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.