An Unused Idea Is Not An Unheard Idea

Years ago, I bumped up against a blocking problem while directing a show. Thankfully, I was given a good suggestion to fix the on-stage traffic issue.

The person giving the suggestion had been on the ground level of a lot of creative ventures with me. Her suggestion would work and I was going to use it.

“That’s a great idea and a great fix. Let’s go with your idea.”

What I got in return shook me a bit.

With shock and surprise in her voice she said, “Thank you!” as though this was the first time I had ever truly considered one of her suggestions.

I was confused. I felt I had always considered her ideas, even though I wasn’t always able to use them. Sometimes her suggested fixes were too complicated and would take too much time. Or maybe the ideas didn’t fit the vision or serve the show.

While that may have been the case as to why I couldn’t use her ideas before, what shook me now was that this was the first time she felt valued—that this was the first time she felt heard.

How can we help those who help us truly feel heard and valued even when their ideas and suggestions go unused?

The answer may have just jumped out of the question.

Listen to the supporters of your vision. Truly listen. Discuss. Ask questions. Get clarity around their ideas. Then either use the idea, or explain why it can’t work.

“There’s a big difference between letting people have their say, and making sure people are heard.” -Jim Collins

Does this take time? You bet!

But the alternative is a culture where even the good ideas are never shared simply because they are feared to never be heard.

A saying that has caught on among the creative teams and circles I travel in:

An unused idea is not an unheard idea.

Of course, don’t use the saying if it isn’t true. Even a great saying is useless if it’s untrue. But as long as it is true, it’s a quick bit of short hand that keeps everyone in a place of understanding.

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