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.



Why Your Business Plan Just Killed Innovation

 Unless you are a fortune teller, long term business planning is a fantasy.

Why don’t we call plans what they really are: guesses.

Start referring to your business plans as business guesses , your financial plans as financial guesses and your strategic plans as strategic guesses.

Now you can stop worrying about them so much.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson – “Rework”


One of the reasons that your organisation or sector has largely stuck to “business as usual” is the great little idea that you , your customers or colleagues have in your heads has stayed there.

You might be worried that your suggestion of a different way of doing things may be dismissed as fanciful , naive or even WTTOIDW (“We Tried That Once It Didn’t Work”).

But supposing you take the plunge and your idea lives beyond its first breath: You now have something far worse to contend with.

The business plan.

One of the reasons why innovation fails to take hold in many organisations is our relentless focus on long term business planning.

Your great idea is going to get mortally wounded the moment it hits a 20 page project initiation document. And if it does survive that it has to go through a series of internal approvals culminating in the trial by fire that is the 30 page Board Report.

The odds of a turtle hatchling reaching adulthood are said to be 1 in 1,000. But in most organisations the chance of an idea reaching maturity has significantly worse odds.

But why is this?

Most businesses would agree that innovation is vital for future success –  but very few can articulate how they protect new ideas from becoming an endangered species.

And this is one of the problems we have: Innovation is treated the same way as everything else – whether it’s forecasting how much coffee people drink or estimating annual sick days.

We seek certainty where this is none and assurances of success where it can never be assured. We have grown afraid of failure.  And if there’s one thing we all know it’s – if you fear failure you cannot innovate.

There are very simple and easy ways to reintroduce the creative capacity in our organisations.  One is to skip the business plan altogether and start backwards. Literally. 

A company who do it well are Amazon.

After an idea is generated they start by writing a press release as if the product or service is ready for launch. They bring it to life.

It’s mocked up with pictures of the product and quotes from (imaginary) customers about how life changing it has been.  It’s passed around internally at the company, so that they can get feedback on the product, and to solicit any questions.

After getting an initial response (did it create a buzz?) and people adding their own ideas (building ideas – never destroying) it’s passed to a product development team to work it up.

But the team are fairly small – in fact they have to conform to the Two Pizza Rule. That is , there can’t be more of them than can be fed on two pizzas.  If you have to buy more than two large pizzas – the team is either too large … or the team members are. (There’s an important point here – large groups often become an average of themselves – they can kill innovation.)

Only when a shared vision is produced does the actual design stage begin. And guess what?  It happens quickly. As the idea has matured more people have contributed to it , bought into it,  and are dying to see it take its first steps.

It’s no longer an idea. It’s happening.

I’ve used the starting backwards approach on a few occasions and feel its a great way of introducing new concepts. In the past year I can think of at least two projects that have reached Board level – without a paper ever being written. I’ll be sharing how this can work in the context of non-profits over the next few weeks.

But what do you think? Do you agree that business plans and risk assessments can stifle innovation?

(Note: You can read a fascinating insight into the Amazon working backwards approach on the Werner Vogels blog from all the way back in 2006)

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