Let’s face it, not all paper towels are created equal.

The bargain towel may look like a good deal. But, as we all know, “cheap” doesn’t necessarily mean “absorbent.” Saving money may not prove a smart strategy during the next red-alert spill.

While we’re on paper towels, have you ever wondered what makes paper towels absorbent anyway? Well it’s got something to do with the sugar molecules in the towel. Seems water is fond of these sugar molecules, I mean really attracted to them. Once water and sugar molecules meet, well…presto, absorbency happens. That’s about all I know. But, If you’re really interested, check out this explanation about the paper towel from the folks at Moment of Science. Oh, I do have one more thing for you. Don’t eat paper towels. Unfortunately, the  sugar molecules in the towel don’t care much for the human digestive system. Dang.


Tribes also need to be absorbent. Your tribe needs to soak up novel and useful ideas that can help you create alchemy. The question for your tribe is this: are we executing actions that will help us soak up good ideas? Some tribes may resist new ideas out of fear, or groupthink, or because they can’t see good ideas spilling out nearby.


Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair discussed “good idea absorbency” in a report on innovation and the social sector. Here’s what they wrote,

Absorptive capacity is understood as the evaluation, assimilation and application of externally derived new ideas and innovations. Organizations develop ideas internally, but there are always more new ideas and innovations generated and available in their external contexts. The absorptive capacity is seen as a prime mechanism for building a continuous innovation capacity in organizations.


So how can your tribe increase it’s absorption of good ideas. 

Here are five important actions that, when linked together, make tribes more absorbent.

  1. Capture ideas
  2. Consider the value proposition of an idea
  3. Codify ideas for retrieval
  4. Prioritize for use
  5. Utilize the keepers



1. Capture Ideas

If you’re going to absorb ideas, you have to get the ideas flowing. A good question to ask is this, “how often during the course of a week or month, do we discuss novel ideas from external sources?” The point here is about volume. You have to have a sufficient number of ideas flowing into your tribe on a regular basis. Not every idea that spills onto your tribe will make it to utilization. But, you have to have enough ideas flowing in order to find a few keepers.


Allow me to switch up the metaphor for a moment. Having enough interesting ideas around is sort of like searching for ripe avocados. The grocery store supplies you with many avocado options. Most of the avocados, in the store, are not ripe. Therefore, if you need a ripe one, you’re going to have to squeeze your way through a dozen or so before you get to it. You need enough ideas to find the one’s worth keeping. That means you have to have to always have a number of them on hand.


Here are couple of ways to get the ideas flowing through your tribe…

  • Conduct a monthly idea exchange. Once a week (or month), take 20 minutes in an already-scheduled-meeting to let people share ideas. People don’t have to give lengthy reports about each idea. Just a couple of words that describes the idea and where people can go to explore it. Once an idea gets legs, you may want to give it more time in a meeting.


  • Create a digital space where your tribe can post ideas.  Most tribes have a digital platforms for information sharing and/or project management. You could use your digital platform as a place to share articles, post links and videos. This is a much better option than email. As a repository of important ideas, well email…sucks. The key to a digital platform is usability. Your tribe has to actually use it. If you don’t, you’ll just have a bunch of ideas that never get absorbed. Talk as a tribe about how to make the digital platform usable.

Good capture systems increase absorbency.


2. Consider the value proposition of an idea.

As I mentioned, not all ideas are created equal. Even great ideas may not be right for your tribe. You have to develop ways to assess the value of an idea. Here are two questions to ask that will help you assess if ideas are good for you.


  • Is the idea relevant? There are ideas floating around in the world that, good as they may be, would derail your tribe’s progress. For example, someone may bring an idea for a new organizational structure. The new structure could be all the rage–with endorsements from Harvard Business Review and McKinsey. But, that doesn’t mean the idea is right for your tribe. Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it’s relevant for you. There are lots of great looking clothes in the world that don’t look good on me, I’m sorry to say. Not every idea looks good on your tribe.


  • Is the idea timely? You may, at times, find and idea to be relevant (it fits your tribe), however the idea may not be timely. For example, a tribe member might find a new project management software that is better than your current application. Does that mean you should drop your current application today and go with the new one? The answer to that question will determine when to absorb a good idea. Not every relevant idea should be implemented today. Timing matters.


3. Codify ideas for retrieval

Once you have a relevant and timely idea, it can still get lost in all the daily work of your tribe. When you codify an idea, you systematically organize it so that it’s easy to retrieve. There’s more to codification then retrieval, but it is an important part of it. Researchers codify information in order to identify and label big themes they discover in their research. When they discover a big theme, researchers label it as such. This labeling makes it easier to come back and find the information later. It also allows many other ideas to be housed inside the larger theme.


You need to do the same with ideas flowing into your tribe. For instance you could create headers like, “communication,” “conflict resolution,” or “project management,” to name a few. Labeling your digital platform in this manner and codifying good ideas inside those big headers, will make it easier to retrieve information later.

Half of the battle of implementing a new idea is remembering where you put it so you can find it when you need it. Good retrieval systems increases absorbency. 


4. Prioritize for use

When good ideas that are timely and relevant make their way into your tribe, you still have to prioritize the sequence of utilization. Let’s go back to project management software for a moment. Maybe your tribe decided, based on a good idea brought forth, to move to and new project management system. The next question is, when should we do this? You need to strategically sequence good ideas so that your tribe has the capacity to integrate them with excellence.


Often, timely and relevant ideas lose favor with a tribe because the the idea was not strategically implemented. The idea was good. The idea could have made a difference for the tribe. But, a lack of strategic sequencing and implementation caused the idea to fail. This is an unfortunate moment. It puts a bad taste in the mouths of tribe members for new ideas. We even have a phrase for this bad taste: the flavor of the month. Often the demise of a flavor of the month (a good idea gone bad) is not because the idea wasn’t worthy of implementation. Rather, the really good idea was inappropriately sequenced and not integrated with skill. How you sequence and implement ideas matters. If you don’t get that right, absorbency for future ideas can decrease.


5. Utilize the keepers

Once you’ve gone to all of the trouble of appropriately bringing a new idea to your tribe and strategically sequencing it, it’s time to utilize it. But don’t utilize it in a vacuum. Keep the spirit of curiosity alive as you use it. Don’t be afraid to quickly adapt the idea if it’s not working. This can enhance its effectiveness. The whole point of being absorbent is to keep ideas flowing that help you create alchemy. Don’t fall in love with an idea. Fall in love with effectiveness and meaningful outcomes. And, let good ideas keep you moving down the road of effectiveness and meaningful outcomes.


How absorbent is your tribe? 

In the days ahead, ask your tribe how effective they think you all are at absorbing new ideas. Then, work to integrate the five actions of absorbency (above0 into your tribe. Watch your absorbency rise and let the right ideas move your forward.