Here’s a crazy idea

If you check yourself before using inauthentic words such as here’s a crazy idea, you will be considered a serious contributor with serious and valuable insight. It’s also a good mental exercise to carefully consider what you want to say.

Here’s a crazy idea by Nancy Knowlton

If you ever hear the words, here’s a crazy idea, run, because what you hear next will not be a good thing. If you find yourself on the verge of speaking these words, bite your tongue and say anything but here’s a crazy idea. Maybe these statements are a little dramatic, but I make them for a reason that I can explain.

Translation filter

How I react to hearing this statement depends a little bit on the situation. Imagine that I have made a proposal to my manager at the end of a project. On the receiving end of this statement, I have a translation filter that goes something like this – remember, this is me hearing here’s a crazy idea. “I know that you have spent a lot of time thinking about your proposal/plan/etc. and I have just now started to think about it. But in that split second that your proposition has had my attention, I have miraculously come to a far deeper and better understanding of the problem than you. Equally miraculously, I have divined a superior solution.” OK, so this may be a little overboard, but you get my point. The comment does not give me confidence that I have been adequately heard or that due consideration has been given to my proposal. At an extreme, I feel disrespected for the effort and real work that I have invested.

No good outcome

As a receiver of the comment, no matter my level within the organization, having a manager or anyone in a superior position make this statement as the lead-in to the alternate idea has no good outcome. If the idea is hairbrained as the introduction suggests, I have to sit quietly and listen as it is presented. Beyond that, I have to respond in a respectful fashion as to why I will not follow the declared crazy idea. With the caveat in place, the person almost gets a free pass to say anything – it is after all a crazy idea. If it is a good idea, way better than my own, it’s hard not to feel demotivated with the proposer’s positioning of the idea as being crazy. What does that make my idea?

For the speaker, there is no winning in starting a thought with this statement. It’s almost as if the speaker is saying, “OK, I’m going to say something now that you can either listen to or ignore. I haven’t really spent much time thinking about this so there could well be no value in anything that I have to say, but let me take your time anyway.” If you want people to ignore you, to discount what you have to say, then you’re on the right path using a dismissive comment like this at the front end.

What is the point?

But do you believe that someone actually believes that an idea is crazy when it is offered? For the cynics, you might wonder why someone would throw out this comment in front of an idea. Is there a hidden agenda behind the statement? Is this a precursor to a decision that has already been made and is this a way to get it out in a seemingly innocent way? Again, this is not a positive speculation about the reason for making this statement.

The bottom line is don’t disrespect your audience with throwaway comments or disrespect yourself by giving your audience permission to dismiss what you have to say. Speak when you have something of value to contribute. Contribute without apology. Leave no confusion in anyone’s mind as to what your motives are – you are a serious contributor with serious and valuable insight.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.