Don’t get New Ideas caught in the ASA Trap!

Preface: We’ve spent early October talking about your best-possible project work, and today’s post is intended to alert you to a red flag. When you are immersed in a Wow! Project, it is easy to get blinders on, and miss the outliers in the workplace which might have just as much potential ”“ maybe even more.

When an organizational culture is healthiest, leadership initiatives are thriving in every nook and cranny. Leadership is shared freely with those who step to the plate, and put a hand up that means, “I’m ready, and I want you to trust me.”

Those in positions of power on a company’s org chart MUST say “yes” to new ideas as much as possible: You never know when a small idea will evolve into a big game changer.

In these healthy cultures (healthy meaning fertile for self-leadership initiatives to seed), the ASA Trap is avoided like the plague.

Are you aware of the ASA Trap?

The ASA Trap is a speed bump and obstacle. It is another “yeah, but” in the workplace.

ASA stands for “As Soon As”.” It is a delay tactic which clearly conveys your annoyance or impatience. When you say, “As soon as ”” people rarely hear what you say in the last part of the sentence, because what they hear is, “Go away. Please don’t bother me with this now.”

Think about how you felt when someone said these things to you:

“Love the idea, and we’ll start as soon as””

“We’ll add that to the agenda as soon as…”

“I’m not saying no, but we have to be practical here. As soon as… I will make the time to talk this though with you.”

If you were able to recall when a boss spoke to you with a similar ASA statement, you felt the disastrous result: He or she immediately burst your self-leadership idea bubble, and with that burst escaped your energy, your excitement, and your enthusiasm. The ASA Trap is a huge downer.

To Avoid the ASA Trap, Delegate!

A manager with a lot of ASA in their vocabulary is dangerously close to micromanaging, and must learn to use their team better. And the really good news is that better delegation is a baby step: There is no better time for staff development than with the birth of a new idea.

Managers can feel they must know “the whole picture” before they can bless (i.e. effectively direct) work commencing on any part of it at all, and that is rarely true. For instance, consider that great direction requires clarity first and foremost, and most new ideas are not yet clear: They are fuzzy, and need to be worked on. That shaping of the idea is the first task which can be delegated, and who better to work on it than its creator?

Managers can intercept and engage with idea-initiated work at a variety of touch points, and not just in the beginning. Stop directing, controlling and commanding. Replace those actions with good questions, smaller action agreements, and well-placed coaching.

Ideas are fragile. You cannot let their light grow dim

When someone comes to you with an idea, get it in motion immediately. Turn those excitement draining sentences above into energy creating initiatives you place in the hands of those offering up the idea: Begin to develop them as leaders.

An Idea is a Fragile Thing by Rosa Say

An Idea is a Fragile Thing

The moment an ASA trap rears its ugly head in your brain, recognize it for the red flag it is, and replace it with an encouragement similar to one of these:

“That’s an interesting idea, how would you like to get started with exploring it?”

“Thank you for sharing your idea with me! How can I support you as you begin?”

These are conversations which ask good questions, yet immediately offer coaching to an agreement in which you will finish the conversation well, but relatively quickly. When someone brings an idea to you, your goal should be to encourage them. Fail to do so, and they will stop coming to you and begin to think, “Why should I bother?” That would be tragic.

Respond to their next response (to the above questions) with a delegation toward self-leadership.

Delegating to Lead Versus Delegating to Manage

As we just talked about this past Thursday, managing well takes over Where Planning Ends and Projects Begin. But first, you lead with planning.

Begin with delegating toward leading/planning so your idea-generator immediately gets to work with formulating good, clear answers to these questions first: “Why do we need this idea?” and “When should we best engage with this idea within the scope of our overall vision, moving it forward?” These are the questions which will help them take full visionary ownership of their idea.

You can then follow-up with your idea-generator in this second intersection point of coaching (representing continued delegation) which aligns a well-led plan with a well-designed Wow! Project that will move that fresh idea to momentum-building action.

Your Opportunities with Idea Conversations

One of the best places idea conversations percolate is within the Daily 5 Minutes, that precious time when a conversation starts on an employee’s agenda and not the manager’s. Read more about the D5M here: Two Gifts, Values and Conversations

A second place is within the seemingly mundane day to day work every company encounters. Tom Peters wrote a great description of how this happens in his Fast Company essay on the Wow! Project:

I’ve seen a person who was assigned a presumably dead-end task — cleaning up a warehouse — turn that project into a chance to redesign the company’s distribution system and to earn a ticket to even more responsibility and even cooler projects. All it took for that to happen was the application of personal passion and an unwillingness to see the project as anything other than a first-rate opportunity.

How did it happen? Given the project of “cleaning up the warehouse,” our passionate Wow Project leader (PWPL) quickly determined that the problem wasn’t a “messy” warehouse; the real problem was that the warehouse was poorly organized — which made the warehouse necessarily messy. A simple cleanup wouldn’t do a damn thing to solve the deeper problem: The warehouse needed to be reorganized. That led our intrepid PWPL into a few carefully targeted benchmarking forays to educate herself and a small, select group of suddenly interested team members on the art of warehouse reorganization.

One of their key lessons: The organization of the warehouse needed to take into account both the incoming parts from suppliers and the outgoing parts to customers. So, a short time after getting the warehouse-cleanup assignment, this PWPL found herself making a compelling case for a new distribution system that would feed flawlessly into the reorganized warehouse — a warehouse that would now stay neat because of newly designed processes that fit the new distribution system perfectly. And that is how you turn a little chore into a Wow Project.

Look for every opportunity you have to say “yes” to the ideas others will bring to you in the workplace. Alaka‘i managers celebrate leadership initiative with an abundance mentality.

The only ASA you want sounds like this: “As soon as you have an idea, I want to hear it so I know how to support you best.”

Additional reading

If you are just joining us, this reading path will help you learn the complete ins and outs of the coaching offered within this post today: The beauty of the blog is that this update will still be here waiting for you to return to it.

1. Is it Time for Your Alaka‘i Abundance?
2. October’s Ho‘ohana: Sweet Closure
3. The Ho‘ohana Story of Your Year
4. A Copy of the Best is Still a Copy
5. Where Planning Ends and Projects Begin

Photo Credit:
Helping me wave a red flag… Bandiera rossa by Iguana Jo on Flickr
Back Story: Why are Say “Alaka‘i” postings duplicated on Talking Story?


  1. says

    Part of the problem is the very approval process that exists in most companies. If you have to pass an idea up for approval, then your boss needs to pick out the ideas that can have the biggest, surest, soonest impact before approving the idea and passing it still further up the chain.

    There seem to be two ways to deal with this effectively. Both involve eliminating that process.

    At 3M and other companies there is the process of “tin-cupping” where a person can shop an idea for funding from existing budgets, including experimentation budgets. No buy in, no funding and the idea dies, at least for now. Funding naturally includes buy-in, so if it’s your idea, you’re not alone any more.

    Other companies, like Nucor and Toyota, simply assume that most ideas will be small, from workers and should be tried. At Nucor they even keep idea scrap at several plants where ideas that didn’t work can provide inspiration or starting points for future ideas.
    .-= Wally Bock ´s last blog ..10/11/09: Leadership Reading to Start Your Week =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Hana hou Wally – bravo! Thank you for responding by sharing a few new ideas we can all learn to adopt or adapt.

      You’ve hit on the crux of the problem – the perceived need for approval, when there is often idea development which can be experimented with before we even think about the pros and cons we levy in giving (or denying) our approval. I like that notion of “tin-cupping” where there is an underlying assumption: I will give you some seed money trusting that you will use it well, and are engaged in an idea worth the exploration and quest. It is an appreciation of the thinking process in play.