Ideas: Be prepared to pare

Even ideas men must have a ruthless streak. Apple chairman Steve Jobs, the messianic figurehead of the innovation cause, reportedly told Yahoo’s top executives that killing bad ideas wasn’t hard; what’s hard was killing good ideas. “The best-managed enterprises don’t just recognise the flowers among the weeds,” says Robert Sutton, management science professor and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss. “They mow down a lot of flowers too.” Pruning pet ideas can be tricky but it’s essential to the discipline of innovation. “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,” Sutton says. As well, an initial green light doesn’t necessarily mean an idea will make it all the way through to implementation. The Grim Reaper is always waiting just around the corner. Hurt feelings or not, persisting with an idea that’s lost its lustre shows a deep misunderstanding of the whole process, argues innovation researcher, Dennis Stauffer. “Simply being persistent is the antithesis of innovation,” Stauffer says. “I’m not saying that persistence has no value. There are times when it can be an admirable quality. What I’m saying is that persistence rarely leads to successful innovation unless it’s coupled with the exploration of multiple options.” ‘Killing’, however, may be too final a term, caution Idea Hunter authors, Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer. “Old ideas can be valuable resources for an idea hunter,” they say. “More often than not, the deferred ideas will live to fight another day.”

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