Skip the Selfie: Find Your Idea Partners

Patti Johnson, author of 'Make Waves,' says other people can help your idea take flight.

Patti Johnson By Patti Johnson

The following is the first in a 2-part series of how to start your change based on the new book, “Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life.”
Make Waves
I’ve spent the last two years interviewing those who have started changes at work or in life — or “wave makers,” as I call them. As I heard stories about “waves,” such as a newly created company, a new non-profit or a new way to involve customers in developing new products, I asked how it all came to be.

I’d ask, “How did your idea first begin?” Followed by, “No, before that – back to the very beginning.” I’d eventually hear about the first time the idea took flight – when they knew they had something.

Interesting, no one said that the idea first started in a formal meeting or even in a planned brainstorming session. It was always that it took shape on a long flight home talking to a trusted colleague, over a glass of wine scribbling ideas with friends or in the cab on the way to the airport. The change started in small, interactive conversations with just a few people who cared about the cause.

If you want to start a wave, it isn’t a solo sport. Changes are different than a task on your to do-list, because changes move through people who are interested and care. A few key people or “idea partners” can give you new insight, a fresh perspective and straight talk.

How do you find idea partners? Start by developing a partnership with those who have the same core passion and purpose as you. Find people who – like you – are driven by the same cause, whether that’s creating software that connects teams, improving health care or accelerating the advancement of women. Those people have a built‑in interest in your change.

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin says others who want what you want are your “tribe.” He defines a tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea. You aren’t trying to create a tribe yet—that will come in time—right now you are looking for two or three idea partners committed to:

  • Helping you determine how to solve the problem or seize the opportunity
  • Sharing ideas
  • Being actively involved from the start
  • Being there for you to provide support, partnership and collaboration
  • Helping you spread the word and build an engaged community around your idea

When you identify your idea partners, include those who know what you don’t know. Talk with people who look at the world much differently than you, both to learn and to test your assumptions. As one of my clients recently said, “There is wisdom to be gained from the opinions of others. Have a diverse circle and let them bring their wisdom to you in their own way.”

Your change will likely take multiple capabilities, so someone involved in one part of your wave may not be essential in another. If your wave depends upon new technology, you’ll probably need an idea partner with technology knowledge and expertise. You don’t need a detailed solution yet, but you’ll need contributions from someone who understands the possibilities and gives ideas that will eventually work.

You must trust your idea partners, though they need not be your best friends. You want the right mix of needed knowledge and passion for the issues that you care about most. One of the best leadership teams I was part of had a diverse mix of personalities and styles. We trusted one another, but we didn’t go to lunch together. We did respect one another, and I knew we had the smarts and the commitment to take on the challenges in front of us. That was enough.

Here are a few questions to help you decide the idea partners you need to help you build out your idea and plans:

  1. What are my knowledge gaps in how to develop out my idea? Who knows what I don’t know?
  2. Who will bring a fresh perspective?
  3. Who cares about this issue like I do?
  4. Who will be a more likely future advocate if they are involved early?

A core group around you will help you anticipate problems, learn what you don’t know and create the core group who will help you build momentum around your idea when you are ready.

You can’t start a wave alone.

Read part two, How Starting Without All the Answers is a Smart Move

Posted: May 5, 2014

Patti JohnsonSkip the Selfie: Find Your Idea Partners