Provocative post on innovation by Robert Sutton. Experts in innovation such as IDEO look to implement about 0.3% of the ideas they come up with, and ultimately they cull not just bad ideas, but also good ones, to ensure that the ideas that get implemented are truly excellent.
It’s an interesting observation, if the ideas that you are killing are strong, then the bar for the projects that you do implement is likely sufficiently high that you can have confidence in their success.
“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?