Does Your Organization Suffer from “Irrelevant Great Idea Syndrome”?

by Frank L. Williams

In addition to my businesses, I’ve been involved with a wide range of civic, professional, political and other organizations over the years. Nearly every one of those organizations has been afflicted with what I call “Irrelevant Great Idea Syndrome” at some point.

This affliction arises when a member of the organization comes up with what seems like a great idea, and everyone jumps on board without thinking it through. Lots of time, energy, and resources are invested in the idea without any consideration for whether it is aligned with your organization’s strategy and helps move you toward your goals. To make matters worse, those who came up with the idea often become so emotionally invested in it that they are unwilling to walk away from it when the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that it is not working out.

Not every seemingly great idea is relevant to your business or organization. If that new product or service idea distracts from your core business, it may be a bad one. If a proposed new event series shifts resources away from your non-profit organization’s core mission without actually advancing that mission, you are wasting precious time, energy, and resources. If a committee doesn’t fulfill a function that helps move you closer to your goals, it is irrelevant. If an advertising opportunity doesn’t reach your most important stakeholders, don’t invest in it. This list could go on and on.

The term “mission creep” can be defined as “the gradual addition of new tasks or activities to a project so that the original purpose or idea begins to be lost.” Pursuing seemingly good ideas that do not advance your overall strategy can infect your organization with mission creep and undermine its ability to achieve its core mission. Every activity should advance or support your mission and strategic goals. If not, it is irrelevant, no matter how shiny and enticing it seems.

As a leader, you owe it to your organization to establish a clear framework for evaluating new ideas to ensure that they are aligned with your strategy and will help achieve your goals. If you don’t have a clearly defined mission, strategy and goals, developing those and getting your organization’s leadership and team members on board is step one.

Once you have a clearly defined mission, strategy and goals, they should form the filter through which you evaluate every idea, opportunity, activity and task. You can do so by asking questions such as:

  • How will this help achieve our core mission?
  • Who are our primary customers or most important stakeholders, and how will this help us deliver value to them?
  • How might this distract from our core mission and focus?
  • Do we have the resources to do this effectively?
  • Could the time, energy, and resources we invest in this be better used elsewhere?
  • Even if the idea could help advance our core mission and the resources are available, is it worth the time and energy required?

Not every good idea is worth pursuing. Many shiny objects are fool’s gold. Don’t let “irrelevant great idea syndrome” lead you into the minefield of mission creep.

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Frank L. Williams

Frank is the founder and president of Pioneer Strategies.