Picture this: Someone at work presents what they believe to be a fantastic idea. Despite their enthusiasm, you know it's a bad one. You've already seen this exact idea fall flat on its face -- maybe several times.
Yet the gung-ho ideator soldiers on, only to be surprised months later when it doesn't pan out. Worse, it's a (yet another) grandiose failure, just as all the evidence promised it would be. What gives?
Beware of ideological necrophilia
In a recent piece for The Atlantic, contributing editor Moisés Naím writes how the resurrection of bad ideas is surprisingly common. He even has a name for it: ideological necrophilia. And a definition: the blind fixation on dead ideas.
Yes, many bad and mediocre ideas turn out to be fantastic successes. Naím isn't talking about something that just doesn't seem that original. He's warning us about those havoc-wreaking bad ideas that have proven themselves time and time again to fail. Their repeated failure is proof those ideas should stay in the grave.
Naím outlines several political ideologies as examples: Maoism, Peronism and extreme Populism. Despite the historical tragedies, astronomical inflation rates, humanitarian crises and crumbling governments that resulted when these doctrines were implemented, they still won't die. People still hold onto the belief that supporting these movements will guarantee them a better future, despite all the evidence proving otherwise.
What's keeping bad ideas alive?
"These bad ideas, which should be dead and buried, have a way of periodically reappearing and gaining popularity," Naím says.
It's not even the idea itself, Naím says. It's the leader behind the idea. Even if that leader spouts beliefs long been proven wrong and even if those policies would be impossible to execute, it doesn't matter. In the face of uncertainty and anxiety that come before a massive organizational change, people want to put their faith in a leader who stands firmly and confidently in their beliefs.
Are you following the idea or the leader?
Given the right talents and doggedness, an effective leader in any organization -- government, startup, non-profit -- can push through a bad idea.
Watch out for hubris, a strong predictor that a CEO or organizational leader will make bad decisions. "Leaders who allow hubris to destroy a company ignore all the information they're provided," Valerie Germain, managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles, told Fortune. "They assume the status quo will continue ad infinitum and shun those in the company who have insights signaling the opposite.
It's also important that CEOs surround themselves with a support network that challenges their ideas. A leader who is comfortable with criticism will be less likely to lead the organization astray. A bad idea will never be squelched if no one wants to speak up.
Passionate leaders with powerful ideas they believe will lead the organization to fame and fortune is certainly a must. But keep in mind that success is all about execution, and very little about the ideas. So if you're on that bandwagon, take time to think about how realistic your leader's ideas actually are. Otherwise, you might be in for a hard fall.