How to be Smart in 5 Words
Ideas are not perfect. They’re just ideas.
We are told in brainstorming meetings to “keep it positive,” and “all ideas are good ideas.” If someone has an idea, you say “Yes, and…!”
But there is a pernicious little cockroach who shows up disguised as a guardian angel. He’s protecting you from yourself, and in the camouflage of “being positive,” he utters:
“Welllll, the problem with that is…”
That’s not being negative, is it? Why follow something down a rabbit hole that’s clearly a sewer pipe? “The problem with that…” is just being helpful. “The problem with that…” comes from experience that the rest of the group just doesn’t have. “The problem with that…” is keeping you from stepping on a landmine that is clearly…clearly in front of you. Just tryin’ to protect ya, man.
The problem with the “PWT” person is that it’s not helpful. It’s coming from a position of pure arrogance. The person who utters “PWT” secures his position as a snotty-nose-weasel.
To be fair, the PWT doesn’t realize this. PWT believes he is genuinely contributing healthy information to the discussion. Sadly, the rest of the group believes this too. PWT seems perfectly benign. And he always gets his way. I’ve never heard anyone refute PWT with: “Actually, that’s not a problem.”
PWT just wants you to be safe. But PWT doesn’t have a crystal ball. There are too many variables in the world, and just because “we did that once…” doesn’t necessarily mean it is doomed the second time. PWT also sends a message to the room that “I’m the smart one. I know things you don’t know.” This immediately neuters subsequent ideas. It tells less experienced members that “you just don’t have the wisdom to contribute. Don’t get out over your skis, son. Follow me, and I’ll be your guide.”
I believe “the problem with that” usually comes from a position of fear. Nay, cowardice. “That idea,” says PWT, “didn’t come from somebody who knows all the things I know. A grown-up better step in before this goes out of control.”
Ideas are not perfect. They’re just ideas. They hang out there in the universe wondering if you will nurture them or smack ‘em like a piñata.
When brainstorming, just gather ideas. Do nothing else. Gather them. Write them down. Put them in a file folder and leave them there for 24 hours. They need to ferment. This is not easy; I appreciate that. But PWT is eating ideas like potato chips. The idea PWT just slaughtered had the seeds of 12 other ideas. They are all gone now because PWT couldn’t help himself and just had to say “The problem with that is…”
There are always exceptions. If you’re about to say, “the problem with that is…it’s illegal to push a puppy into the street,” I’ll let it slide. Beyond that: Shut up.
Ideas and solutions can’t be in the same room at the same time. You fill a box with ideas in one room, then take them into the solution room and sort them out. This will guarantee you 93% more ideas. The moment you judge the idea, you kill the Golden Goose.
The next time you are in a brainstorming meeting, you have my permission to print this out and quietly slide it over to “Mr. Problem With That.” After he reads it, point to the door, escort him out, and never let his worthless wrinkled butt back in the room. He will never learn.
p.s.: PWTs can also be women, and just as damaging.
“Hey, where have these articles been the last couple months?”