I’m My Own Idea Czar

La Piana Consulting blog had a post a few weeks ago about how the dynamics of non-profits can crush new ideas and creative approaches to problems.

Their last suggested solution to avoid this is to appoint an “Idea Czar”:

“Appoint an “Idea Czar” from outside the senior management ranks. This person becomes a human suggestion box, an ombudsman for creativity. Anyone with a novel idea that might answer a current challenge is invited to share it with the Idea Czar, who periodically reports on what he or she has learned at management team or board meetings. Then use those reports to dive deeply into a specific question that piques the particular group’s interest or that the CEO would really like the board’s or management team’s best thinking on.”

I walked around most of today pondering whether this could actually work. I mean, it would require someone with enough seniority and experience to be taken seriously by management, but who also hasn’t been around so long that they are cynical about the viability of ideas. Even if the didn’t discount them immediately, they would need to be idealistic and energetic enough to effectively advocate for the idea in the face of a resistant board and senior management.

I recognized fairly early on that in my venue the idea czar would be our assistant theatre manager. (I am fairly idealistic, but she tops me.) This made me realize that it isn’t enough to appoint someone on staff into the position, if you really want to break out of a status quo, the hiring process has to involve actively recruiting people who possess idealism and strength of character to advocate in the face of a tendency to say No.

Apropos of this, Barry Hessenius posted this week about how one can be their own best/worst gatekeepers in terms of openness to “good ideas, new thinking and ways to actually be better managers, administrators and leaders; opportunities for new projects, collaborations and ways of seeing our world.”

Just as this problem of gatekeeping can manifest on both a personal and organizational level, the solution can probably be implemented on a personal and organizational level.

It probably isn’t enough to appoint a person to be the company idea czar if the board and administration are going to perpetuate an environment that is hostile to new ideas. Management and leadership should practice self-advocacy by setting aside time each week to entertain new ideas in the same way 3M, Google and Hewlett-Packard give employees time each week to develop new ideas and products.

Management and leadership might use this time to read websites they bookmarked, jot down what interesting ideas they have and then go back to ideas they jotted down in previous sessions. I think this last step is important because realizing you had forgotten some of the great ideas you had had weeks before serves to reinforce that fact you have the capacity to have good ideas.

Even if none of those ideas ever travel from the idea journal into practice within the company, the very act of engaging with new ideas, looking at them, turning them over a little, before putting them away, helps the mind practice accepting and handling new ideas rather than simply rejecting them.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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