December 4, 2023 | Alex Paradies

5 Stages of Killing a Bad Idea

bad ideas

There are plenty of bad ideas in an organization. Some are just being introduced, but many are holdouts from past failed initiatives. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first wrote a book called “On Death and Dying” about the 5 stages of death in 1969. She used these stages to describe how people reacted to their terminal diagnoses.

Let’s take this research, and examine each stage as a response to killing a bad idea. The 5 stages of killing a bad idea are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

And, we’ll learn how to embrace new ideas.

Stage 1: Denial

Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It is the first stage of killing a bad idea. To kill a bad idea, you must first overcome denial of the problem. You need key stakeholders to agree that changes are necessary. It can be challenging to distinguish denial from a lack of understanding. We often believe that change will be embraced just by providing a list of facts as to why an idea is terrible. However, denial is a defense mechanism, so constantly badgering them may continue to trigger the defense mechanism.

A person in denial needs time to process the change. You can help overcome this stage by acknowledging the validity of the person’s feelings and then offering them time to review the facts to process the transition slowly.

Try saying, “We recognize this change will be difficult, and we would like to give you some time to evaluate our plan and help us improve it.”

Stage 2: Anger

Anger is not always expressed directly in business, but you must alleviate the frustrations people experience when killing bad ideas. You have to address frustrations quickly before they become deep-seated resentment. Anger can sour even the most eager team members.

To help move people through this stage, you must:

  • stay calm
  • understand their perspective
  • let them know they have been heard
  • set communication boundaries, and
  • give them time to cool off if necessary

Similarly to the denial stage, you needed time for them to process these emotions.

Most of the time, people just want to know they were heard. Do not start offering solutions trying to alleviate people’s anger. Listening to their frustrations without immediately trying to solve their problems can help turn your harshest critics into your greatest allies. You will need these allies’ help when killing bad ideas.

Stage 3: Bargaining

This is one of the trickiest stages to move past. The bargaining stage is characterized by people wanting to make small changes to bad ideas instead of killing them. You have to balance the need for change with the realities of your resources.

Bargainers typically seek some measure of control over the change. You will be presented with opportunities to compromise or with people attempting to talk you out of the change. Some compromises may be acceptable, but you must set boundaries. Participating in too much bargaining can leave bad ideas on life support. Don’t accept bargains that will limit the effectiveness of your good idea to keep a bad idea around.

Stage 4: Depression

Depression most frequently manifests at the beginning of implementing a good idea. As people are learning new processes, they go through a stage of uncertainty and anxiety. People may want to quit when things get “hard.” There is a voice in the back of their minds telling them that killing a bad idea was a mistake.

At this stage, you must provide clear direction and highly supportive behaviors. Depression will pass as competence and confidence grow. Look for ways to get early wins and celebrate success. Often people just need to hear that a process is working to kill their fear.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Acceptance is when they finally recognize that the bad idea must die. It is not the end of killing a bad idea, but it is the start of them helping you implement your new idea. Instead of struggling to keep the bad idea alive, they are helping you kill the bad idea. Continue to encourage their efforts and celebrate success.

Join Me for a Webinar on this Topic

Learn more at my upcoming webinar:

5 Stages of Killing a Bad Idea

Thursday, January 25, 2024

2:00 PM EST

(It’s free to register!)

Generate Innovative New Ideas

One of the best way to generate new ideas is to attend the 2024 Global TapRooT®  Summit. There are seven best practice tracks to choose from for performance improvement:

Plus, 11 special pre-Summit Courses scheduled for April 29-30 (just before the Summit).

Join us at the beautiful Horseshoe Bay Resort near Austin, Texas May 1 – 3, 2024, and be inspired by our keynote speakers, learn new ideas during best practice sessions, and have some fun!

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