This idea should die

Lauren Tenney

Lauren Tenney

Lauren is a Senior Consultant, Director of New Program Development and Editor-in-Chief at Ten Directions.

Is there an idea that you think should be taken out of circulation? A commonly held notion that’s holding us back, that’s outdated, or that you wish would just fade out of use, to be replaced by a more helpful idea?

I’m asking (sincerely) because of a podcast I recently enjoyed that was focused on just this topic — “ideas that must die.” (Freakonomics, maybe you heard it?)

Theirs were pretty big—”the universe” (to be replaced by the multiverse), “true or false” (an idea isn’t ever really one or the other), and “data is enough to tell you truths about the world” (the role of intuition in scientific discovery), amongst others.

What I like about the question is how it shines a spotlight on our ideas as…a design choice.

Our assumptions, preconditioned awareness and biases shape our experience and behavior. We stop using outdated tools when they are replaced by more effective ones, so what about the toolkit of ideas we’re carrying around with us all the time?

I also like the question because it’s rascally and iconoclastic. Just asking it feels like blowing a fresh breeze through the stale corners of my mind.

So I wanted to turn the question into a tool for upside-down thinking about a subject I’m interested in. What happens when I start looking for ideas I’d be willing to kill off?

Ok so here we go, a quick and dirty first try.

My subject of choice for this thought experiment is a space we spend a lot of time pondering, ogling, and practicing over here: How people relate and get things done together.

(Buzzword translation: collaboration. Reframe translation: the complexity of culture and the subtlety of human interaction.)

Good candidates for the Idea-Death-Row are ones that people commonly accept, tacitly follow, but which I feel are holding us back from more enjoyable, free, effective ways of working together.

So here are my first selections—ideas about collaboration that I think should be replaced:

It works better with creative people.

Some kinds of creativity get in the way of collaboration. I’m sure you can imagine some examples. It seems like this idea pushes us towards a notion of collaboration that is more performance-like, more interested in novelty for the sake of novelty. When collaboration is really working, creativity is present in all people because it’s present in the fabric of the interactions—not because they are “creative” types of people in the room. Good collaboration is characterised by a flow of energy, communication, listening and action that is inherently generative for the people and process at hand. So I’d retire this idea in favor of: “Collaboration itself is creative.”

Losing all motivation and feeling bored is a bad sign.

Boredom and lack of interest are revealing. The problem isn’t when they show up, it’s when they go unnamed. And the interesting thing is, often when someone announces they are bored, it becomes the most interesting moment in the group. Boredom or sluggishness, when they are recognized and named, invite complimentary states of enlivened engagement back into the room. Rather than being something to avoid, a healthy collaboration can appreciate the insight of boredom and transmute it into new directions.

Emotions are sacred.

It’s probably truer to write “emotions are scary.” For many groups and cultures, that’s a truth that needs no justification. My motivation to axe the idea that emotions are sacred comes from the recognition of the other extreme—that collaborations can quickly get bogged down in an over-privileging of subjective experience. (Maybe you’ve been part of a meeting where an emotional outburst silences the group, or conversely, completely hijacks the discussion?)

I think the life-giving essence of a dynamic collaboration is that it transcends the personal perspective and includes it in an enlivening, generative emergent process. One that leaves us all refreshed because it isn’t controlled by us or constrained by our ideas and preferences. Rewarding collaboration takes us beyond ourselves. From this perspective, emotions may come and they may go. They can inform the insights and flow of a group, but they don’t need to stop the show or rule the day.

Everyone plays an equal part.

Having a healthy sense of dynamic hierarchy and appropriate roles creates diversity, which brings energy. It’s enjoyable to be liberated to contribute your own gifts, and to watch others do the same. Great collaborations don’t equalize everyone’s contributions; they elevate and integrate the diversity of talents in the room. So I’d replace this idea with “Everyone is supported and challenged to contribute their fullest.” Instead of making sure everyone has equal air time, focusing on what frees everyone up to contribute their fullest will create more a more coherent and enlivening collaboration.

“What’s in it for me?” is a dirty question.

Being in a culture that integrates opposites and makes room for both sides of a polarity feels good in my experience. I find it trustable, and it invites transparency and fluidity. The reason this one’s on the list is because I think it’s quite natural for participants to have a stake in what’s unfolding in a collaboration, and to have desires and hopes for the outcome and their own participation. If we can’t bring that in with us, they we’re already starting with a half-rigged ship. When a group excludes or silences the individual interests and desires that are already in the room, it also misses out on the vital energy that those interests contain.

Speed is a measure of efficiency.

I think a bias for efficiency in collaborations only rubs us the wrong way if efficiency is being measured in terms of speed. But if we separate efficiency from speed, we get an emphasis on the precision of a process. An efficient group doesn’t have to be a quick group—but it’s a group that wastes little energy. Energy arrives in many forms, including emotion, diversity, challenge, conflict…so whenever a group is excluding these elements, the group is wasting energy. The definition of inefficiency. I love the idea that efficiency is rich and deep, as unpredictable as it needs to be, and that as far as collaboration is concerned, time is a question that gets answered well if efficiency is allowed to flourish.

Questioning these assumed things brings up a “clean slate / spring cleaning” kind of feeling for me, which is followed by a question:

When faced with their own demise, will those ideas start speaking to me differently? Will I be so ready to do without them?  And how will my design thinking about collaborations become more nuanced as a result?

Rather than me answering, I hope you’ll chime in with yours. Did my list offend you? Did I leave something out? What’s on your list?

Lauren Tenney

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27 thoughts on “This idea should die”

  1. Love this approach and reflection. Much needs to be weeded out before new growth can happen.
    My current thinking is around the assertion in much of the integral world, people fervently believe and privilege higher cognitive capaicyt and stage over ordinary folks. The idea that higher is better must cede to the idea that good people are everywhere and high cognitive capacity is no protection from being a fool, from doing evil and being arrogant. As for evil, more power for good may actually also mean more power to abuse power and do evil. Down with higher is better.

    For old folks’ sake, please use more contrast in your font color. I cannot read your posts unless I copy and print them in black.

    1. Hi Susann,

      Thanks for commenting. I wholeheartedly appreciate your suggestion “down with higher is better.” The tapestry of a rich life is woven from a lot more variables than just cognitive complexity, IMHO. And thank you for your comment re: the typeface. I cringe as I reply now, because the current formatting for my reply looks like a very faint grey indeed! We’ll see what we can do to improve it.

  2. Wow–I feel myself coming more alive with this discussion! I resonate with Susann’s offering regarding nixing the “higher is better” bias which, I believe can be shaming and exclusionary for those of us who are earnestly holding the foundation by being as healthy as possible where we are, which allows a stronger ascent. Ie: “transcend and INCLUDE”! Our brothers and sisters who call second tier their home also did so on our backs. It is always ever a group effort.

    I love the comment that everyone is creative when there is true collaboration!

    I am presently in a management position and have become keenly aware that in the health professions in general the belief is: “feelings are taboo”. Now, there are a lot of people who would tell me that is not true. But, were feelings acceptable, then my staff would not be apologizing for having what I consider completely appropriate feelings in the context of present time sentinel events. In acute care situations, we are exposed to dire, dirty, and (the effects of) devious acts. The stuffing of emotions, in the presence of what we are exposed to, stagnates us and deadens us to life’s inherent joys. It is one thing which is killing our healthcare system as nurses get burnt out and leave the profession in droves!

    1. Thanks, Linda! “Coming more alive” is a lovely response to receive!

      I appreciate you pointing out the polarity where “feelings are taboo.” I thought a lot about that when writing the “emotions are sacred” portion of this. We talked about how the imperative to do away with the idea that “emotions are sacred” is relative to the culture of a group. If a group is still struggling to bring emotion in, then re-balancing the culture with an emphasis on inclusion makes sense. In my experience when groups are already sensitive to including interiors (and may be privileging them at the expense of other content), an encouragement to hold emotions more lightly can be very helpful—if it can be received. 🙂 It sounds like you are embodying the culture you wish to see more of—where life giving emotion is included in a way that serves the whole. Thank you!

  3. That topic cetainly got my attention! I think I have my own list and I’ll try to articulate it here :

    “I work for a company”: I blelieve that this is limiting the possibilities of a person within a company and it gives me the impression that the person is owned by the company. Personnaly, I work with a company and not for a company. I think this should become more used.

    “Managers are in charge”: To me, a managers have absolutely no use, if they are not supporting people (group, team, etc.). The notion that people should be under managers implies that managers know best and may be in a control mode. Which is, to me, again, very limiting. That model should be completely reversed to a supporting mode, where managers are in service to, in order influence and to provide people with a safe environment to promote creativity, innovation and added value. I know there are people like this out there, but the opposite is still very present.

    “My context does not allow it”: raw: pure bullshit. Explained: preventing ourselves to do something because supposedly our context is not appropriate, is giving up before even trying. I think it is also hiding behind fear(s) and only keep fantasies/dreams in a state of impossible instead of being inspired by them and materialize them. I’m not even sure at this point if the word “context” is actually relevant, unless it is willingly fixed.

    “I’ve not been hired to do this” or “I hired this person for a specific expertise”: This one is killing me at the moment because if someone is hired only for a specific expertise/talent, I think it is not honoring th person as a whole. I do not believe that people should be hired for one particular reason, unless it is for a very short term action. So, hiring should always be done in a way that it is including all aspect of a person, and all the talents. Which, I think, englobes the professional and none professional ones.

    I’ll stop here, otherwise I’ll be writing more than Lauren! It feels good to express this! Thanks

    1. Glad to hear it! Much of what you wrote here really resonates with Rob McNamara’s work and the kind of distinctions he makes in his programs, especially Commanding Influence. I think you’d really appreciate it! Thanks so much for chiming in, Dave. 😉

  4. At the risk of sounding super “green”, I vote we kill the use of the word “American” to describe the people, things, and phenomena of/in the United States of America. We are only one country on this continent. Technically, Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Canadians are all Americans. I read a blog on a grammar site that pointed to attempts to get “Usonian” off the ground. I’m trying, but with little luck. Anyone?

    1. That’s interesting Jess, we were actually joking about that just the other week when I was teasing my Canadian colleague that she is actually “American.” I remember when I first lived in South America how I was warned many times not to refer to myself as an “Americano.” Great opportunity to shift perspective on something so taken for granted. Thanks for you contribution!

  5. I can’t think, feel, or believe of an idea that shouldn’t die.
    They are all short of the Mark.
    Being is not an idea.
    It is Being.
    Therein it lies.

  6. Rev. Alia Aurami

    I’ll play! What a wonderful “deconstructive” constructive game! I deeply appreciate all you’ve said Lauren and the over-arching perspective that we remove things so they can be replaced by something better. Seeing removal as a phase of, a necessary part of the cycle of, creation, is IMO essential to healthy functioning in any context.
    Here are two candidates I can think of at the moment:

    Win-lose: “If, in collaboration, your idea wins, then mine loses. Collaboration necessarily involves winners and losers. I have to fight for my idea, or…….” And there’s a corollary belief: If your idea prevails, then I have lost face. These could all be replaced by adopting (maturing from this Red attitude into something more mature) the (Blue) attitude (one step up the sequence of maturation) that we are here in service to an overarching Purpose, and it’s whether the Purpose “wins” which is most important. And even the (more Orange-y) willingness to go for “win-win” through negotiation.
    I find the win-lose axiom or assumption is quite pervasive and generally invisible, even in “higher-consciousness” collaborations, so even making it visible, helps it to its destination of “ideas that are gone.”

    Second, the idea that what happens in collaboration “means something about me.” It seems to me this is a way of describing the fundamental assumption underlying all kinds of shadow elements which creep in, from any earlier stage of maturation. This can be replaced only by individual motivation, and group “culture” which encourages making the implicit interpretations of “what this means about me” more conscious, and healthfully dealt with. The “replacement idea” is perhaps not simply “What happens in collaboration doesn’t mean anything about me.” It’s probably more complex and nuanced than that, in many ways. But at least, one can start on the path of checking out interpretations, and doing the individual and cultural shadow-work suggested by what comes to awareness.

    Thanks for some wondrous insights on this really important contemplation, Lauren!

    1. Thanks, Alia! Liking “deconstructive constructive” :). And really appreciating your two candidate ideas. There’s a way in which I feel both “win-lose” and “means something about me” come on line because of another belief—that “a favorable outcome is a measure of the value of a collaboration.” I feel like when we adopt that idea, it can follow that we start to take a “win-lose” perspective on individual contributions, and measure ourselves according to how much of the end result’s “value” we’ve contributed (making it “mean something about me”). Does that land with you?

      1. Rev. Alia Aurami

        Hi Lauren, yes I can see that the belief you described can lay the foundation for win-lose and “”self-measure” and I also still sense those two can exist even in the absence of measuring the value of the collaboration itself by whether the outcome is favorable or not.

        But now perhaps I don’t know what you mean by “favorable.” “Favorable to me” is definitely a win-lose idea, but what the outcome means ABOUT me, doesn’t seem to be on a scale at all.

        Overall, I’d say it’s more the PROCESS, or during the process, of whether my ideas have won, and what various aspects and happenings and others’ views of me and my contributions, along the way, I was thinking of, rather than the OUTCOME itself being the outcome I want or deem favorable to me. IOW, I think even if the outcome is the one I wanted and argued for, I can still feel that I “lost face” if some of my ideas were rejected (I lost) and I can still feel ashamed (or some other negative or positive “meaning about me”) from something someone else said. Does that make sense?

        I chuckled about Edda’s comment, re “scientific research has shown…..” because I resonate sooooo much with it! It is often tossed in as a conversation-stopper, and definitely inhibits any further co-creative collaboration on whatever the issue is.

        Also loving all the other ideas you’ve evoked! Thank you!

        1. “IOW, I think even if the outcome is the one I wanted and argued for, I can still feel that I “lost face” if some of my ideas were rejected (I lost) and I can still feel ashamed (or some other negative or positive “meaning about me”) from something someone else said. Does that make sense?” — Yes, totally. Thanks, Alia!

  7. Saying “no” is non collaborative.

    This belief is nothing more than fear of dissent, helps perpetuate avoidance and can bring superficial harmony to group dialogue. There are many ways to say no and there are equally as many ways to avoid engaging with it.

    Saying no is a powerful catalyst to collaborative conversation. It expresses a dissenting voice which when interacted with from a place of curiosity can expand our ability to be with the uncomfortable or unfamiliar. When someone’s no is explored and interacted with it offers potential for a multitude of things to happen: a more robust enlivened discussion, a more creative direction/solution, greater individual relevance, enables full commitment by the whole, mitigates risk, enhances trust and creates possibility beyond measure.

    Let’s replace our fear of “no” with an understanding that a “no” is the beginning of the real conversation.

    1. Right on, Jane! I love this one. That negation can be a doorway to trust, commitment, engagement and creativity is a powerful injunction. A wise friend recently shared with me some advice she had just been given, “When a no isn’t really a no, a yes can never be a yes.” What you wrote speaks to that spirit for me.

      1. Hi Lauren. So nice to hear your voice in this forum, btw. Can’t wait to see you in April. I think the quote from your friend comes from Peter Block’s work. He says in a brilliant pdf titled Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community, ” If we cannot say no then our yes has no meaning.” love it!

  8. Loved this article. Great example of how ‘ideas’- turned into belief systems- can be detrimental to our well-being and functioning as a collective.

    Here’s another ‘idea that should die’, for those of us in start-ups.

    Vision is sacred (especially a founder’s), and therefore everyone must be in alignment with it.

    A vision, just like any other idea, can and should shift based upon the emerging circumstances in which it is being implemented- context, economics, purpose, collaborative partners, political scenario, feedback loops- to name a few. To expect partners/ staff to align to a vision that is inalterable, just because it was named or printed, does not encourage responsiveness or emergence.

    1. Thanks, Holly. I so appreciate your suggestion and boy does it resonate. Your comment makes me want to ask, “what really is a vision?” When it becomes a sacred cow that can’t be questioned, how can it truly become alive in the hearts and minds of all the collaborators, without whom it’s execution would surely be impossible? I’m struck by how much more power there is in a shared vision that lives and evolves and therefore ( in a sense) maybe never really dies.

  9. Edda van der Hoeven

    Dear Lauren,
    Thank you so much for this opportunity you give me to let go of longtime irritations I have about the expression (translated from Dutch):
    “Scientific research has shown………” . Need I say more?
    Much obliged, Edda

    1. Edda van der Hoeven

      As science has become the new religion and this phrase is being used to legitimize opinions as being scientific and thus : the truth. Justification by so called ‘scientific’ research, but the speaker / writer gives no references.

      1. Hi Edda, you’re welcome! I was thinking along the same lines as what you wrote in your second comment where you said “speaker / writer gives no references.” The phrase “scientific research has shown…” whisks me into a third person orientation where the generalized “scientific research” becomes a new authority. And I have a different experience when I hear someone saying “This specific study found such and such…” —while also coming from the third person, hearing it, I feel more energy to engage than with the first phrase.

  10. I love this post, it is getting me to rethink a whole bunch of “wisdom” taken for granted. Here are a couple that come to mind:

    “There is a season for everything.” Maybe and maybe not… Life might sometimes throw something at me that doesn’t allow for the right season to come along . Maybe a particularly tough challenge feels out of season and for once I need to go against the flow…

    “Go big or go home” Let me count the ways this one rubs me the wrong way…

  11. Love this post. This is also cultural. In some cultures emotions are a taboo. In some cultures… they care too much about feelings. We need to constantly challenge the ‘wisdom’ so to say and popular beliefs…

  12. “Consensus is required in all situations in order for ‘success’ to be achieved.|

    The goal is always to work towards consensus in which ideas are created and discussed; however, the reality of life is that we often have limited time to work within. Calling for a “vote” in a moment when it doesn’t seem like anything is moving along, can in essence take a visual “snap shot” so that the entire group understands simply where they are at with the decision or issue. In other words, taking a “vote” can be informative and not something that has gives permission for action. It can be important communication that is given to the facilitating leader.

    1. Hi Shannon,

      Thanks! Your comment strikes close to home for me; I’m a part of consensus-run group that moves very slowly in it’s insistence that every action taken is supported by consensus. (Personally, I don’t think it is an optimal way to function. I would prefer consent-based dynamic steering systems like sociocracy and holacracy.) I completely agree with you that voting can be a tool for information gathering, not a move away from consensus—even in a group that wants to stick with consensus decision making. Thanks for the insight!

  13. I love the frame of a collection of ideas representing a design. But there are many possible designs. Does killing off an idea or replacing it with another imply that there is a “better” design? A better curation of ideas? All ideas represent half of a polarity. All ideas have some truth. Do we really want to kill off an entire polarity? Do we really want to kill off a bit of truth?
    Instead let us as individuals and groups get bigger — able to embrace the entire polarity. “Emotions are sacred.” vs. “Emotions are conditioned biochemical reactions.” “Feeling bored is a bad sign” vs. “Feeling bored is a great opportunity” — aren’t they all true sometimes?
    Perhaps the problem is not the idea, but people embracing one idea and rejecting it’s polarity. If so, then “killing” an idea simply perpetuates the problem.
    So, my proposal for an idea to kill is the idea that killing any idea is ultimately beneficial. (including this one)

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