Monthly Archives: December 2009

Ideas: the quest for the ‘best’ can reduce impact

“Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” Dictionnaire Philosophique, Voltaire

The best is the enemy of the good. This is especially true with respect to innovative ideas. It is appealing to think that innovation is a quest to uncover that single, flawless idea. To scramble through the heap of incomplete and flawed thinking to reach the one complete concept, the single idea that is fundamentally superior to the others.

In practise, anything groundbreaking becomes groundbreaking through iteration and refinement. For example, the painter, Van Gogh produced 2,000 paintings and sketches in his lifetime, only a few of them are true masterpieces, most only receiving recognition after his death. In a second example, book publishing is described as more of a casino than a business in this New York Times article, with 70% of books losing money, it is not clear that the solution is to accept less book proposals, because success is so hard to predict. 

The process that creates ‘the best’ ideas is starting with a good idea and iterating based on feedback. If you set the bar too high, or too ‘perfect’ for innovative ideas, two things will happen. Firstly, you won’t have as many ideas to refine and the chance of a having a great idea will be lower. Secondly, your ability to manage a real portfolio will be reduced. Strategy is deciding what not to do, and the broader set of ideas you have to implement, the more opportunity you have to craft a strategic portfolio of ideas to implement. Your great ideas are likely good ideas that mature, not great ideas that you simply identify.

Are you implementing enough good ideas, to get closer to finding a great one? Or are you being too picky?

Peter Drucker and Risk

“People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” Peter Drucker

Are you taking enough risk?

Also, on a related note, have you read enough Peter Drucker? The book The Effective Executive is a good introduction.

Book Review – What The Dog Saw And Other Adventures

Not a project management, but thought-provoking nonetheless, Macolm Gladwell’s most recent book, What The Dog Saw and Other Adventures is not so much a bespoke book as a collection of articles he has written for New Yorker magazine. He groups the articles thematically, but still each chapter is standalone. If you’ve read Gladwell’s prior books, Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, this book lacks a unifying theme, the tone is the same. If you’re new to Gladwell he picks controversial, broad topics, often references academic research aiming to change your perception of perceived wisdom. Gladwell also writes with great structure, his topics are always non-fiction, but he uses vivid descriptions of key people in the events he describes and his reasoning flows throughout the different chapters, often using plot twists resembling fiction. 

Perhaps more interesting is that you don’t actually have to buy the book. All the chapters, except one, are also available free on his site, in addition Malcolm Gladwell’s views on free are here. The links are below: 

The Pitchman The Ketchup Conundrum  

 Blowing Up 

 True Colors 

 John Rock’s Error 

 Open Secrets 

 Million-Dollar Murray 

 The Picture Problem 

 Something Borrowed 

 Connecting The Dots 

 The Art of Failure 


 Late Bloomers 

 Most Likely To Succeed Dangerous Minds The Talent Myth The New-Boy Network 


And another To Do List Application

Teux Deux (pronounced to do) is a clever little browser-based app for viewing your tasks in a calendar format, rather than a list.

Items once created can be dragged onto the day of you choice, crossed out or deleted. There’s also a ‘someday’ category. Currently there’s no sharing support no iPhone app (though one is planned), and no view other than a scrollable consecutive 5 day window but it’s a interesting and fairly minimalist approach to work tracking for the individual.

This is what it looks like:

The application is a collaboration between a designer, SwissMiss and Fictive Kin, who’s main project is an in-progress educational app called Zotsy.

Book Review – Scroogeonomics

Interesting, if pessimistic analysis of Christmas by economist Joel Waldfogel in his book Scroogeonomics, based on a previous article written in 1993 for the American Economic Review on the ‘Deadweight loss of Christmas’. Basically, people are bad at buying presents for others. So bad in fact that the value is often less to the recipient than the cost of the gift. The effect is greater depending on how well the gift giver knows the recipient, as the chart below shows, it’s not all bad news though, spouses are able to create value with gifts.

Relationship Value lost in gift giving
Distant relative -20%
Friends -9%
Parents -3%
Siblings -1%
Spouse +2%

Of course, only an economist could analyze Christmas in this way (and count the cost at $4 billion), but the implication is that money, or gift cards are the way to go.

Professional Services Maturity Model Survey

SPI Research is conducting a survey of professional services firms and their project management maturity, if you take the survey now, you’ll receive a customized report in February, comparing your organization to the benchmark.