Why Committees Don’t Approve Big Ideas
“I’m not creative, but. . . “
You’ve likely heard those words before. Usually uttered in a committee tasked with approving a new marketing strategy, direction or campaign. And often followed by a suggestion whose purpose is to take the edge off what may have been a fairly unique or bold idea.
Having individuals serve on a marketing committee can be a way for organizations to let individuals feel valued and have their voices heard. They get a say in what they like and dislike. And it lets them feel like part of the creative process.
Typically, though, committees don’t have or approve big ideas. One of their main purposes is to alleviate any action or direction that may be considered too extreme or radical. Which makes them inherently risk averse. They are there to find the compromise – to put everyone at ease, make them happy – i.e. play it safe. For the most part, anything that smacks of something too different, untraditional and untested will likely be shot down before it ever takes off. So naturally, they lean towards approving ideas that are more familiar, comfortable and not too unlike what’s served them well enough before. Like an old t-shirt.
In their defense, it’s easy to see how and why a committee functions as a safety net. They take the onus of decision-making responsibility off the individual and place it on, frankly, no one. Because at the end of the day, if an idea, strategic direction or campaign fails to produce the desired results, who will take the blame? Certainly not the collective group. After all, who can point a finger at a whole group? There is, no doubt, safety in numbers. Nobody gets hurt.
And that it makes it easier to blame the originators of the idea. The creatives. Those who don’t understand the realities and consequences of what the committee must live with if things go south.
But, the reality is that when too many heads try to reason away towards a decision, they reason away the heart and soul of an idea that may have had great merit. Because no matter how intelligent, experienced or even creative a committee may be, you will always find competing ideas, agendas and interests. And those who are eager to be the first to shoot down an idea.
Projects get delayed, stagnate and get postponed because not everyone on a decision-making committee can agree. The longer an idea languishes in a committee, the more likely it is to suffer and weaken. And the longer an idea is PowerPointed from meeting to meeting, the more certain it is to die a slow death with a DNR attached to it.
It’s important for marketing committee members to recognize that you’ll never please everyone. Nor, should you have to. But, playing it safe just feels better at the moment. Maybe the status quo isn’t so bad after all. Maybe we should just sit tight a little longer.
Of course, a little longer may be too long.
And playing it safe can be more dangerous than taking the leap.
Making too many waves, they say, could sink the mother ship. But, what about missing the boat altogether? And don’t waves actually create impact? The bigger the wave, the greater the impact. Maybe the committee should ask, “Do we want to barely make a ripple, or do we want to create an upsurge, a groundswell, a real breaker?” The kind that makes people a little, or a lot uncomfortable.
The right leader will know that uncomfortable is good. In fact, uncomfortable can be great, because it can cause people to feel a little fearful, a little uneasy, a little challenged. Sometimes a very necessary thing, because it can cause people to think about something differently. Maybe even trigger different behave.
The right leader will realize that a smart risk can equal reward. The bigger the risk, the smarter the move and the bigger the chance for reward. Taking creative risks can drive results. And solve big creative problems.
So, who is the expert in the room? Someone needs to take the lead and run with it. Someone needs to question the inherent danger in playing it safe. And actually challenge the status quo. Someone who isn’t willing to let opportunity slip between his or her fingers.
Otherwise, don’t expect dramatic results. In fact, don’t expect much of any results.
Because safe won’t get noticed. It looks, sounds like, smells and feels like most of what is already vying for your customer’s attention. The committee may be comfortable with that decision. After all, it’s unlikely the committee will ever pay the price.
But, the company they work for surely will.