Close proximity leads to ideas being shared too soon

Does sharing a close proximity with someone lead to ideas being shared too soon? I think so

I have a feeling that in most cases working in close proximity with someone leads to ideas and opinions getting shared too early. I think that this is largely a negative thing. This is one of the reasons I enjoy working remotely.

Don’t get me wrong, I like sharing ideas and I like to share them early in order to get feedback and to see if an idea has legs. What I am talking about is sharing too early.

Unformed ideas

Sharing an idea early isn’t really sharing an idea, it is sharing 70% of an idea.

Sharing incomplete ideas is bad because you haven’t made up your mind so it can be changed and moulded by someone else (who maybe hasn’t even thought 100% about the idea).

Unformed ideas still need work, and I think this is a solitary task.

Only once an idea or opinion is fully formed is it worth changing based on others feedback, that way you will know if you actually agree with the changes or counter ideas they are sharing.

When does an idea form?

The problem is that it is really hard to know when an idea is fully formed.

For me, I know none of my ideas are fully formed the first time I think them, it normally takes some mental cud chewing over at least a couple of days before I have a fully formed opinion on the smallest of things.

Of course this depends entirely on the idea. As a rule of thumb though if you have literally just had the thought then it isn’t fully formed.

Where does proximity come in

Being in close proximity (in either time or space) to someone makes it way easier to share your idea before it is fully formed. Especially if the idea is exciting or compelling.

Sitting beside someone at work gives you a perfect opportunity to lean over and say “I think we should use this new gem I found this morning”.

Having a constantly open Slack channel with a group of people allows you to easily say “hey, what do you think about changing our website’s tagline to something like…”.

Some places were proximity is an issue;

  • Desk mate
  • Programming Pair
  • Person you are having a conversation with
  • Slack Channel
  • Social Media

You might be surprised at me including “person you are having a conversation with” but I am always having conversations with people were I say something that I realise is only a half formed idea. What I should have said during the conversation was something like “I honestly don’t have much of an opinion on this right now, let me think about it a bit and I will get back to you”.

You may wonder what the harm is during conversation to share a half formed idea. The person you are sharing the idea with can only assume it is your fully formed idea and treat it as such.

We are social creatures and it is in our nature to talk and share ideas. Modern life has made it too easy for these ideas to be shared too soon.

Why sharing too soon is bad

I think there are several reasons why sharing ideas or opinions too soon is bad;

  • Without a solid opinion of your own it is hard to defend the idea
  • You could waste someone’s time with an idea that you will soon realise is ill-conceived
  • You won’t have readily available answers to the questions you will get asked
  • The idea could quickly spiral into something different altogether by sharing it with someone who has thought about a related subject more
  • It is lazy – you are asking other people to take up cycles thinking on something that you haven’t fully thought about yet
  • You don’t know the right questions to ask until you have thought about it deeply, perhaps the person you are sharing it with isn’t the best person to share it with.

One of the reasons you shouldn’t publish a blog post immediately after writing is that during the time between you finishing writing and the time you publish you might come up with a new idea or angle to explore in the post.

If this happens after you have taken time to think and write about something, then you can be sure it happens plenty before you have spent the time writing something.

Why sharing to people in close proximity is bad

As well as sharing ideas with anyone too early is bad, I think sharing to people in close proximity can often be a bad idea too;

  • Just because someone is beside you / online doesn’t mean they are the best person to be talking to about the idea
  • Sharing the idea with them gives them another task to complete (to think about and discus the idea). The proximity gives a fake sense of urgency
  • This fake sense of urgency will mean the person will feel a duty to respond as close to real time as possible, giving their thoughts too quickly – see the section above as to why this is a bad idea.

Some steps to avoid sharing based purely on proximity

If after reading this you feel that perhaps you share ideas too early and would like to do that less these tips may help.

  • Have you just had the idea? Give it at least 24 hours. Set a reminder or alert to make sure you don’t forget it and see if you feel the same
  • Is the person you are about to tell the idea to the best person or just the closest person? If you aren’t sure who you want to talk to about the idea it means you need to think on the idea more
  • Change your medium. If you were about to post on Slack saying “I think we should do x” perhaps consider writing an email. The change of medium (especially to one that allows for longer form writing) will force you to think more on the idea as you write it down
  • Before sharing the idea, think about 3 questions you may be asked about it – have responses ready
  • Assume the person you share the idea with will actively try and shoot it down, do you feel you could defend it? If not it may still need work

People coming to you with ideas

If people are coming to you with ideas that you believe are the result of you being in close proximity to you I would be tempted to push back on them.

  • You could ignore the implied request for feedback (so long as it wouldn’t be deemed rude – this works well when a group of people are asked)
  • You could ask them to ask the question in a different way, this would force them to think more about the idea
  • Before giving your opinion, ask them questions so that you fully understand their opinion
  • Sometimes you know their response to something is immediate and not well thought out (you share a link to something the person hasn’t read before and within minutes they says “we should implement this”) – I think you should ask them to chat about about it in a day or two.

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