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Rewriting the Future

Wherever I go, leaders and followers within organizations report a common and growing challenge. Employees describe the maddening experience of offering up ideas at work, only to have their suggestions shot down by a boss. For their part, managers insist they are not rejecting the ideas because they lack merit. It's just that many times the initiatives are not new -- the company has tried them unsuccessfully in the past. Therefore, dissuadable managers are simply hoping to spare employees from wasting their time on proven failures.

Chalk those managers' propensity for rejecting already-tried suggestions up to human nature. In their new book, The Three Laws of Performance, Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan assert that every idea has a future that we have already written for it. The default future, as the authors call it, is often based on our past experiences, assumptions, and fears. Consequently, managers who dismiss ideas because of a been-there-done-that-and-failed bias are doing so because they expect history to repeat itself.

While we can't rewrite the past, Zaffron and Logan point out that we can rewrite the future. Rather than assuming we'll get the same disappointing results today as we got in the past, we can create a new future -- one with a desirable outcome. What's more, instead of discouraging employees from offering ideas, this approach encourages managers to engage workers in designing the new future. As a result, managers will stop frustrating creative employees and start inspiring them instead.

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