In Jim Collins’ book How the Mighty Fall, Collins gives the five steps that most companies go through on their way from success to failure. The second stage is the “undisciplined pursuit of more”.
This is the stage of decline where the company becomes successful and starts to believe that anything they do will turn to gold. No idea is a bad one! Expand, expand, expand! These companies spread themselves too thin across too many (unproven) ideas, while not tending to the thing that brought them their initial success. They effectively kill the Golden Goose.
Ideas are hard. They’re easy to generate, but hard to filter and even harder to finish.
I try to swing for the “sweet spot” in the idea distillation process:
- Capture every idea
- Mercilessly pare the list down
This is incredibly hard to do, and takes practice. Mostly, because ideas are sneaky.
Most ideas start out innocently enough: They look “really easy” or “won’t take much time”. The worst is when a really good idea is deemed “a gold mine!”.
(Have you ever noticed how people never talk about the process of building gold mines? You need transportation, lots of manpower, financial backing, workers, managers, oh, and copious amounts of dynamite. And that’s just breaking ground. It’s not easy.)
Nobody wants to admit that finding the gold is often the easiest part.
Scott Belsky, (the guy who knows how to make ideas happen), believes that having too many ideas is detrimental. In fact, his team only spends 1% of their time generating new ideas. An intern at Behance was saddened to discover that her time there probably wouldn’t be spent generating new ideas at all.
- “Our eager intern was clearly disappointed when she realized that we spend less than 1% of our time generating ideas. As our founder explained to her mid-way through her time in the office, ‘if anything, we have a surplus of ideas. Excess ideas are our greatest cost. What we need is fewer ideas.’ In addition, our intern observed that the team essentially lives in ‘execution mode.’ Not much fun.”
This business of taking on too much and trying too many ideas is easily my Achilles heel. I’m guessing it’s many of yours too.
So how do you combat the idea generation addiction? Or do you? I think there are many ways to tackle this, and I’d love to hear your take.
Glen Stansberry writes at LifeDev, a blog that helps people make their ideas happen. You can follow him on Twitter here.