Need to fight a bad idea? Bad idea

You can more often kill it with kindness and helpfully offering to map out just what's needed to make it work

Dear Bob ...

I need some generic help. It has to be generic because if you published the specific situation I'm in, too many people would know exactly who wrote you and why.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "You can't fix your boss, but you can 'manage up'" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line blog and newsletter. ]

My situation, in generic terms, is that someone in the company with quite a bit of political clout has put a superficially attractive proposal in front of the CEO. The CEO, known more for enthusiasm than deep thinking, seems inclined to say yes.

I can see a dozen reasons this turkey is going to fail and fail dismally. I'm also smart enough (barely) to know that sticking my neck out on behalf of a losing battle is a great way to ensure a forced career change.

What do you think, oh great guru of corporate politics? Do you see any way I can kill this puppy while keeping my hands clean?

And if not, what's my best choice: Make my case anyway, or keep my mouth shut?

- Non-politico

Dear N-P ...

If I were a great guru of corporate politics, I'd be running a big company. Or even better, I'd have run a big company into the ground already, pocketing the huge severance check that generally accompanies failure at high levels.

Still, I do know a trick or three. Here's one that might do the job. It's a lovely little number I like to call "killing a loser with kindness."

Here's how it goes: The next time you're in a meeting where the idea comes up and enough decision-makers are in the room to matter, let everyone know how much you like the concept. "You know," you might muse in a thoughtful tone of voice, "it will be tricky to pull this off, but if we do it right it could be pretty cool."

"What do you mean, 'tricky'?" someone will inevitably ask -- inevitably because there's never a shortage of people willing to read a script when one is put in front of them.

"I mean," you'll say, "that like a lot of good ideas, the devil is going to be in the details. For example, to make this work we're going to have to ..." followed by three of the more interesting but less insurmountable problems you know of.

"I'd love to be part of this," you continue, speaking directly to the sponsor. "Would you mind if I volunteer to work with your team to map out the hurdles we're going to overcome so we can put a plan together?"

Assuming the sponsor agrees, you're in a position to make sure the company has the right plan to make the concept succeed. It won't be your plan, either -- it will be a plan that comes from the sponsor's organization.

To see how it's done, a couple of examples: Back when many industry pundits were predicting the brilliant success of the so-called Network Computer, I used this approach in my old "IS Survival Guide" column in InfoWorld to play a minor part in killing it off (see "Inhaling network computers," 1/13/1997).

More recently I used it to provide helpful guidance vis-a-vis the cloud (see "Carr-toonish engineering," Keep the Joint Running, 2/11/2008).

Who knows? With enough good planning, you might even decide you like the idea after all.

- Bob