Just before the holidays, I gave a large internal company presentation on our 2015 strategic vision.  A lot of work went into preparing for the presentation and it was very well received.  Later that day, I was sitting at my desk, and one of my colleagues came over and said: “I thought that presentation was great; was the strategy for next year your idea?”

I just sat and stared for a second after he asked the question, trying to think of an answer.  Was it “my” idea?  I’ve been asked that question before – and it’s made perfect sense in the past – but for some reason at this moment I found myself without words.  My instinct was to just say no and move on, but what was the real answer?

The question was specifically in regard to a new product that we’re building; so I thought back to the first time I ever remember talking about the product.

Let’s see: there was a long form document I wrote three years ago that talked about – in concept – something similar to what we presented.  That document was inspired by work I did with our CEO, which in turn was inspired by his experience over the past 10 years working with different clients.  There are about 100 different customer conversations that I’ve had over the past two years that have covered pieces of our strategy.  There was a meeting I had with a few of the other thought leaders at my company where we tossed ideas back and forth.  There were written works, by executives and others, which I read and incorporated into the plan.

In truth, dozens of people contributed thoughts of various sizes to this product.  What resulted was more like a combination.  A sausage of ideas bonded together by one common presentation.  I suppose I provided the casing for the sausage – but the filling came from lots of different places.

This one question really helped me to realize what it means to work in a collaborative idea environment.

In the past I’ve worked in places where all ideas are neatly labeled with the name of their owner.  That’s Susan’s idea; that’s Charlie’s idea, etc.  And then those owners were forced to defend their ideas against waves of scrutiny.  If someone’s idea worked, they were a winner. If not, the failure was their fault.

However, in a collaborative idea environment, ideas are not owned – they’re shared.  People build off your ideas, manipulate and change them freely.  Bending them and forming them until the optimal solution is reached: and that’s where the magic really happens.

Building a Collaborative Idea Environment