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The Nurturing Tool: Grow Your Garden of Ideas

If I were to approach you with two different seeds and ask you to show me which one is a weed and which one is a flower, how would you know which is which? Do you think you’d be able to tell simply by looking closely at each seed?

Of course not!

The only way to tell is by planting both seeds and allowing them to grow. Initially, both will break the surface with a tiny sprig of green, and likely look very much the same. But eventually the flower will spring to life, and you’ll be able to identify and pull the weed while continuing to nurture the flower.

Makes sense, right? You need to give the seeds time to grow before identifying which is good and which is bad. But why don’t we apply this method in other areas of life? Specifically, why don’t we nurture the seeds of ideas the same way we nurture the seeds of plants? Most businesses have created a culture where ideas can be shut down before the words have even left someone’s mouth! For some reason, we’ve decided that we can tell which ideas are flowers and which are weeds based on our immediate gut reaction.

This is not the way you grow a beautiful garden!

The most innovative, successful companies in the world understand this, and thrive on a competitive advantage that leverages a culture of allowing ideas to grow before deciding which are worth keeping, and which are weeds that need to be pulled.

And here’s a little secret: it doesn’t take that much work to transition your culture from one mindset to the other. In fact, using a tool I like to call “Nurturing,” your teams can start growing good ideas today.

Ready to see how it works? Let’s take a closer look at the Nurturing Tool.

What is Nurturing?

Anyone with even the slightest green thumb knows that the key to a quality garden is the time you spend nurturing your plants.

When seeds first sprout in the spring, even the most experienced growers have no indication as to which of the buds will turn into beautiful thriving plants that summer. There’s just no way to tell; the plants have not been given enough time to grow. And so, gardeners treat all of these buds as potential thriving plants, watering them, pruning them, and ensuring they get enough sunlight and nutrients. At this stage, every plant in the garden is treated equally.

With the Nurturing Tool, this same theory is applied to ideas. When your organization uses this tool, you commit to growing all ideas in their infancy, no matter how rough or ugly they may be on the surface. After all, it’s still way too early to tell if any of these ideas have the potential to grow into a beautiful flower or plant.

So, how do you commit to growing all ideas equally? Well like any plant, you need help from the power of the S.U.N.

Grow Your Ideas with S.U.N.

To use the Nurturing Tool, you need to rely on the power of the S.U.N. Although in this case, we’re not talking about the sun you use for your garden. We’re talking about S.U.N. – a series of steps that allow you to nurture all ideas equally:

S: Suspend Judgement

The first step in allowing ideas to grow is creating a culture where you and your team members suspend all judgement about ideas. Too often we rush to make snap judgements on ideas shared by our colleagues. We rely on our own “River of Expertise,” and our brains and our guts immediately form an opinion on whether we believe the idea has any merit.

With the Nurturing Tool, you must suspend this habit. Instead, view every idea shared as a small green bud in your garden, one you must nurture before you decide whether or not it’s a plant or a weed.

U: Understand

After learning to suspend immediate judgment of ideas, the next step is to ensure you understand the idea. The easiest way to reach understanding is to ask questions.

In the case of ideas shared at work, ask questions that allow you to clarify exactly what the individual who suggested the idea means. For example, if it’s a unique new product, ask them what it looks like, where you could sell it, who the intended customer would be, and how it could be launched.

Throughout the process of asking questions, the idea will start to grow and take shape. In as few as 3-4 questions, you’ll already see tremendous growth in the idea, and will have a much greater idea whether this seed is a plant or a weed.

N: Nurture 

Of course, once the idea is clarified, it’s time to nurture it properly. And the easiest way to do that is by leveraging two simple words: Yes, and…

“Yes, and…” is a tool that’s been used for decades by improv comedy troupes that allows them to expand quickly on creative ideas shared by actors, ultimately allowing developing scenes out of thin air. And when used as part of the Nurturing Tool, it will allow your teams to quickly develop and nurture any new idea.

To try it for yourself, simply instruct your group to follow up on the suggested idea only using phrases that begin with “Yes, and…”. For example, if a team member suggests that you should offer a free 30-day trial for your new service, instead of the traditional response that idea may have received (“No, because it’ll be too expensive.”), your team will be forced to nurture the seed of the idea instead:

  • Yes, and we could build a marketing funnel that follows up with trial users throughout the 30 days.
  • Yes, and we could expect conversion rates to rise because trial users will be exposed to our service for an entire month.
  • Yes, and we could reallocate some of our sales staff, as a trial membership will require less manpower and touches to sell. 

With the power of these “Yes, and…” statements and the Nurturing Tool, an idea that may have traditionally been shut down the second it was suggested now is blossoming into something that could in fact turn into a beautiful flower.

Why You Need to Nurture

As the saying goes, “ideas are a dime a dozen.” They really are not all that difficult to come by. The difficult part is knowing what to do when those ideas come. Unfortunately, most businesses – whether they know it or not – have developed a culture that crushes many good ideas before they’ve even had a chance to grow.

With this Nurturing Tool, you’ll be able to take a page out of any good gardener’s book and learn to treat all seeds of ideas equally. And when you learn how to do this, you’ll be amazed at how fast your garden will grow.

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