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Phrases that turn bold ideas into action

Ideas wither when people's reactions are negative. Here's some advice on being better at receiving ideas.

3 min read


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Are you looking to help your team launch innovative ideas? Then listen up. Your efforts to help them might actually be diminishing their creative brilliance, one “helpful” suggestion at a time.

Branding expert Sally Hogshead wrote about this phenomenon when describing how well-meaning people pose the biggest threat to a team’s boldest ideas. Innovative ideas can get pecked apart, one simple “tweak” at a time, says Hogshead.

In her early career as a marketing copywriter, Hogshead found that unique ideas weren’t usually rejected outright, but rather, were “pecked apart” as if a flock of ducks had descended onto the conference room table. These “seemingly innocent tweaks gradually remove the unique defining features” of your idea, writes Hogshead.

If you’re looking for creativity and innovation, some ideas that your folks bring you will be downright wacky. Completely unworkable. But within that nascent thought, there’s a concept — perhaps just a kernel — that could bring your team a much-needed breakthrough.

When first presented with an outlandish idea, adopt a curious mindset. As business consultant Chery Gegelman reminds us, curiosity is just as important as what a leader “knows.”

Gegelman, who leads “conversation safari” workshops that bring together people of opposing viewpoints to learn together, writes that leaders who prize curiosity over knowledge, “uncover root causes, solve bigger problems and make a greater difference” in their workplace.

So how can you avoid overzealous tweaking? Here are nine phrases that help move bold ideas along.

  1. Tell me more.

  2. That’s a bold idea. What sparked it?

  3. Wow, your idea has taken me by surprise. Can I think on it overnight and get back to you?

  4. I see a lot of possibility in this idea. What do you think is the next step for evaluating its promise?

  5. This concept has a lot of ideas wrapped into it. One of the strongest is _______. How can we build on that idea to move forward?

  6. Thanks for getting the ball rolling on this idea. Who can help you make this vision to become a reality?

  7. I appreciate that you are really stretching the boundaries with this idea. Where do you think we go from here?

  8. If we were to try this idea, what are the barriers? How can we work through (or prevent) the barriers from happening?

  9. I’d love to learn more! Show me how this could work.

When someone presents you with a big idea, don’t be a big duck and peck it to death in the name of “tweaking” it to play it safe. Instead, get genuinely curious and ask questions that expand the idea’s potential. Even if the idea doesn’t come to fruition, your team will see that you support their innovations and are willing to give them the needed incubation time for an idea’s promise to show itself.


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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