This post ranges outside of our UX circle, and is something I’ve been thinking about, and arguing with friends about, for a long time. It deals with becoming a better teammate as well as a better project team member. Brainstorming and generating ideas is something we value very highly in our profession. And rightly so, the more ideas we have the more options we have at getting to a solution. But, generating ideas does not equal solving the problem. I believe that an idea is not really a solution until it is put into action, and generating ideas without knowing what it takes to put that idea into action can be a dangerous thing.
Don’t get me wrong. Generating a good amount of ideas at the right time is not a bad thing. Often it is the reason why a great solution comes along. I’m not saying that during this appropriate idea generating time that you should NOT say an idea because you don’t know how it will be solved. Obviously, that is the point of brainstorming and you should be open minded and generate as many ideas as possible without worry of how to implement those ideas. The problem that I’m talking about is when you are not at a brainstorming time within a project, but are instead in a crucial decision or problem solving instance and things just need to get done. The problem with continually generating ideas and not thinking about how to put them into action, at least at some level, during these times is huge. There are several reasons why. First, by generating a lot ideas without thought as to how to bring them to action, you are putting the work onto someone else to actually solve the problem, and usually during these high pressured times, no one has the time for “extra work”. Thus you are not being sensitive to your team. Secondly, by generating ideas, assuming they are solutions but not thinking about the actions associated with bringing the idea to life, you are not educating yourself on how ideas turn into solutions and thus aren’t learning the work that it really takes to do so. Throwing the work at your teammates causes them to become bitter and untrusting of your ideas and you as a teammate; “oh here we go with Bob, just throwing these ideas out there and expecting me to create solutions from them”. Not educating yourself means you are not sensitive to how work really gets done on a project, and that is a bad quality in a project team member.
So, in order to stop these types of action, you should generate ideas, yes this is good, but think about and try to at some point put them into action. Take note of what this takes and how hard it is to do. Become sensitive to all the work that goes into putting your ideas into a project plan, or solution, and really understand those that are doing so day in and day out.
By doing this, you will become a better teammate because you will have empathy for the doers and empathy for what it takes to put an idea into action. You will also be better at understanding projects overall because you’ll be able to deconstruct ideas into what it takes to see them come to life. And finally you will start to see that generating ideas does not equal solving a problem. It is an important step in doing so, but if it’s crunch time you’ll need to take it a step further to be of great value to your team. You’ll need to be able to figure out how to get sh!t done. Now that equals a great teammate.