The Spectrum Policy

If you don’t already, make sure that you have a spectrum policy in place.

When it comes to meetings and any sort of decision making then a spectrum policy is a must.

A spectrum policy ensures that ideas aren’t beaten away or dismissed out of hand because it requires participants to focus on the positive and what they like rather than what they don’t.

George Prince (1969) is the brains behind this clever idea and reminds us that all ideas should be treated with care.

He says,

The Spectrum Policy has valuable advantages in any situation. By definition you first get an understanding of another person’s idea or situation because you really lend your mind to it; you temporarily keep quiet about your concerns. This gives you both sides of the problem. Next you talk about what you like in the new idea or situation. This helps to establish that you are discussing an idea and makes clear that your intent is not to put down the man or his idea. Last you express your concerns.”

This policy is about suspending judgement and saying 1. What do I like about the idea? and 2. What would I like to see more of?

The spectrum policy says that there are no such things as good or bad ideas, there are only ideas and all of them are acceptable, many of which are at their embryonic stage.

Prince gives us the following example:

  • Mr. A says, “I think it would be a good idea to shape our dog food like a bone and make it chewier.” Without evaluating this suggestion, the chairman refers it to the experts, Mr. B and Mr. C.

“But there is already a dog bone,” Mr. B starts to answer.

“Just a second, Mr. B,” the chairman intervenes, “first tell us what you like about Mr. A’s suggestion.”

Mr. B thinks hard for a moment before responding. “Well, this change in shape is a good idea. Mr. A, if I get his meaning, wants to use shape to make our product more appealing to the buyer. We know the buyer’s view of the food is a key element—the dog doesn’t care much. In fact, the dog would probably be happy if we made the product look like table scraps.”

Prince helps us to understand that we are forced to think about the positive values of Mr A’s suggestion and so “Mr. B now sees a range of values in the suggestion, a range from good to bad—a spectrum of values.”

Ideas are often screened in terms of their ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ but this is too binary and doesn’t consider the spectrum and everything in between.

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