In a Lifehacker post a short while ago, Whitson Gordon writes about the virtues of being the most prepared member of a meeting to get your ideas heard. This concept holds a lot of validity in the engineering world. I have been to many meetings through my career, and have found that the more prepared you are, the more capable you are of swaying people over to your view of how you believe things should be done.
As soon as you hear about a design-related meeting for a new product concept, begin thinking of what needs you think the new system has. Make a document detailing those requirements for your own reference, and bring them to the brainstorming meeting. I would almost guarantee that most people in the meeting will not have thought about any logistics or requirements beyond some simple thoughts.
One of the reasons you want to have your document with you, beyond the simple fact that most people haven’t thought too hard about it, is that you now can speak intelligently with everyone about not only the ideas you have, but also, the reasons you think they’re good ideas.
I’ve found that (at least in my mind) when an outline is already presented to you, your thoughts automatically become somewhat confined to the existing structure. By having your ideas outlined, there is a higher likelihood of having them be used as the basis on which other decisions are made. Of course, not all of your suggestions will be taken, but by presenting yours first, there is a good chance that people will start with those and modify, add to, or remove from your list as the basis, rather than the room collectively starting from scratch.
That being said, there are some downsides. It is possible that your ideas don’t quite mesh with what the project manager or customer sees as important. In that case, your job is not to push for your ideas to be included, but rather, to see if there is a way to adjust your ideas to the project. Arrogance doesn’t help garner support for your ideas, so be sure to present them as suggestions, rather than requirements, especially when you don’t have the authority to mandate your decisions. Be clear with your suggestions and don’t push too hard. If people see you as overbearing, they tune you out for of the productive teamwork discussion.
Finally, and I would argue most importantly, by presenting your pre-conceived work to the group, including managers and project managers, you are showing to them that you think about problems proactively. This increases your likelihood of being seen as an authority figure on future related issues. By consistently putting yourself ahead of the rest, you open chances for promotions and being included in larger, high profile projects.
Here is my question for you, what reasons would you have for NOT being the most prepared person in the meeting? Obviously the virtues are somewhat obvious, but I’m curious if there are any thoughts on the benefits of being the second fiddle.