Three Ways To Get Cool Stuff Done Quickly At Work

It’s hard to imagine anyone not knowing Helen Reynolds – such is her reputation – but it would be rude not to give an introduction.


Helen is Digital and Social Media Manager at Monmouthshire County Council , and one of the foremost innovators in digital communications. She’s also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. This brilliant guest post came about following a recent post I did about introducing innovation in the workplace. Take it away Helen!


In work, I can get frustrated when I feel like my fabulous ideas are always in ready supply but my work programme can’t catch up.

So I’ve looked back on my career so far, and the times I got cool stuff done, and I’ve found I use one or more of three ways to get a idea into action.

Disclaimer! Everything I’m talking about here relates to work ideas which are ethical, thought-through and which improve my organisation or, in a little way, society. I don’t advocate the approaches here for stupid or unhelpful ideas, obviously.

So – here are three things to do if you want your amazing project to happen:

1. Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing 

Some people like to bounce ideas around a team, this can really fine-tune your concept.  But if your idea is brilliant, the reality is that too much talking to every other department will water it down, slow your progress and add to your workload. You find extra barriers to jump and more people to spend time granting you permission.

It may be a cliche but it’s worth weighing up: will asking for forgiveness be easier than gaining permission? It should be a calculated risk – sometimes we have to crack on if we’re passionate that our project will be good enough to warrant this approach.

In a nutshell: work on a ‘need-to-know’ basis or end up with the guy from accounts inviting you to a project board about your idea.

2. Ask ‘blockers’ to prepare a business case for why you shouldn’t do it 

The lovely and very innovative Dyfrig from Good Practice Wales asked me recently about how the organisation I work for opened up social media access to all staff – what would I do differently if I could do it again?

Easy.  I’d have brought out the reflection business case!

Years ago I was asked by a reluctant fella from IT, after weeks of meetings, to produce a business case for why we should give staff access to social media. I was advised I’d need to look into all sorts of IT security stuff which sounded to me like technical gobbledegook and sounded like it’d be expensive. I briefly had a crack writing his business case before giving up and taking a different route (which, incidentally, was getting buy-in from leaders on the larger issues facing the organisation and how the idea would help).

If I could do it again, I’d have said: “OK, I’ll write a concise summary of what I think should happen and you write me a business case for why it should not happen.”

Have that!

Some people find it easier to be negative than to come up with a solution. The reflected business case makes being a negative Norman a bit harder.

3. Be excited and really care

You’ll never follow through anything difficult unless you really want it to happen and you really care. If you’re thinking, ‘I’m not sure I can do it, maybe this won’t work’ – this isn’t the idea that you should slog your guts out on.

My best work has been the projects I’ve given up a night in the pub for, spent nights over a laptop with, got excitement butterflies in my stomach at. Everything else is day-to-day nice stuff.

For the sake of your health – use your passion and energy on the great ideas, not the good ones.

It’s true, honest

I used all three of these ‘techniques’ on various projects I’ve won awards for, including a 2011 SomeComms award for innovation. So it must work huh?

Would it work for you?

I hope so – good luck with your cool work.




18 thoughts on “Three Ways To Get Cool Stuff Done Quickly At Work

  1. Well it’s great to be described as both lovely and innovative – thank you!

    Great post as always (both on this blog and from Helen). Really love that point about focusing on what you’re really passionate about – that’s got to help drive it through.

    Cheers both!

    – Dyfrig

    1. Thanks Dyfrig – being passionate about something is really important. It’s interesting if you look at the organisations who have driven social media into part of corporate culture – they always have really passionate enthusiasts behind them. Like Helen!

  2. Great post 🙂 I like the second two. Pushing the work/ or decisions back onto naysayers is a useful tactic in many situations. Being excited and tenacious is a good trait to have. I’m not sure how much I agree on the first one. In some circumstances it makes sense to keep contentious ideas to yourself until they are fully-formed. In the right environments it can be useful to just throw them out there. Also, I think one can risk wasting a lot of time on a pet project if, for example, it simply doesn’t fit with strategy, sometimes it can be more useful to find out sooner rather than later. So a balance needs to be struck. Trade off protecting your great ideas from others’ negativity with the time constraints and not wanting to waste too much effort on something that could get killed off anyway.

  3. Great post and I love the idea of asking people to write a business case why you shouldn’t do something! I’m definitely going to try that.

  4. Thanks Mark – I love them all. I get what you are saying about the first one , but I do know many examples of ideas that were developed under the radar and have scaled quickly due to the fact they were not opened up to wide scrutiny. I wouldn’t propose spending lots of time on these but I think they can add value. Of course – we could all build this into our culture – like Google and the 20% time to work on other stuff!

  5. What a cracking post – thanks so much for making this one happen Helen and Paul.

    I’d like to think that I demonstrate points 1 and 3, to some degree, but no.2 is just genius! Why stifle someone else’s idea without giving it an opportunity to be explored first? For me, and taking on board the WhatIf philosophy, every idea should be ‘greenhoused’ – nurture it and let it grow before treading all over it. Don’t just reject something if it doesn’t sound appealing, work with it and explore alternative approaches – a bad idea never hurt anyone, only the execution of one could.

    1. Thanks Andy. I too love the concept of greenhousing – imagine the possibilities if all business tried that approach rather than treading over ideas?

  6. Love this blog post! Exactly the problem I often seem to face – I’ve lots of ideas but face lots of barriers in the way (its a bit like wading through treacle sometimes!). I make momentum but it can be hard going. I’ve often taken the ‘don’t tell anyone what I’m doing’ approach and decided I’d face the consequences afterwards (if there were any). Some of my best ideas have definitely been put into practice using this method!!

    1. Great comment Brett. There’s a growing army of us (judging by popularity of Helens post) who are determined that ideas see the light of day – no matter what!

  7. Excellent blog post. I have seen a variation on a theme of who to Trust in work and commented “From the perspective of a Union rep, quite often decision makers are able to say “well, you would say that wouldn’t you” so oftentimes when considering an idea that needs to breathe for a while before any decision is made I have noted that if the “obvious” benefits are proposed by the canvassed influential person in the room and the nuances are highlighted by the Union rep that makes the decision maker far more comfortable going with the influential persons idea knowing the Union rep approves, a sort of etiquette in reverse. It helps if there are regular changes in the structure and hierarchy as it looks fresh and new every time”.
    I now realise that the keeping good ideas to yourself coupled with knowing who to trust and at what stage is a good strategy…….I’ve always placed people in 2 camps….are they part of the problem or part of the solution? Helen points out that you have to be careful not to lose your idea by highlighting that “Some people find it easier to be negative than to come up with a solution”….never a truer word spoken (or written).

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