Five Rules to Follow When Listening to Ideas

Because I share my ideas freely (I put all my ideas online), one result is that people share their ideas freely with me which is both flattering as well as somewhat of a burden because when someone enthusiastically shares their idea with you they want you to respond enthusiastically and of course sometimes that’s hard to do.

Here’s my five essential rules for listening to ideas. If you are planning on hosting an idea event, or as some of the organisations that I have worked with have done set-up an innovation room, you would do well to share these ground rules before you start any ideation session.

1. ALL brilliant ideas started life sounding stupid. The more nonsensical it might first appear, the more brilliant it might be! You can make them feel stupid by firing reasons why the idea won’t work and no-one wants (or deserves) that.

2. Don’t judge quickly. You can kill ideas faster than most people can generate them by the way you respond both verbally and non-verbally. A confused look, an off the cuff joke – all of these things can crush people’s willingness to share. And remember, All brilliant ideas started life sounding stupid!

3. The punchline doesn’t make sense without the joke. Although we wouldn’t tell the punchline before the joke, quite often we share the idea and assume people understand the problem it solves. The easiest thing you can say when someone tells you their idea therefore is “ok, how did you come up with that”. This gives people the opportunity to describe the process that led to the idea and ultimately the problem it solves.

4. The “yes, and” principle. One of the best techniques I have come across is the “yes, and” principle. It’s blindingly simple and is a mirror image of the people we don’t like when we share our ideas – the “no, because” people.

5. Never ever, ever ignore or fail to acknowledge someone’s idea. It feels awful when it happens to you. Don’t do it to someone else.

If you want to see some of my ideas, musings and insights about innovation and idea generation, please visit my blog at

image credit: Nic McPhee

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Michael Allen




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