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Three Little Words That Pack Power

What words can spur creativity fast?

Think of the last time you tossed out a wild idea at work? Did everyone jump on it and tell you it was terrific? Or did some snicker and say, “you’re kidding, right?” I hope you got more of the former, but I’ll bet you’ve had some snickering too.

When that happens, ideas stop cold.

From Rethink, Redesign....ways to squelch ideas

Unfortunately, the squelching of ideas happens even in organizations that try hard to encourage innovation. I once heard an employee say that when she mentioned something a bit off the wall, the CEO leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and lifted an eye brow. Never said a word but the message was clear. That was it for the employee. She never put an idea on the table again.

These days with more competition inside and out of the U.S., with more pressure to be green and efficient – we’re desperate for creativity. Managers say they want to do things differently to get better, yet the process of getting ideas out in the open is treacherous. Too often, seedlings of ideas are simply stomped out before they have a chance to flourish.

So what can you do – as an individual employee or as a manager or team leader?

When an idea comes to you – whether from your own imagination or from another person -- slow down, and then use three simple but powerful words.


That’s it. Instead of jumping to reasons why an idea won’t work, just stop and say:

Tell me more.

Why are those words so powerful?

For at least two reasons. First, they force slowing and listening. That tells the person who suggests the idea that she or he is worth listening to. Also, it makes the point that you think the idea and creativity are important (at least for a few minutes!). Next, those words convey openness, which is crucial for a culture of creativity to happen.

Finally, the three powerful words also give the idea a chance to “breathe.” New ideas can be like tiny seedlings trying to take hold and sprout through the mind’s full and messy clutter of thoughts. But like a seedling you plant in your backyard, it’s fragile. If you step on it, the seedling – and the idea – can die. So by slowing down, by asking to hear more, the idea gets a little more time to become stronger.

Photo by Y. Payne

In the end, of course, the idea may not survive because it’s not a good one. But at least it gets some time and protection from immediate squelching. And by giving it a little extra breathing room, perhaps it can grow in ways and places that no one expected ... and become a great idea.

All from three small but powerful words…

Tell me more.

More from Nancy K. Napier Ph.D.
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