Challenge good ideas or, the art of herding cat thoughts

Of the many advantages of open source, and certainly in WordPress, regularly testing out new ideas is a personal favorite. WordPress iterates continually, offering frequent opportunities to add shiny concepts, test, and repeat. 

And goodness is the community rife with ideas! I see brilliant minds every day sharing innovative thoughts. If you have a community that shares new ideas frequently, that’s a strength to celebrate and nurture — diversity in thought drives communities forward. Members who share ideas and challenge the way things are done demonstrate a higher degree of psychological safety, and how you respond can bolster or hinder that perception.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to get a project across a finish line, hearing new ideas may feel like herding cats, or I suppose more accurately, cat thoughts (the horror). 

Cat sitting in a Christmas tree thinking, "once a year humans celebrate us by hanging dangly shiny things from a tree. it would be rude not to play with them"

You’ve probably been there before. When you’re feeling the pressure of a deadline and someone introduces an entirely new idea, it is understandable to think, “but wait! We had a plan!” or “that’s a cool idea, but what about all the other stuff we need to get done?” 

On top of that, adding new ideas to existing plans may feel overwhelming for those working on the thing, and can easily delay deadlines. I’ve met highly creative and capable teams that have routine trouble shipping anything because they always have ideas to improve the project.

The art of herding cat thoughts

I’m here to advocate for leaning into new ideas by challenging them. Engaging with and exploring the idea helps to evaluate its potential, and creates a collaborative process for refining the idea itself. Encouraging your team members to do this with each other can even result in stronger ideas in the long run.

My favorite way to do this is through asking questions, and I do have a few go to questions that I like to use. I’ll even ask myself these questions when I have new ideas!

To gather more context

  • What is the problem you are trying to solve? A follow up question would be: is this the best way to solve the problem?
  • Can you tell me more about what you are trying to achieve? 
  • It sounds like you’ve thought a lot about this. What led you to this idea?
  • Interesting! Tell me more?

To assess priority

  • I like the idea, but I know you have a lot on your plate right now. Where does this fit in?
  • We have these current goals set for the project, does this idea work towards them, and how?
  • What do we lose by not doing this today?
  • What would this impact?
  • What is the importance and/or urgency? (use your Eisenhower Matrix!)

 To determine resources

  • What do you think this would take to achieve? 
  • We know we’ve got a deadline coming up for this project, what’s your estimate on how much time this would take? 
  • What would not get done if we took this on?

There is a lot to be discovered in these questions! It is not uncommon for an idea to be deemed a good one, but not an immediate priority. As I am fond of telling my teams, just because we don’t do it now, doesn’t mean we can’t do it later. I always suggest writing down good ideas so that they are saved somewhere. In fact, many of my teams have shared lists of “good ideas to revisit” and goodness are those fantastic when it comes to annual planning. 

One pro tip 

Want to get out ahead? Do what WordCamp US does annually: a blue sky exercise. With a team of experienced organizers, you know that they’ve had a lot of good ideas in the past. So, at the beginning of the organizing cycle, the Lead Organizers pose the following question to the whole team: “What would make this the best WordCamp ever?” Not all suggestions are implemented that year, but some are, and we always have strong ideas for the future. Speaking of, go get your free ticket to WCUS 2021!

More illuminating info

Photo by Jonathan Cooper from Pexels