Entries in ideas (2)


The Myths of Ideas Part 2

One of the more frequent questions in my seminars is “can you have too many ideas?”

The simple answer is yes.  The more complex and provocative answer is yes and no.

The classic story behind my answer comes from Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University.  Sutton related a story about Steve Jobs in the Harvard Business Review.

“Yahoo.. had Steve Jobs in to address their top 100 or so bosses. Jobs advised them that killing bad ideas isn’t that hard — lots of companies, even bad companies, are good at that. He insisted that what is really hard — and a hallmark of great companies — is killing good ideas. For any single good idea to succeed, it needs a lot of resources, time, and attention, and so only a few ideas can be developed fully. The challenge is to be tough enough to do the pruning so that the survivors have a chance of being implemented properly and reaching their full potential.”

If you are an idea-driven company like IDEO or Pixar having 1,000+ plus ideas on a problem challenge or project is not only typical, it’s expected. In every seminar I do, I get participants to create 500 ideas in less than 20 minutes.

But for a typical company, this may seem overwhelming and unnecessary because evaluating or bucketing those ideas isn’t a core or developed skill. 

Sutton has a great take on this:  “…when a lot of ideas are whittled down to a precious few — (there) should (be) two major filtering stages: one where you get rid of the bad ideas and then another where you toss the good ideas that aren’t quite good enough to justify a thinner spread of resources, a greater diffusion of focus, and possibly a more complex customer experience.

Here are two good Sutton questions:

So, getting back to the original question.  “Can you have too many ideas?” 

The answer is “it depends.”

It depends on whether your team or company is trained to create, evaluate, ctivate or park multiple ideas.  It depends on a management team or leader that has the ability to kill good ideas because you’ve created a Frankenstein project where ideas compete for attention and actually hinder.  And it depends on whether or not individuals are trained to come up with more than usual quota of ideas.

Do you know how to cluster ideas? Are you familiar with affinity mapping?

Look for Idea Myths, Part 3 coming soon.




The Myths of Ideas

In 1900, Mark Twain gave a speech called “The Disappearance of Literature” and told the rapt audience:

“I don’t believe any of you have ever read PARADISE LOST, and you don't want to. That's something that you just want to take on trust. It's a classic, just as Professor Winchester says, and it meets his definition of a classic -- something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

Ideas often follow in the same territory.

Everyone wants good ideas, but most don’t want to do the heavy lifting and difficult decision making to bring those ideas to life. Like life, ideas can be messy.  They interfer with the anticipated order of things.

I believe that one of the biggest myths about ideas is that you have to act on them. *

In seminars, I’ve coined a phrase: “Ideas aren’t mandates.”

Ideas, especially provocative or disruptive ones, are often perceived as threats.  And smaller, more incremental ideas are sometimes seen as a nuisance – an extra note on an already well-written song.

What I am talking about is mental plasticity or agility.  It is being truly open to ideas. It’s about listening, entertaining, discussing, deliberating, or tabling ideas -- no matter how seemingly disruptive.

To put this in context, many of my seminars begin with quick experiment with Ned Herrmann’s brain dominance theory. So participants fall into one of four thinking styles. 

Of the four thinking styles, there is a one that has a bias for action.  In a group, this trait is highly valued.  But participants in this group literally “wince” when a new idea is put on the table. 

The idea here is not to let new ideas derail you – but allow them to speak – sometimes softly and sometimes loudly.   

* By acting on ideas – I mean the need to put them into action not the more embracive term of act as any mental effort or consideration.