Idea Making in a Big, Slow, and Powerful Organization

Selecting the Right Idea to Move Your Large Organization Forward, Even When You Are Small

Large organizations often receive criticism for being slow, outdated, and resistant to change. My experience working in a large non-profit validated these criticisms, but revealed tremendous opportunities as well.

Large can also mean global, powerful, influential, and capable to make dramatic change. Yet finding the right idea to execute that will make it through criticism, bureaucracy, multiple committees, and scarce financial support overwhelms young innovators.

Promoting a vague and wide-reaching idea is a mistake I made and watch young employees make over and over again . The vagueness causes divergence from co-workers on how to execute, suspiciousness from superiors that one is upset or disgruntled, and isolates peers who want to see change but need specific and tangible action steps to move forward.

I started to succeed more often in getting new ideas adopted when I limited them to these characteristics:

  • Required little or no additional money: In large organizations and particularly non-profits, finances are scarce, or at least made to seem that way. Asking for a large amount of money for an unproven idea from an unproven individual will keep your idea from ever happening.
  • Proved a new concept with the simplest possible model: Often times ideas are connected to new tools or technology. What young employees underestimate is how threatening a new idea is to a large company if it requires a technology change, since large companies spend considerable amounts of their operating budget to maintain existing technology. Focus more on demonstrating the concept and less on the technology.
  • Connected to the core mission or values of the organization: Executives constantly think about moving the company forward, but only if that forward motion is anchored in the company’s mission or values. A great idea disconnected from either of these will only see limited traction, while one connected to your company’s core could transform every department.
  • Focused on only one idea: Young employees often think they have one idea, but with some introspection it turns out that one idea is actually a bundle of many complex ideas. Take the time to sort through your idea and remove anything that does not add to it’s primary value to your organization.

Learning to execute ideas as a young employee in a large organization requires time. Although it can be much more frustrating than a small organization the potential for transformation is significantly higher. You probably joined a large organization because of it’s tremendous impact. Develop the patience and the skills and you just might change the world!