give up 1, 2, and 3 to make that happen. Is this something we’re willing to cut back on?”

  40. Phony Genius*

    I would comment on ideas with questions. Such as, if we do that, how will it affect this other thing? Sometimes, it makes people rethink their ideas if they realize there will be unintended consequences.

  41. Literal Desk Fan*

    Not sure if anyone has suggested this yet, but my continuous-improvement-Lean-trained self would recommend coming up with a system for ranking / classifying ideas that works for both of you. Something like a prioritization matrix is a super easy chart that will help you rank ideas from low to high effort and low to high impact. An X-matrix chart could also help prioritize ideas, but it’s quite a bit more complicated.

    In my Lean training, it was recommended that teams have a prioritization matrix up all the time (maybe on a white board or a poster board) so that team members could add ideas to it with post-it notes and the ideas could easily be ranked on the effort/impact scale so it would be really simple to see which projects to tackle first. And it’s great, because it’s so visual and easy to see where to put time and energy. This might be a really great thing for an idea person like your boss to implement, if you are in a position where you can recommend this to her! Then you’d be able to work together to rank the ideas and come up with a plan to move forward.

    1. Arctic*

      Funny, Lean Six Sigma model was the first thing I thought of when I read it. It’s very much not for everyone. But it seems tailored for this situation as it’s all about balancing the ideas and thinking outside the box with the practicalities.

      1. Literal Desk Fan*

        Yes, definitely! What I love about the effort/impact prioritization matrix, too, is that it’s incredibly simple but also very helpful. The X-matrix is probably too complicated, but I feel like the prioritization matrix can help just about everyone.

      1. Literal Desk Fan*

        Yes, I agree. If it were me, I’d start keeping a list of the ideas, then maybe follow up with the boss a week or two later and say, “These are all the things you mentioned. Are these still in the running?” And if so, follow up with something like, “It will help me a lot if we can prioritize these somehow, maybe with a prioritization matrix so I can see which projects will have the most impact and what the resource utilization would be, and it will help me plan resources for them.” And then maybe create a recurring one-on-one meeting with the boss to do this periodically, removing or tabling anything she decides not to move forward with, and see how that goes. It would be worth it after a few times to evaluate whether that prioritization method would help her to prioritize ideas before she even comes to the OP with them with something like, “Would it help you to use this chart to evaluate new ideas going forward before bringing them to my attention, or does it help when we work together to classify them?”

  42. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve had to deal with this kind of thing before and the best way I have found to handle it is to take notes of the idea at the time. Then circle back when you’re not in the middle of the meeting and say “So about that Thing you were talking about, I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve noticed some snags. Is this this something you want to move forward with and to discuss more in depth?”

    Then you give her the ball back and say “Now what, boss?” and she can go “oh just brainstorming but yeah if you think there’s a lot of issues with it, let’s just bench it.” It’s all about not getting into an argument and keeping it neutral in most cases, since she’s spitting out ideas and you don’t need to catch and run with each one but I understand the impulse to do so, since previously I would do just the same. Then I got the bosses with lots of ideas but they were just not do-able at the time unless they wanted to expand the company which they really couldn’t reasonably just on a whim.

  43. DataQueen*

    Hi OP, I might as well be your boss. And I’m sorry.
    I have a You on my team, and I lovingly call her the Dream Crusher. It drives me crazy just as much as her ideas are driving you crazy!
    Alison’s advice, IMO, is spot-on. I want to hear a flag that the idea might be a bigger impact than I think it is, but I don’t want to hear that you’ve already made up your mind that this is a Bad Idea or a Big Problem. Otherwise it’s just frustrating and demotivating. I also would love to not always hear that it’s going to cost extra money or resources to do ANYTHING. Not everything is incremental, sometimes ideas just will require a little extra effort from the current team. But I do appreciate you throwing up flags. My only other advice would be sometimes you don’t have all the information behind why something needs to happen, and can’t have all the info – i’ll tell you as much as i can, but sometimes something just Has To Happen, and we have to Make It Happen.

    1. Anonya*

      Uh, it doesn’t sound like you’re all that sorry. You feel frustrated and demoralized? So do your reports, who may be at capacity and don’t have much more to give.

  44. IvyGirl*

    Wow. In this instance, I think that it might be helpful to think about how this letter would be presented if the boss wrote in. Getting combative in a staff meeting is not a good thing to do WITH YOUR BOSS.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Meh, it depends on the relationship. I’ve had to somewhat aggressively redirect a boss a few times, that’s part of being a deputy at times. It really depends on the people involved. I’ve never had to watch much of what I say to bosses before.

      But I’m usually specifically hired to be the person who is supposed to go and herd that boss-cat whenever they start chasing mice mid-meeting. So that could be why my lens is different here.

    2. Arctic*

      I think it isn’t bad to push back on your boss especially for good reasons. BUT it should absolutely not be in front of the whole staff. I think that’s where this turned left.

  45. Sharikacat*

    You might jot down all of her ideas as she comes up with them and find time later away from your boss to spend a little time with each to draft out some of the resources and roadblocks that come up, at least at a quick glance. Hopefully she doesn’t have so many ideas that you aren’t able to quickly map out the glaring problems and solutions, or at least come up with a few probing questions for later.

    I think you were absolutely right to “challenge” her ideas with these realities, but that’s a conversation between the two of you. Be generally supportive in front of others and raise your concerns in private, then allow her to make a decision on what to implement and carry it out.

    I’d love to see a file folder filled with any ideas that are wildly impractical. Something to give you a nice chuckle when you look back on it.

  46. TootsNYC*

    I think out loud. It feels, internally, as if I will lose the thought–or won’t be able to have it at all–if I don’t verbalize it. It can be really rude sometimes, and it can be hard on other people.

    So I try to write down those thoughts instead of speaking them. That might help you delay your response until you’re in private.

    Also: in improvisational comedy (improv), the rule is to always say yes. You never correct or guide; you always add in.
    If you can get into an “always yes” mode for whenever there are other people around, and move your analytical work to being done in private, or in a smaller meeting, that might be good. You are always trying TO make it happen, so if you find a snag, the goal is to alert people to something that needs to be overcome, not something that derails. Sometimes the tone is the biggest part of that.

    You could also have a rule that says “no negatives until 2 days later.” You are always trying TO make it happen. And then you surface the flaws later.

    Some of it’s also the “never correct your children in front of others” / “never contradict your spouse in front of others” thing.

  47. MiddleGenerationMillennial*

    Ooh. I love ideas, but there’s no point if they can’t be implemented.

    This might be a great time for SWOT analyses or something in that vein. What purpose would each idea serve? What alternatives could be explored, and which would be most effective?

  48. Buttons*

    The You may also like link “no one will hire me as their visionary” from 2010. WOOBOY, I sure would love an update on that one!

    1. boo bot*

      I like to think the small business they had already founded was Theranos, but I guess the dates don’t really work out.

      1. Yea startups*

        How typical of small minded people. Take the worst-case example as if it were typical. What if the visionary letter founded Beyond Meat, Etsy, Slack, Lyft, etc.?

  49. hbc*

    “…she was hired to have Lots of Ideas and she is that kind of person and that I should be approaching her ideas with more enthusiasm….” Ew. That doesn’t sound like a speech you give an employee. OP didn’t have a say in Boss getting hired, and presumably OP was not hired for a job as Boss’s cheerleader.

    Anyway, I would have another talk with Boss and say that you can be enthusiastic about generalized Ideas, but once she starts talking about specifics, you’ll be wearing your practical hat. Special mailing to all of your former armed forces customers on Veteran’s Day? Wow, that’s a fantastic idea! Let’s have the list of customers next week? Um, we don’t have that information on record, and we won’t be able to survey all customers by then.

    If that’s too much rain on her parade, OP, then I would at least tell her that you’re going to need a very clear signal from her when she wants to switch from Supporter to Action Taker/Troubleshooter. But I would be concerned that you’re out of the honeymoon period with her where you were the magical person who got her Great Ideas accomplished and now she only sees you as the killer of her Great Ideas.

  50. Arctic*

    On the bright side your boss does understand the issue.
    I would say as a minimum, practical implementation that knocking down an idea when she very first brings it up *in front of everyone else* is just not the right time or place to do so. I’m absolutely not suggesting you did something wrong or inappropriate. That’s something some bosses would expect. Just that with this boss and her style it’s not the time. It already puts a damper on it from the very start.
    And sometimes resources should reallocated. An idea should be fleshed out without starting out with the whole team thinking it’s a waste of time. When the idea is more fleshed out it could be valuable. Or it could lead to something else valuable. And that could mean hiring more people or reallocating time.

  51. Ruthie*

    My boss sounds very similar to yours. She has lots of ideas, has a bias to action, and will often flip-flop on what she does or does not want to do. I’ve learned that one of the secrets to working with her is to never say no, but to reframe the conversation in a way that gets her in the general direction of where she’d like to go. So I’ve stopped saying, “No, that’s preposterous and definitely won’t work, especially with one week to prepare!” I’ll say, “I love that! Here’s which pieces of this we can move forward on immediately, what do you think of us taking on X right now?!”

  52. Mockingjay*

    I am in a similar situation as the OP. I have a project lead who LOOOVES design and engineering, and wants to do all these cool things like “Let’s reinvent the wheel!” and create Grand Procedure X, and so on.

    A large part of my job is managing expectations. So rather than reinventing the wheel, I’ll suggest that we change the tread design only. Instead of creating a new process, let’s update the one we have. Consult the other team; they encountered the same problem last year.

    Occasionally we do implement new things because that’s part of the task and he is excellent at thinking outside the box. Status quo doesn’t solve every problem.

    I’ve also learned the “24-hour rule.” When he tosses out ideas, I do some pro/con research, but sit on the findings for a day or so. Usually the next time I talk to him, I’ll get more background and direction about what he wants (in which case I will give the pro/con), or he’ll tell me, naw, we’re not going to do that (no further action on my part).

  53. OP for this*

    OMG Allison, everyone, thank you very much for the thoughtful replies (and occasional commiseration)! I really like the scripts provided, am making notes.

    I do need a reminder once in a while that there is value in all the ideas – it is easy to get locked in the frustration. We do good work, and part of it is definitely that my boss has sometimes wild ideas and is willing to ignore the practicalities a bit.

    Everyone who thinks that my workload does not help with my frustration level is quite right, too. Another issue is of course that with all the ideas from my boss, none of the rest of the team has any space for them (myself included), which can also be demotivating.

    It’s really encouraging that there are many people handling this! Thanks again!

    1. animaniactoo*

      If it helps at all, I work in a creative role – when it’s time to come up with completely new stuff, somewhere around 90% of what I propose will not move forward. I’ve had to accept that a low success rate is actually still a positive thing. But! Also! Sometimes it just won’t move forward at that moment. I’ve had ideas come back around 3, 4, 5 years later and have it be just the moment for it. That also makes it easier to feel like the prior work hasn’t been all a waste, despite not having moved forward with it right then.

      (and I’ll admit to looking back at something once in awhile and going “uh. wtf was I thinking?” lol.

    2. LizB*

      You may have already done this, but how recently have you had a workload/job duties check-in with your boss? One where you sit down and go through what you’re doing and how much time each week/month you’re spending on each thing? I think that’s a good thing to take inventory of every once in a while, even for folks who aren’t feeling crushed by their workloads.

      First, sit down and do an inventory yourself of everything you’re doing and how much time you’re spending on it. Then ask for a check-in: “Boss, I’d like to set up a meeting (/use our next regularly scheduled one-on-one) to make sure we’re on the same page about all my projects and responsibilities. I’ve been feeling for a while that I have more on my plate than I can reasonably accomplish, and I want to have a conversation about how I’m spending my time and how you’d like me to prioritize.” When she agrees, send her your inventory a little bit ahead of time, then go through it in the meeting. Make sure your full workload is visible to her. You can likely have this meeting without ever mentioning her brainstorming, but you could also put in a line item for “follow up with feasibility assessments for Boss’s new ideas” or something like that.

      Hopefully, the outcome of this meeting would be her taking things off your plate once she sees that you really are overworked, and having time blocked out in your schedule for dealing with her sky’s-the-limit brainstorms. And if that isn’t the result, at least you have clarity on whether she’s actually going to support you to manage your workload, or whether she’s just going to keep adding to it.

    3. LQ*

      I think a sit down with your boss about duties and realities is likely very overdue for you. Especially if you’ve been feeling this for a while, she may not have expected you to implement half the stuff you did implement and may be surprised to find out you’re chugging along doing them all. And if you can identify stuff that you think should be cut all the better.

      You’ve been talking about how customer development is a priority and response times. I’m doing these routine checks which aren’t producing a lot of value and we could save time by dropping it for occasional spot checks. (Or whatever…)

  54. Akcipitrokulo*

    You actually have the makings of a pretty formidable team here :)

    What you need to get the best out of it is to know what tonexpect from each other – and accept that the differences are a good thing.

    She has ideas and can draw the threads together in ways most people can’t see. You have the ability to see the potential difficulties – and, based on your past experience and knowledge, may well have some good ideas for solutions!

    I know it can be frustrating she does all the processing out loud – but that’s just her way of getting things clear, and really doesn’t need an answer at that point.

    It’s perfectly OK to say “let me chew that one over” – in fact, she’s probably more likely to listen to any practical issues if she thinks you have mulled it over first and taken all the different aspects into consideration.

    This could be so good for you if you can work throigh the initial “this is how each other ticks” communications!

  55. irene adler*

    My boss is like this. He always has ideas to change things.
    Only, if you express anything other than a positive response, he interprets this as a rejection of his idea. So he goes at it all the more, thinking he needs to ‘sell’ it to me.

    So I’ve learned: First thing for me is to express a positive sentiment so he understands that I’m on board.
    Later, after I’ve had a good chance to evaluate the idea, and identify the ‘hurdles’ that I need to surmount, we have a follow-up meeting. I then ask him to find a way for me to clear all the ‘hurdles’ I’ve identified. He’s only too happy to help- or change something to eliminate the ‘hurdle’. He also sees this as further ‘buy-in’ on my part. Which makes him very happy.

  56. Lime Lehmer*

    Op, I had a boss that firmly subscribed to the theory that “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”
    A colleague likened it to trying to drink from a fire house.
    The way we handled it was to note the idea, and circle back a few days later to find out if we should go forward to the feasibility/planning stage. Often the fire hose was turned in another direction. Learning to manage your expectations can go a long way to managing your boss and your anxieties. Listening and not responding during public brainstorming sessions is probably the best way to handle meetings. Circle back in private once the newness has warn off the latest idea.

  57. Josh Lyman*

    My last boss was The Ideas Person. I was his deputy. We helmed a special projects office which just further encouraged wild ideas: nothing was ever off the table! We had a check-in meeting once a week. I would dedicate a portion of these meetings to run through Boss’ ideas. I set my check-ins with him on Mondays so that I could go through all the ideas he came up with during the previous week. I would spend like twenty minutes to prep for this portion of the meeting, just noting what was feasible, what was ridiculous, etc. Boss loved that he was heard and that all the ideas were captured and that I gave them “serious thought and consideration” (see previously: 20 minutes). And doing this review on a sober Monday, ready to freshly face the week, made him more likely to dismiss things that he threw out there in the heat of the moment during the prior week’s busy schedule. This worked well and I because I kept a running list of these ideas, it was clear to me that he repeated some over and over. Then he and I could talk about why he kept wanting to “do a film festival” (we worked for a hospital) and could get to the root of his suggestions and/or find a satisfying and feasible compromise (“well we can do a screening of this one pertinent healthcare documentary for that unit who has been wanting to something for caregivers and they have a budget for snacks.”)

    Hope this helps!

    1. Emilia Bedelia*

      Agreed! I work in a field where soliciting crazy ideas from users and translating them into real, feasible projects is a big part of our work.
      The key is getting to the actual user need behind the idea. If your boss suggests that, for example, everyone should write a blog post once a week for the company website, maybe consider trying to get to the root of why this seems necessary. Maybe she feels out of the loop, and wants to get more project updates from people. Maybe she feels like the website should have more content. Maybe she thinks your team needs to be more visible. Whatever her reasoning, there might be a solution that is actually feasible (additionally, this might help you to refocus in your mind – instead of thinking “Here’s another wild and impossible idea from Boss”, recognizing that there is an actual need that she’s trying to address may help you to keep your cool.)

    2. OP for this*

      That sounds like it has elements I could implement, thank you!

      (My, this was certainly no Leo McGarry, this boss, right? I love West Wing! And your handle!)

      1. Josh Lyman*

        Thanks, @OP! No, no: this boss was not a Leo nor was he anyone else in the West Wing universe! I hope some of these ideas help. @Emilia Bedelia is right: figuring out what the root of the issue is can be so illuminating! Good luck with everything! :)

  58. Purt's Peas*

    I think that OP’s boss wants to give ideas room to breathe, particularly among the other members of the team, before they’re nixed. It’s really hard to think through an idea if someone with authority–the OP–immediately says it won’t work. So it’s not a bad idea to just give it some breathing room.

    If the team looks into it and says, “this is an okay idea,” and OP says it’s not affordable, that’s fine. If the team looks into it and says, “this is amazing,” and the OP says it’s not affordable, then boss has the information she needs to say, “OK, but it’s worth it, so let’s figure out how we can make some of it work.”

    Does that make sense? I get the feeling that communication between OP and her boss is pretty poor, but that’s what I read out of the boss’s request.

  59. Orchiddragon*

    It could just be all her and not you.

    My boss was technically and organizationally challenged and wanted me (as her assistant) to help keep her running smoothly while meeting the demands of our industry. At first, she seemed open to streamlining and simplifying processes and would discuss with me the pros and cons of new ideas. I learned to jot down the discussion and recap back to her to make sure both of us were on the same page. Each of us had our own tasks and responsibilities and some tasks depended on the other person completing their own task first. The next week she would be right back to how she operated before and she refused to see how that affected what I needed to do (to help her in the end).

    I learned it was just the way she was. She was a smart woman but very set in her ways and as a result, she constantly struggled to meet deadlines. She was very specific about how she liked things done but everything had to meet her preferences and how she worked. She liked to talk out loud but did not really want to change her ways. Meanwhile, I was supposed to somehow interpret these discussions as “you just need to do these things for me although it is above your paygrade and you are not qualified to complete the whole thing”.

  60. LQ*

    I have a boss like this and I can be like this at times too. I actually think that my boss’s tendency to do this has been incredibly helpful for me professionally. He’d tell me to put the pen down we are just talking (which was a huge benefit and something I do now with folks). Then he’d walk through and idea and be comfortable with me jumping in to poke at it or ask questions that would sometimes shift the way he was thinking about it. Hearing not just the idea “Let’s buy a pony!” but the thinking behind it helps me to understand what it is he is thinking about which makes me better at presenting things to him myself and helps me to drive the strategic direction. “We need transportation but there aren’t any wide roads and we don’t generally have to carry much stuff.” Well maybe we should talk about widening the roads or a bike instead. Instead of just going ponies are a ton of work, we can’t do that! I don’t even know how to shoe a horse!

    I’d definitely hold the point that your boss KNOWS that this isn’t all possible as really important. She is looking to have the team work toward better solutions. This is helping to develop your skills, help you understand the process, and make better decisions overall. So yeah, poke holes in it. But come at it with enthusiasm means ask a bunch of questions, try to shape it a little. Throw out your own. Throw a curve ball at it. Write down on the top of your paper, “10%” and remember she’s not saying you have to go and do this work today. (And talk to her about being overwhelmed and needing more support because that may be really crushing you more than she knows.)

    If you’re not a person who can ever do that then you should tell her, but understand that depending on your job and your industry that may mean an impact to your career. Being able to take an idea and make it better and more practical rather than just slamming the door on it is absolutely a professional skill.

    1. OP for this*

      If my boss would start off by saying we are just talking now, 90% of my issues would go away immediately. That sounds like a good thing going.

      1. LQ*

        A couple people have mentioned defaulting to the assumption that she’s just talking, not looking for action and I think that might work. You could even go for assume it’s just talking until YOU think the idea’s fully baked and then you moving it forward, “This idea sounds like we’ve got a lot of the rough edges sawed off so I think we are ready to move forward with it.” or some such. It sounds like she’s open to being wrong on this stuff so you could just ask her if that would work with her that you’ll assume it’s just talking until it has been worked over a bit and seems ready for prime time.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        The thing is that she may not even know which 10% of the ideas she thinks are decent until she’s heard herself talk them through out loud or bounced them off another person. Ideas don’t just pop into your head fully-formed waving a sign saying “THIS IS A GOOD IDEA THAT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED EASILY AND WILL NOT STRESS OUT OP SO IT’S OKAY TO TALK ABOUT IT”.

        It sounds like you’ve asked her to signal more clearly and that hasn’t worked, so at this point I think you need to look at changing your own mindset and assuming that *unless she says otherwise*, she’s just talking the idea through.

  61. Brave Little Toaster*

    I’ve worked for Big Ideas people in the past, and found it to be exhausting and actually really bad for my self-esteem. While there is some truth to the “each way has its own good qualities,” in my experience the people who have to figure out whether or not it will work end up getting shit on and considered negative people.

    This can take the form of Big Idea Boss not taking you seriously when you tell them what it will take to get the idea done, Big Idea Boss considering you a “negative” person even though that’s your job, and you never ever having space or time for your own ideas or any help implementing them. Often a Big Idea Boss will hire a details person to try and balance their style and keep them organized, but doesn’t actually inherently respect that work style.

    And let’s be honest, leadership opportunities and promotions end up going to the high-profile Idea Person, not their deputy who made it happen. So, yeah, ten years of this experience in my career so far has made me bitter about this. If you want me to be the one to scrutinize the bank statements, don’t lash out at me for not supporting your expensive new project we don’t have the money for.

    For the commenters who say they are Idea People, please take a look at how you actually propose and think through ideas so that your staff won’t hate you. My suggestions for how Big Idea contributions can be done right:
    1 – Identify the need you want to fill, instead of jumping to right to a shiny new product to fix it. Engage your staff in brainstorming around filling the need. You might find out that they tried X new product five years ago before you worked at that company, and it failed for Y reasons. Don’t make them be the “no person” by presenting a string of poorly though-out ideas.
    2 – Believe your staff when they tell you what it will take to get the job done. If you’ve hired them to be executors, trust they know what it takes to execute.
    3 – Give staff room to have their own good ideas and support to implement them.
    4 – Have some self-awareness about your own style. Managing up to a Big Idea Boss with no self-awareness about why everyone who works for them is burnt out is a perfect recipe for resentment.

    1. OP for this*

      Hi Toaster, thanks for this. A lot of it sounds familiar, and I am sorry you had bad outcomes with your Idea People. I had a lot less than 10 years with my boss, and I am fairly sure I would not want to make it to 10, even if I manage to get an improvement.

      1. Brave Little Toaster*

        This comment section has taught me that I’m not alone in my practical orientation, for sure! Many of the commenters here have offered good, positive advice for how to welcome some of these ideas more constructively. I should clarify that it’s been ten years with different Big Idea Bosses, not the same one, and I’ve gotten pigeonholed into doing the practical stuff over the course of several jobs because I’m good at it. As you could see from my comment, I hold a lot of resentment about the negative aspects of this. For me personally, I’ve now started to look for workplaces where I’m not going to be the only one actually looking at the numbers, so that I can hopefully have more room for my own ideas to shine and not have to be the only grown-up/bad guy. In my recent job search, it’s taking the form of questions like, “what kind of process do you have for taking on new projects,” whether they have clear KPI’s, and taking myself out of the running for some jobs that use the word “lean” too much. Your letter brought up some strong feelings I didn’t even know I had, so thank you!

  62. Washi*

    I’m seeing a lot of comments from the practical people and not as many from the idea-spewers, so can I just describe what this is like from the other side? I’m quite practical at work, but in my relationship with my husband, I am very much the ideas person and he is on mission poke-holes-in-the-plan. Here is a semi-frequent interaction, slightly exaggerated for comedic effect.

    Me: Ooh you know what would be cool? What if we went camping on the beach this summer?
    Husband: When are you thinking about? We would need to have good weather. And we would need a lot of bug spray. Also we would get a lot of sand in our shoes. And our sleeping bags will be too warm so we’ll need to bring different bedding. Plus I only have one bathing suit so it would need to dry completely overnight. Etc.

    It’s quite sad and deflating to share an interesting and exciting idea and have no one else share your enthusiasm and immediately be put on the defensive with it. What I really want is like, two minutes of interest and excitement from my husband, then to have him ask me questions, one by one, about what I am thinking as far as feasibility and whether this is really something we should pursue, or whether that was a fun fantasy trip. And we’ve gotten better at that, but only after me telling him specifically that he needs to be more excited about my ideas sometimes, or I’m eventually going to stop planning fun vacations for us :)

    I’m NOT saying your boss is objectively right in how she is handling things (in fact, I don’t think she’s being very clear about her expectations) just trying to give some insight about how she might be reacting to your questions/suggestions. Have you tried responding by telling her what you like about her plan? There’s probably some reason she’s suggesting this stuff, right? That might give her the validation she needs, and then at a later point you can probe more about the feasibility side.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Ugh, I feel this so hard. I’m the ideas person to my coworker’s OP, and this is exactly how it feels.

      It’s not that I think that the practicalities of an idea are unimportant or that I don’t value that type of input; it’s simply that when I’m at the “hey, why don’t we go to the beach?” point, I’m not looking for “but I don’t know where to buy the right kind of bug spray!” feedback. It’s more like, is there an appetite for this idea? Does it feel like a stupid idea when I have to explain it to another person? Does saying it out loud trigger some other idea or association? And when you’re at that stage, being met with nothing but dismay and big-spray level questioning is really, really disheartening, especially if being the ideas person is something that’s actually part of your job.

      1. Grapey*

        For me, big ideas that come in the form of a question, rhetorical or not, is going to get met with an answer.

        At work it’s no big deal and I would feign enthusiasm and do what I’m asked if expectations are clear.

        In my personal life though I’m not going to play along unless the person says WHY they want Big Idea and NOT in the form of a question. e.g. “I’d love to fall asleep to the ocean waves sometime this summer, and then wake up and make sandcastles!”. I would get my own Big Ideas to help you achieve your goal.

        But getting “Hey, what do you think of a summer field trip to the beach?” would get you what I actually think about a summer field trip to the beach, which would be more follow up questions.

  63. Caitlin*

    Could you implement some kind of process to help with this. I’m thinking of an ideas hopper for anything she mentions but then before it moves to be implemented some kind of business case needs to be done with a prioritisation score so you know what is most important. It doesn’t have to be a huge document, just a single page detailing the objective, the scope, cost (both financial and resource), benefits and prioritisation (high scores for things that are regulatory, cost saving, etc based on your business targets). Then she can see all her ideas are being recorded but only the one best aligned with the business priorities and with resources get approved to go ahead.

  64. LilySparrow*

    In my experience, the only way to survive this mentally is to assume *everything* is brainstorming until it has real-world numbers attached to it.

    When you have an actual budget, a revenue or ROI goal, and a timeline, then it’s a plan. Everything before that is just an idea.

    While an idea is being discussed, assume for the sale of argument that every idea will require giving something else up. Also assume your boss knows this when she switches out of creative mode into execution mode. And therefore, anything is possible if the org is willing to pay the price in terms of giving up other projects.

    Just hang back, nod, and listen. When she starts saying things that have schedules and money in them, ask “Is it time to start putting some hard numbers together?”

    Most of the time, she’ll say no, it’s not ready to move forward. But you’ve supported her process by taking it seriously.

  65. Anon for Right Now*

    OP, tread carefully. I’ve found, in both personal and professional life, that Ideas People can often take any mention of practical realities as them being thwarted and take it VERY personally; in a manager-direct report relationship, this could lead to be the report being labeled as “insubordinate.”

  66. Meercat*

    Hey OP, I have a very similar way of thinking as you seem to do. Many readers gave some excellent advice here already so I just want to share that I think the combination you and your manager have may be huge asset if you can make that dynamic work. I used to be able to observe a lot of founders, and in many many cases the organisations they founded really only started to work when they got someone on board who can be the yang to their ‘visionary, bouncing off loads of ideas’ yin. So much so that I have started to look for those kinds of positions that would allow me to be that structured, resource focused, practical thinker to a visionary, because I figure this is where I can add value and have an impact. I think there is a real opportunity here if you and your boss can build up mutual trust and the kind of relationship where you both recognise your different patterns to think and really appreciate that ability about the other. Good luck!

  67. Krabby*

    I used to work for someone like this and my rule was that I did nothing until the idea had been brought up twice. We’d talk through the logistics, how it should be done, what might need to change for it to happen, and then I’d tell her to confirm the timeline in our next sync-up (we met weekly). I’d add it to our agenda (but wouldn’t bring it up myself). If it was mentioned again in our next two sync-ups, I’d reiterate my concerns and if I was over-ruled I would add it to my list of tasks. If it wasn’t mentioned in those two sync-ups, I’d cross it off and store the notes/plans/brainstorming somewhere where I could easily access them if she changed her mind later on.

    Not sure if that will work for you, but it did for me.

  68. Mizzle*

    I’m a hole-poker by nature, and one thing that took me a long time to realize is how my responses can be interpreted in two different ways, almost like the optical illusion with the vase and the two faces. To me, the hole-poking is a way of taking the idea seriously. I’m engaging with it, trying to work out how we could make it happen. In other words, I’m on the Idea Person’s side. Some (many?) people don’t interpret it that way… I am voicing objections, after all.

    I’ve found that prefacing my thoughts by an explicit “I like the idea of …” or something similarly positive, they’re much more likely to interpret them as the constructive remarks I intended them to be. I was surprised by the difference it makes in how people respond and how they perceive me.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I’ve found that prefacing my thoughts by an explicit “I like the idea of …” or something similarly positive, they’re much more likely to interpret them as the constructive remarks I intended them to be.

      I like this phrasing a lot, and you’re right – it makes a huge difference in how my feedback is received. I’m known as the diplomat now.

  69. S*

    Oh god this post brought back horrible flashbacks to an old job where my boss was nuts, and would drink too much caffeine and come up with “ideas”. As in we’re completely changing how we fill out reports that are visible to everyone in the company starting today. Two days later when the caffeine wore off she would start screaming at us we were filling everything out wrong, when she had just changed the procedure during her coffee high 48 hours earlier. Or the great idea that she would “introduce” us to yoga, and have a team retreat at a crappy strip mall yoga studio. It sounds like the OP’s boss tosses out a lot of BS that doesn’t get acted on.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Ugh! I had the male version of that boss.
      Every day he would decide to rework the whole website. Like seriously he wouldn’t even give the A/B testing 48 hours before ripping it apart.

      Instead of yoga it was some type of vitamins or weird eating thing. He replaced the delivered water cooler with one that had rocks in it that was supposed to purify tap water. But the rocks were gross and got slimy because it was warm water. Ick. Strange notions.

  70. MissDisplaced*

    Ooo! Ok, so I very much have a brain like your boss and it can sometimes go a million miles a minute and I like to verbalize scenarios and throw out what ifs. I find that stimulating and fun and helps the thought process and hopefully gets others thinking too.
    However, I do make sure I preface these with some form of “this is just brainstorming.” If we do decide to take actions, I’ll typically follow up with an email list or instructions. It’s kind if odd to me that she is reluctant and/or cannot indicate what’s moving forward and what’s simply ideation (and sometimes I records those for crazy ideas for posterity as well).

  71. Zircon*

    I am very late to this, but I think I tend to have a mind like your managers. I employ people like you specifically so that you can stimulate my thinking and work out the practicalities so that I can reflect if this idea is valid. When my planning staff get together with my ideas staff, brilliant work happens!! I would encourage you to see the possibilities here, not just the frustrations.

  72. Product Person*

    Here’s how I’ve dealt with a boss like that in the past:

    Unless he/she is explicitly giving an order to start implementation, treat the idea as an idea in discovery phase.

    Take note of the idea and find a time later on to discuss its pos and cons. At the moment, don’t judge; a brainstorming session is not the time to start poking holes in the idea.

    When it’s time to discuss new initiatives, take the list of available ideas and start quantifying their effort and expected return. Then prioritize the ones that fall into the “high reward, low effort” first. If any “high reward, high effort” idea is selected for implementation, list the required conditions (reassign project X to someone else, hire temporary help, postpone project Y, etc.) thar management should approve before work begins.

  73. Stained Glass Cannon*

    I just want to pop in to say that OP, you are a wonderful person for shielding your team from the blue-skying.
    I’ve had a boss like this in the past, which was actually ok because we all more or less understood that his job was to generate ideas. However, this became horrendous when our direct manager decided that every. single. thing. boss said was an order to be executed NOW NOW NOW and plunged straight into the implementation. The upshot of this was that the team was constantly bouncing from project to project, never actually getting anything completed – we’d get 25-50% into something and then boss would have a fit of inspiration and manager would immediately rush the whole team off in a different direction, abandoning the previous project. It was horrible for morale and people were leaving all the time.

    As to advice, I think what’s most important for you right now is to be able to put a very firm space between the idea and the execution, for both yourself and your boss to cool off. As others have suggested, write everything down at the point of discussion. Don’t agree or disagree on the spot, just take notes and say something like “I will look into that and get back to you later.” And do actually look into it! Don’t just dismiss it offhand because you’re overwhelmed and frustrated in the moment.

    After a day or two of cooling off, go back to your boss and say “I’ve looked into your suggestions from the previous meeting, and here’s what we can do…” And for all you know, your boss will have forgotten half of what she suggested! You’ll know best how much detail to go into and what can be dropped, and after a while of this, you might even be able to tell better which of her ideas she herself considers to be in the 90% from the start and can therefore be safely ignored. Your boss says she wants to explore the 10% of implementable ideas – think of yourself as being the objective head that’s helping her to sift out that 10%, rather than being the frantic pair of hands trying to do 100% on the spot.

    I hope that helps!

  74. Katy*

    I’ve been in your shoes, OP, and it’s tough! But more recently, I’ve been a manager, and I’ve found myself in your boss’s situation too, so I have empathy for both sides here. I love everyone’s advice above to use questions, rather than statements.

    One point I would add that I don’t see above: bosses often have a broader sense of “what’s possible” than their direct reports do. For example, you might hear an idea and think “we’d need to hire another person to do that, so it’s off the table,” but your boss might think “we’d need to hire another person to do that, so I’d put in the budget request and get it done.” This is why asking questions is a good strategy–it signals to your boss that you’re keeping possibilities open.

  75. JSPA*

    “are we talking practical implementation–in which case, I’d have some significant concerns–or kicking this around as a way to open up our thinking about what’s desirable?”

    Totally reasonable ask, and you get your flag in. Boss wants to know what the concerns are? Boss can ask.

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