HiPPOs are killers.

No I am not talking about the large aquatic animals.

(Even though statistically the are deadly, killing an estimated 500 people in Africa each year)

No, I am talking about a killer of ideas.

The HiPPO: Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

This is the tendency in most organisations for people to just follow the opinion or decision of the most senior person in the room when ideas are being presented (which is usually also the highest paid and most powerful person).

However, research tells us that there are a lot of problems with this, especially from the perspective of the senior people making the decision:

  1. It takes significantly more mental energy to evaluate a new idea than a familiar one, making it more comfortable to reject disruptive new ideas in favour of more familiar ones.
  2. The years of experience that people accumulate as they climb an industry ladder can make them believe that things work well already, and that disruptive new ideas are a threat to what they have built
  3. Senior people have more to lose if an idea does not work out, which is more likely to trigger Loss Aversion
  4. A fascinating study shows that senior decision makers will actually think they are selecting creative ideas, when in reality they are selecting the most risk-averse ideas (they are blind to their own creativity bias)
  5. Senior teams prefer to surround themselves with similar people, which can lead to an echo chamber where new ideas are less acceptable

As a result of all of these factors, decision-makers will often select which options or ideas to take forward on their “experience”, which is effectively what their gut is telling them, rather than the logical or factual data on what the best solution is.

The HiPPO’s gut is by nature risk-averse, even if they are not consciously aware of it.

This is especially true the first time the senior decision maker sees an idea. All ideas are rough and imperfect when they are first developed, and so the HiPPO will see all of the problems with the idea in its current form, rather than being able to see the future solution that the team is trying to develop.

How can you defeat the HiPPO

The best way to defeat the HiPPO is to bring them along the idea-development journey.

If the senior stakeholder is made part of the process of developing the ideas and selecting which ones to take forward, then they will see all of the observations, discussions and context for each of the ideas.

More importantly, they will feel like they helped partially create the ideas. Research has shown that when people place a much higher value on things they feel they helped create, which is known as the IKEA Effect.

You can even adjust the way that the idea generation session is structured to better align with the preferred ways of working of the senior stakeholder.

So instead of only having the senior decision makers present when the final list of ideas is presented for the first time, see if you can have them involved during your kickoff meetings, brainstorming sessions, or even occasionally during the design and experimentation phase.

This way, their opinion will be much more open to new ideas.

Have you ever encountered a HiPPO that killed your ideas? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments below.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.