Make the Bad Ideas Good

changes ahead“I’m telling you, sir, it’s a bad idea and it’s not going to work.”

I felt like the righteous voice of reason in our wardroom as the other JOs murmured in agreement. Our new Engineer had revealed his plan for a major change in policy for handling work controls; it was some idea he brought from his old boat. At this point in the conversation we had been arguing for almost an hour; the Engineer on one side of the table and me on the other. As the ranking JO, I felt (perhaps wrongly) that I spoke for all who would be charged with implementing and enforcing his new policy. We had many concerns; as proposed, the policy change seemed impractical, administratively cumbersome, naïve, and detached from reality on the deckplate.

The Engineer had had enough. “Well, we’re doing it. You can either get on board now, or get on board later, but this is what we’re going to do,” he huffed, arms folded. I had been in the service long enough to recognize when a debate was concluded.

Once you’ve voiced your concerns, your duty is to make it work

“Understood, sir,” I conceded. “I volunteer to write the instruction, then.” Local policies are codified in “Ship’s Instructions,” memoranda detailing orders and procedures. Instructions are signed by the Captain and carry his authority, but they’re normally drafted by Junior Officers. I was pretty good at writing instructions, and I was confident that of all the JOs I had the best odds of shaping the Engineer’s ideas into something that wouldn’t be a complete disaster.

“Sold,” the Engineer agreed.

It was a win all around. I didn’t fully get my way, but that wasn’t going to happen anyway. Instead I achieved a position from which I could craft a workable solution out of my boss’s vision, drawing on my immediate experience and addressing the JOs’ concerns with the policy. In exchange, the Engineer had secured the buy-in of his idea’s most vocal critic and maximized the odds that his policy would succeed. It did, and most of us ultimately agreed that it was a good idea.

Faced with inevitable change, those who accept the change have the most power to shape the details. It’s not about self-interested conformity or passively accepting defeat; it’s about making decisions based on how things are rather than how we would wish them to be. It’s about seizing the initiative.

When you have legitimate concerns about an order or a policy, you have the right and the obligation to make those concerns known. Be tactful, as the surest way to have your opinion arbitrarily rejected is to frame it as a complaint. Once you’ve voiced your concerns, your duty is to make it work. Fighting it will just cause chaos, but even some of the most harebrained schemes can be saved by determined chiefs and JOs. Think of it as a challenge– if there’s only one person on Earth that could make this plan work, is it you? Who knows, you might even find out that you’re not always right.

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2 thoughts on “Make the Bad Ideas Good

  1. Nicely done! Many of us make careers out of making good ideas out of “good ideas”. The power is in the execution and the more ownership we take of the execution, the more influence we have on the outcome (often times more than the idea originator). When we are the ones with “good ideas”, it’s nice to have juniors who care enough to shape them into truly good ideas.

  2. Pingback: Some Words for the Cadre | JO Rules

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