Letting Go of Precious Things - How do you abandon ideas?
Recently there was a radio segment on my local station, WHYY, regarding a group of tech entrepreneurs and their pursuit of a novel use of the iPhone as an emergency visibility light for cyclists. The report mentioned the fact that the group had a failed Kickstarter campaign and they were wondering where to take their idea next, or if they should abandon it altogether.
[Side note: For those of you who have not experienced Kickstarter, this crowdsourced funding site has gained some notoriety (mostly good) for the way it has opened possibilities for funding ideas (products, books, albums, movies) which otherwise might have died for want of cash. It’s not without it’s challenge, but I digress and this is absolutely a topic for another #innochat! Here’s an overview.]
Back to our stated topic…
As you might have gathered, this issue struck a chord with me. One of the challenges I see with my clients, and have experienced personally, is knowing when to let go of what are thought to be good ideas. If innovation is a volume game on the ideation front, then it is an editorial game on the execution front. I have heard many, mostly unsavory, phrases for this winnowing process but that does not mean it is not incredibly valuable in order to maintain focus and momentum.
This issue has been raised in multiple arenas. Back in June Dorrie Clark wrote at Forbes online on Scott Belky’s (CEO of Behance and creator of the Action Method productivity tool) approach to making ideas happen. She notes that Belsky sees a need to convince people to say “no” more often.
Ryan Holiday, at FastCompany online, wrote of the need for companies to have a Chief Dissent Officer, which captures this idea by the establishment of a formal or informal naysayer role. He sees it as a critical ingredient in preventing an organization from pursuing foolish ideas through group think or group bias, and he notes,
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once jotted down in his notebook: "No grand idea was ever born in a conference but a lot of foolish ideas have died there."
This is a belief I hold dear, too, as I consider it a powerful framing device especially when thinking strategically. “What will we not do?” is a very useful question for helping an organization chart and maintain a clearer strategic path. The use of “no” is a critical process in innovation, too.
Which does not make it an easy proposition at all.
Based on the failed effort at innovation in the radio report, and on the seeming reluctance of the inventor to abandon his perceived great idea, I was left wondering, “How might we better recognize when to abandon a less-than-fruitful idea?” And, “What ways are best to force that decision process and execute it?”
As you might have guessed I'll be moderating this chat. You have been warned.
Our questions to consider this week are:
- What ideas in the public domain do you think should have been set aside earlier? Why?
- What signs do you experience that tell you it is time to let an idea go?
- What is your process for letting go of an idea?
- When ideas are abandoned, should they be: mothballed, to potentially be reused; buried, to serve as fertilizer for more productive efforts; or, become "dead to us", so that we never speak of them again?
Note: It seems this is a timely topic. Les McKeown has a post over at Inc.com on a topic very similar to this, Know When To Pull The Plug. You should check that out, too. His focus is from a broader action perspective and equally valid.