All About You

All About You: Got an idea?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Eureka! A fabulous idea pops into your mind while reading a Safety+Health article. It’s something you know will elevate your site’s safety performance. You can’t wait to tell your colleagues, especially your plant manager. At your next staff meeting, you enthusiastically explain your sensational plan.

To your dismay, not everyone realizes how brilliant your idea is. Some even go as far to say they don’t like the idea and it won’t work.

I’ve had this happen to me enough times to be able to confidently share with you why new ideas aren’t easily accepted no matter how good they are, and – more importantly – how you can pitch your idea in a way that increases the likelihood it will gain acceptance.

Mull it over for a while

Your emotional state can distort your intellect. I don’t want to bore you with detailed biological explanations for why this is true. However, research has shown that when we’re “in love” with either a person or idea, our pragmatic reasoning is affected. So much so that we ignore anything that disputes what we believe during what social scientists sometimes call the “honeymoon phase.” This doesn’t mean your initial elation about an idea isn’t well-founded, but it can be distorted.

Don’t present a new, exciting idea right away. What’s the rush? Unless there’s an urgent problem that needs solving, waiting a bit isn’t going to make a difference. I’ve had many “brilliant revelations” in the middle of the night or while conversing at a party that didn’t seem so brilliant two days later. Now, before I pitch an idea, I write down what it will take to make it happen and what obstacles I’ll face implementing it.

Get feedback first

Before formally presenting your concept, get informal feedback. Ask your friends and trusted associates about your idea. Although it hurts at times, getting honest feedback can go a long way toward making your pitch more acceptable. If your idea is truly about improving culture or process, it will cause change, which is hard for many people to swallow.

I ask my wife at times about my new ideas. More than once I’ve made major changes because she frowned about some aspect of my “perfect” plan.

Has it worked before?

Has anyone else done something similar that was a success? When I was a safety and health trainer at a nuclear power facility, I wanted to include something fun and unusual as part of our new employee training.

Instead of having bullet-point text and long, boring paragraphs in the handouts, I wanted to design them so they looked like a magazine with different sections, such as sports, fashion, etc., that tie in the various topics workers needed to understand. My boss wasn’t thrilled about the idea at first, and it probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t show him that two other power plants were successfully doing something similar. The handouts were a hit.

Be open to changes

Yes, it’s your masterpiece. But if you want it to fly, you’ve got to be willing to change it. The purpose behind your idea is to make improvements, not to show that it’s a brilliant concept. I’ve fallen into this trap before, especially as a musician and author. I’ve learned that a “eureka” moment may be a testimony to my occasional creative prowess (which all of us possess), but it’s separate from the practical application of an idea in the workplace. That takes a different set of skills and cooperation from more than just one mind.

A final note: Don’t let rejection kill your idea. If you have a groundbreaking insight that gets turned down, sometimes it’s because the ground isn’t ready yet. Perhaps with some changes, or at another time or place, it will be accepted and flourish.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps safety professionals become better leaders through his keynotes, workshops, articles and books so they can create vibrant safety cultures. His popular “Mindfully Safe” keynote teaches employees how to focus better and improve their situational awareness, a key skill to preventing incidents. To contact Richard, visit makesafetyfun.com.

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