Working Wounded Blog: Death by Cubicle

A U.K . study found that 81 percent of people had their best ideas outside of the office (but you'll have to guess what percentage found them in the bathroom!).

Visit any business Web site, read current business magazines or listen to business gurus and you'll no doubt get the impression that it's all about "ideas" these days. In fact, it sometimes feels like "new ideas" are the answer, no matter what the question.

This blog will spend time NOT exploring how to think outside the box. Rather, it will look into how we all got jammed into the box in the first place and why it's bad for our organizations, really bad for us and deadly for new ideas.

OK, let's give you some additional information on that U.K. study about where our best ideas are generated. Sony Ericsson conducted the study and found 81 percent had their best ideas outside of the office. Top places for idea generation? The car, in bed and socializing. At the bottom of the list was in the pub. And finally, as promised above, 6 percent of us have our best ideas in the toilet.

So why do we have to escape our desk to find our best ideas? I came up with three reasons. First is the ubiquitous cubicle, which unfortunately can be the place where great ideas go to die. Sure, a great idea can come to you while sitting in a cube, but is it because of the cube or in spite of the cube? Cubicle companies' literature emphasizes that cubes foster conversation, bring teams closer together and can be darn good-looking. But the reality is that we need less noise and distraction, especially if we are going to wander in that fragile area called idea generation.

Another part of the problem is the tendency of organizations to promote people who have never had an idea on their own into management positions. Sure, it makes sense; people are put into management because they support the status quo. This reminds me of a line I once heard about Al Gore: "Al Gore is an older person's idea of what a younger person should be."

People who don't have ideas have a really weird view of how people with ideas should be treated. Actually, weird isn't the best word to describe it. How about dangerous? Why? Because people who've never had a good idea like to pick at ideas, play devil's advocate and attach timelines and budgets to them much too early. This wet-blanket mentality can snuff out the spark of ideas early in the process.

Instead of giving the idea, and the idea generator, room to maneuver, they often force the baby to survive outside of the nurturing cubicle where it was created much too early (OK, the words "nurturing cubicle" are totally oxymoronic and run counter to what I wrote about cubes above. But since this is called a blog, and I'm speaking in stream of consciousness, a certain amount of inconsistency comes with the turf. Bear with me …).

Finally the biggest idea killer is the "corporate immune" system. This idea was first described by my friend Gifford Pinchot, best-selling author of the book "Intrapreneuring." He talks about all the ways that organizations seek out and destroy anything that runs counter to the status quo. The challenge is that the corporate immune system is relentless in its ability to remove threats and ensure mediocrity.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how organizations kill ideas. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to tell you where I have my best ideas, because right now, I gotta go.

Quote of the Week:

"When elephants fight, only the grass gets hurt." -- Swahili proverb

Weekly Book Excerpt:

"Roger Dawson's Secrets of Power Negotiating," by Roger Dawson (Career Press, 1995)

"The biggest trap into which neophyte negotiators fall is assuming that price is the dominant issue in a negotiation. Many elements other than price are important to the other person.

      You must convince her of the quality of your product or service
      He needs to know that you will deliver on time
      She wants to know that you will give adequate management supervision to their account
      How flexible are you on payment terms?
      Does your company have the financial strength to be a partner of theirs?
      Do you have the support of a well trained and motivated work force?

These all come into play, along with half-a-dozen other factors. When you have satisfied the other person that you can meet all those requirements, then, and only then, does price become a deciding factor."

The Blog Mailbag:

"My new boss was upset over Styrofoam peanuts covering the ground all around our Dumpster full of cardboard boxes. I watched the man responsible for a multimillion-dollar operation become panicked. So like any good boss, he delegated his manager to get into the Dumpster and break down the boxes. Which I did. While I was doing that, I fell and had to be taken to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with a herniated disk. Six months later, I had to have surgery, and six months later I'm still on workman's comp and my boss is doing my job. The cost of the fine from the peanuts floating -- around $50. Cost of my surgery, time off work, doctors, etc. -- over $250,000. When someone asks how I was injured and I say that I fell in a Dumpster -- priceless."

Blog Ballot Results

Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ABCNEWS.com online ballot:
How do you see your CEO?

       As a future felon, 12.3 percent
       As a great leader, 23 percent
       Getting a lot of cash for not much, 64.6 percent

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.