Having ideas isn’t enough – you need allies

Whatever your business or job role, listening to and collaborating with other people is key. I should know because early on in my career, I nearly got fired for ‘going it alone’.

If you’re like young me, you might pay lip service to collaboration and the need for allies but deep down, you think you know best. If you can just push through your idea, people will see how brilliant it is. So what if they’re not on board to begin with? When you’ve achieved it, they’ll see…

That’s the wrong approach.

A huge part of your job is to get your team and business leaders or partners passionate about your vision before you launch headlong into it.

To succeed, you need to listen and collaborate. You need allies.

Here’s a good example why.

One of my skills has always been coming up with new ideas and solving problems.

As a young graduate 25 years ago, I could often see new opportunities for innovation, ways to change things for the better.

I would make suggestions for new ideas to my bosses and they were often rebuffed. They didn’t think they were possible. Or they simply ignored them or forgot about them. I was often left feeling frustrated or annoyed.

Why couldn’t they see what a good idea it was?

To get around this obvious oversight, I would try to make my ideas happen by stealth rather than by trying to persuade my team and business leaders. 

My strategy for implementing something new was to quietly, almost secretly, undertake my creative vision, sure that when my bosses saw the final result, they’d realise my brilliance.

(I know, I know, the arrogance of youth, but bear with me)…

One of my first jobs was in the marketing department at a University. We were creating a CD-Rom which required some video clips.

Hands up who remembers CD-Roms? 🙂

My boss asked me to commission a video company to record various student activities and gave me a small budget.

I found a small local video company who were keen to build their portfolio. However…

I was ambitious and really wanted to shake up some of the marketing at the university, some of which I felt was a bit old fashioned. At the time promotional videos were big in marketing. The university didn’t have anything like that to show prospective students what it was like. I felt the university really needed to move this way. (As an aside I really wanted to work in video production).

I saw this as my chance to create change.

My big idea was to not just create simple clips for the CD-Rom like I’d been asked, but to create a promotional video for the University for the Admissions Team to show when visiting schools and then cut bits out of it for the CD-Rom. All for the same budget. Brilliant, right?

I managed to persuade the video company to create the corporate video to go along with my scheme, despite the low budget.

It was going to be great. Two birds with one stone! In fact, probably three birds!

Nobody else was any the wiser.

The video company was ambitious and took it a step further. They suggested we record it on actual film instead of video as it had a really nice quality.

Sounded great to me! I still didn’t mention this to anyone. It was going to be a fantastic surprise.

We filmed loads of great footage but time was tight, as was money. Using film took much longer than video. Stress started to build within the production crew.

Eventually just before we finished filming, the Director (who owned the company) and the Cameraman fell out.

And I mean fell out!

They had a massive row and the cameraman stormed off set.

However many times the Director called, he didn’t take his call.

I tried too… But with no luck.

But that wasn’t the only problem

He had been looking after all the film we had already recorded at his house.

He was refusing to hand it over without further payment.

I couldn’t ask for any more budget because nobody knew what I was doing.

It got worse…

The film hadn’t been developed yet, meaning that if he got angry and were to open the film tins, the films would be exposed and everything would be lost.

I got in a massive panic.

What was I to do? I had spent the budget but I had nothing to show for it.

What was I going to say to my boss?

I decided to write to the cameraman trying to appeal to him to see reason.

The next thing I knew, I was summoned to the office of the Vice Chancellor (the boss of the whole university).

When I went in – he had my letter on his desk.

The cameraman had contacted him saying the whole situation was the university’s fault because it wasn’t paying enough for the production and demanded more money to release the films.

The VC was furious. He demanded to know what I was up to.

I managed to get him to calm down once I had explained everything, and I think he kind of liked my desire to do new things, really. But there was still no more money. I had to get it sorted, or else.

The VC also wanted me to do a presentation of the promotional video once it was completed, to him and the admissions team (who were surprised to hear about it).

Luckily, after a week or so, the cameraman eventually backed down and agreed to return the films.

I managed to finish the film with the Director and another cameraman.

He edited it, adding in some (very) contemporary music.

I prepared to present it to the VC, my boss and the admissions team.

You can imagine how nervous I was. But the filmic style gave a great quality to it. We had used some clever story techniques. They were going to LOVE it.

They HATED it.

They hated the story, they hated the style and they particularly hated the music.

They said they would be embarrassed to present it.

I tried to argue my point. That it was a style that a young audience would love. But it was too late.

I left completely deflated.

I had, however, learned a big lesson… actually, a few lessons, but they’re for another day.

Having ideas wasn’t enough, I realised.

You have to listen to other people. You have to bring them along with you.

You have to compromise and take other people’s ideas and thoughts on board.

You have to sell your vision beforehand, even if that’s a job in itself.

Even if your idea is good, to succeed, you need to listen and collaborate. You need allies.

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