Replace “How” With “Wow” to Build Great Ideas

Have you ever had a great idea, and have your boss, peer or team just shut it down?  I know you have.  It’s happened to all of us.  And the truth is, we have probably done it to others as well.  In a recent podcast entitled “Uniquely Better”, Andy Stanley shares this idea.  To replace “how” with “wow” in order to build on great ideas.  Instead of asking “how in the world do you think we can do that?”.  Say “wow, what a great concept, let’s explore that more”.

This is a great habit to build in your organization.  If you start from the top, you can truly begin to change the culture and drive innovation to new levels.  Let’s evaluate some of the reasons you should replace “how” with “wow”.

It gives credibility to the idea

Maybe the idea is crazy.  But until you explore it, you truly don’t know.  What are some “how” questions that you may be tempted to ask:

  • How in the world did you come up with that?  That’s a crazy idea.
  • How would we possibly be able to do that?

What do these questions do to the person with the idea? Encourage them to come up with more ideas?  Nope! Demoralize and demean them? Probably. They tell them that they can’t possibly understand anything as complicated as your business.

“Wow,” tells them that you respect their idea and that you are impressed with their ability to think out of the box.  Perhaps their idea doesn’t merit any further consideration.  But taking the time to say “wow” and to at least explore the concept begins a dialog of problem exploration that may generate even greater ideas in the future.  So replace “How” with “Wow” to give credibility to them and to their idea.

It fosters a spirit of collaboration

How many good ideas do you think are out there sitting in the minds of your team members?  I hope you think it’s a lot.  Successful teams have people with great ideas.  The problem is that many team members are afraid to voice their opinion because they’ve seen too many of their peers criticized for their off the wall ideas.

As soon as you open up a discussion, you bring the entire team into the process.  Others may also have off-the-wall ideas.  Sometimes the original idea truly is crazy.  But it’s the building on, adding to, subtracting from and improving on to ideas that drive radical ideas.  One person’s crazy initial idea may eventually become your team’s industry-changing innovation that completely rocks the world.

As a leader, our primary purpose is to accomplish great results out of the teams we lead.  What better way to unleash the power of your team than to increase collaboration.  Doing so will increase the entrepreneurial mindset of your team members.  It will tell them that you respect their ideas.  And it will empower them to work together and function as a truly high-performance team.  Replace “How” with “Wow” to build a collaborative team.

It will promote more good ideas to come

Once others see you celebrating new ideas, they’ll bring theirs to the table as well.  Have you ever been in a room when someone comes up with a hairbrained idea, but it gets the ball rolling?  We see this in politics a lot.  A lawmaker on one side of the aisle will want to get a topic moving.  They often bring a proposal that is so far out of bounds that no one will ever truly support it.  But it gets the topic into the conversation.  It gets ideas flowing.  And eventually, in some cases, an idea surfaces that actually works and meets the needs.  Often that idea is only a fraction of what was originally proposed, but it was the original proposal that got the conversation started.

One way I like to do this in teams is to “future back” ideas.  We talk about where we want things to be.  And then we think about how we got there.  For example, let’s say we decide that we are going to have a healthcare division.  We establish the fact that we have a healthcare division in place by January 1st of next year.  We then “future back” what happened to get us there.  Next, we identify the people we needed to talk to and the products we needed to bring to the market.  We identify the organizations to join, the conferences to attend.  I find that once we start generating ideas in this creative way, the ideas just keep coming.  Replace “How” with “Wow” and you may get more great ideas than you can imagine!

Not doing so can stifle team members

Shooting down ideas tends to take all the air out of the room.  Have you ever been in a discussion when someone shares an idea and then the leader (or someone with “vocal clout” – often not the actual leader) speaks up and shoots down the idea? I was recently in a meeting where a junior member made a simple observation that rubbed a very outspoken team member the wrong way. After a ten minute tirade, the junior member of the team felt like a whipped dog!  He was afraid to bring anything else up. The rest of the group then spent the next hour trying to find a happy medium between the two.  And it all started from a fairly innocent observation.

There’s a better way…

What if, instead of jumping into a tirade, the more senior member asked some clarifying questions and then led a discussion on ideas to resolve or at least address the concern? This is one way to replace “How” With “Wow”.  We would have had a more productive conversation. We may have developed some great new ideas from the observations of the junior team member. And we probably would not have had our meeting hijacked for a 60+ minute squirrel chase down an unexpected path.

But more importantly, think about the junior member who was then tentative to bring up any more suggestions. I know this young man and know that he has great ideas.  He is not afraid to bring up new thoughts and observations.  He often comes at issues from a different perspective from the rest of the team.  And, since he’s new to the team, he doesn’t have some of the baggage that the other team members have.  The team needs him to keep asking questions.  The team needs him to contribute his ideas.  We must be careful not to stifle team members, especially those who are junior in stature, or those that are shy and reserved in the first place.

Develop the Skill to Replace “How” With “Wow”

The great thing is this, you can learn these skills.  I work with clients every day that are just trying to be better leaders in their organization.  Whether through coaching or training, I help them find ways to improve their leadership skills.  If you are interested, contact me today.