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Getting new ideas up – The three pillars

14 December 2021 at 8:15 am
Mike Davis
Mike Davis shares three pillars that can make the difference in getting your ideas or agendas progressed.

Mike Davis | 14 December 2021 at 8:15 am


Getting new ideas up – The three pillars
14 December 2021 at 8:15 am

Mike Davis shares three pillars that can make the difference in getting your ideas or agendas progressed.

Whether you are working in the not-for-profit sector or not, there are a range of factors to consider and calibrate if deciding to pursue a specific policy agenda, idea or service innovation. All too often we get excited by our idea and can jump to trying to force this onto others, before they are ready, interested or open to listening. 

Through my wins and equal number of losses professionally, I’ve learned of three pillars that are equally powerful and determinative in getting your idea or agenda progressed. Whether it is deciding whether to progress something or picking the right moment, these pillars are worthy of further consideration.

1. Is your idea conceptually sound and a sizable improvement or innovation overall?

This pillar is really about ensuring that a sizable improvement or innovation is embodied in your idea. Essentially, to ensure you are not reinventing the wheel, copying something that has already been done, or that your change is not so minimal as to be irrelevant. You should also be careful to ensure that your idea is not so transformational that it signifies a “paradigm shift”. 

You also need to ensure that generating ideas regularly or the process of creative ideation is a core part of all employee’s jobs. Creating psychological safety and opening the space for this means that better ideas are likely to be created over time and a growing percentage of these can be implemented. 

At Elop, an Israeli electro-optics company, from 2007 to 2014, employees generated over 5,000 ideas, with an exceptional implementation rate of more than 70 per cent. By 2015, the ideas generated through this system had saved the company millions of dollars, improved efficiency, and dramatically changed the organisational culture. 

Before making a push to get your idea or agenda up and running, consider the following questions:

  • Are you providing the right environment for creative ideation to occur organically? 
  • Is your idea original enough and does it create enough innovation or change?
  • How many ideas and iterations of your idea have you prototyped and tested before landing on this winning idea?

“If coming up with 10 ideas sounds too hard, then come up with 20.” – James Altucher

2. Do you have the support of the right people?

If you don’t have the trust of your key stakeholders then your idea is already dead in the water and the best you can do is hand it off to someone who does have the requisite trust. Or, you can bide your time, work on improving the trust in your relationships by getting more runs on the board, proving your reliability and ability to succeed. 

Building trust can be one of the most challenging elements of building good relationships. But do not be perturbed, there are a number of things you can focus on to ensure you are heading in the right direction:

  • Demonstrate your plans transparently, in a way that is easy to understand and access.
  • Take on smaller tasks or chunks of tasks and show that you can execute on delivering them reliably, on time and in a way that adds value to your colleagues and the organisation – always “underpromise and overdeliver” and never do the opposite.
  • Understand and map the flow of informal power and decision-making flow through the organisation, then follow and consult stakeholders based on these.

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.” – Paul Hawken

3. Is your idea the right idea for the current moment?

There is a plethora of literature, studies and case studies as to the importance of timing in influencing decision-making. The literary resources that helped me to understand the importance of timing most were some of the early work of the Behavioural Insights Team in developing their EAST framework (pages 37-42) and When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink.

In short, you can try and do the same thing at different times and the levels of success you will have can vary dramatically. There are a number of things we can learn from this body of work:

  • When will your decision-makers be most receptive to your idea? Are they morning or afternoon people? When will they have the most mental clarity and openness? 
  • Hint: avoid pitching any new ideas just prior to lunch or too late in the afternoon. People will be fatigued and either focused on their lunch break or finishing up the work day.
  • Your proposal may run across several other calendars – organisational, policy/political, funding cycle, marketing and communications, policy and advocacy etc. Is your proposal coming at the right time to leverage off other overlapping calendared processes? 

One of my biggest learnings from the closure of my social impact consulting business Purposeful was that it was about five years too early to market. There simply wasn’t a big enough existing market or knowledge base for the work I was offering all this time ago. The time has now arrived where there is sufficient interest in social impact consulting to scale a business like Purposeful. A perfect example of going too early and falling short of rule three.

“All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this.” – Miyamoto Musashi


In the public service, when we had all three of these pillars aligned, we had the right 

“authorising environment” to get new ideas endorsed and implemented. A good authorising environment meant you were on fertile ground to push a new idea or agenda. It didn’t guarantee that all ideas got up, but that the conditions were optimal to propose such ideas.

Whether you are working in a highly bureaucratic and politicised environment or a flatter and more responsive agile work setting, considering and testing against these three pillars will ensure you are in pole position to advance your ideas and agenda in a well planned manner that optimises your chances of success. 

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a for-purpose executive leader, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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