You need to learn to kill off good ideas

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I’ve got this friend from back in the ESPN days. He was living in Los Angeles for a while, but getting a little restless with his professional existence. (I think that happens to all of us from time to time, no?) He started applying to jobs, but not in a super-hardcore way, and after about 10–12 months, he got a couple of interviews with a company up in San Francisco. It was more money, yes — although SF is also more expensive than pretty much anywhere else in America, Los Angeles included — and it was with a bigger, more formal company (he was working at a smaller, lower-key place). It was also in CA still, and most of this guy’s family (and a lot of friends) are further back East. We were talking about the SF gig, and I actually kinda said it was a bad idea.

I know that’s a tough thing to say to a friend, but I mean … you gotta weigh everything, even on the ideas that seem really good.

My friend went the other way and took the job; they’ve been in SF for about six-seven months and they don’t love the job, don’t love where they live, and are kinda wishing they’re back in Los Angeles or moving east.

I’m not relaying this story to say “OMG, I’m so f’n good at advice.” Rather, I’m relaying it to say … sometimes an idea is good, right? And because everyone is FOMO on opportunities, we think “Well, we can’t turn down a good idea, right?” Wrong. Wrong. Very wrong. It cripples businesses too.

Check out this post, which is actually based on some stuff from Harvard Business Review. It’s essentially a bunch of quotes regarding tenets of management, right? And then the author gives his own feedback. Here’s an interesting section:

9. “Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. So my job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help kill off all the bad ideas we generate, and most of the good ideas, too.”

Commentary: The last six words of this insight-”most of the good ideas, too”-are what’s really important here. Killing off bad ideas is easy; anybody can do that.Killing off good ideas is much harder, but if you don’t kill most of them, your company and team will dilute its time and energy going in too many directions at once. Remember: good ideas are dime-a-dozen; it’s execution that really matters.

This is what happens in companies when every seemingly good idea is pursued:

  • As noted above, execution is what actually matters.
  • Many of the once-considered good ideas will become bad ideas because of execution problems.
  • The people that proposed them will start to (a) be questioned and/or (b) question themselves.
  • That creates a crisis of confidence in leadership.

Here’s the other series of things that can happen:

  • New projects are kicked to middle managers and rank-and-file employees.
  • They’re kicked without a corresponding responsibility/pay uptick.
  • It can seem like so much trash being thrown over the fence at the core workers.
  • Engagement declines, and people leave.

Here’s the final series of things:

  • Management can be viewed as “chasing shiny pennies” or “chasing the bottom line.”
  • There can be a huge management-regular employee disconnect here.
  • Managers spend all their time meeting with each other anyway, so that disconnect only grows.

Those three sets of bullets above?

Often they can happen concurrently.

So when everything is a good idea and you run with everything, you’re basically simultaneously creating a world where engagement drops, people don’t trust leadership, people don’t think leadership understands them, and everyone feels even more over-worked. It’s hell.

If you deify sports or the military, which many people in business do, think about this: if a coach is in the Super Bowl and it’s 3rd and 7 and they need to convert right there, he has about 131 plays he can call, and he has called on 3rd and 7 before. They’re all theoretically “good” ideas. Does he chase them all? No. Of course not. He can’t. There’s a play clock and everything.

Remember all this, then: don’t chase consensus (it’ll never be there in the right way) and don’t chase every good idea. I know we all fear missing opportunities, but overloading everyone with more crap just to “not miss out” does way more harm than good.

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