THE BLOG
11/19/2012 05:21 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2013

To Really Innovate, You've Got to Kill More Good Ideas!

If you've heard me speak, I often refer to doings things better as incrementalism; real innovation comes from doing things differently! Innovation is crucial to every team and organization in its efforts to evolve. As a consultant, my job is to encourage clients to generate and test all kinds of new ideas -- from products and services to even team dynamics. But it's also my job to help them kill off all the bad ideas they generate, and most of the good ideas too! Here is what I mean. If you really apply empirical rigor and critical thinking to your creative ideas, you'll see that to get a few good ideas, you and your trusted portfolio of relationships (both within and external to your organization) need to generate a lot of bad ideas. For example, did you know that the world-renowned industrial design firm, IDEO, generated over 4,000-plus bad ideas to get roughly a dozen commercially viable options for a toy?

I recently worked with a client around a customer-centric innovation campaign. At their annual meeting I spoke about Adaptive Innovation in which I shared that killing bad ideas isn't really that difficult; many companies can stumble their way of doing that and actually get good at it. I believe that to be really difficult and sign of a remarkable leader and a culture, is for an organization that can kill good ideas! Think about it -- for any one good idea to not just survive the due diligence process, but to actually thrive, it needs a great deal of resources, time, effort, capital, and organizational bandwidth; so only a few ideas can really be developed with that much attention.

As such, good products, services, or even experiences depends on tossing out most good ideas. If you keep or try to focus on too many at the same time, the result of any one product becomes a hybrid of all of these other ones. If you create an "innovation funnel," that not only filters out the bad ideas, but also the ideas that weren't quite good enough to justify spreading yourself or your team thin, you eliminate wasting valuable resources, diffusion of focus, and a more complex end product or service than necessary!

Here are three odd but key metrics to consider in leading your "kill more good ideas" campaign:

1. How many good ideas are killed? If this number isn't high enough, it means that either not enough ideas are being generated in the team or the organization, or important hard choices aren't being made.

2. How many people are complaining -- even to the point of leaving -- because of good ideas are being killed? Pruning is really hard as its tough on the people who came up with the ideas and their emotional investments in them. Being the direct cause of their complaining or departure is the antithesis of the relationship-development efforts I espouse. But if no one is complaining, that's even a worse sign -- does it mean the individuals or teams don't have enough pride, passion or confidence in their ideas to get upset when its killed, or the organization really doesn't have a culture of candor?

3. What's the "good idea" to "great execution of that idea" ratio? Do you remember the great deal of resources, time, effort, capital, and organizational bandwidth I mentioned earlier. Every team and organization must measure the efficiency and effectiveness with which, they not just generate a great deal of "good ideas" but also accelerate their time to cash in the execution of those great ideas. Said another way: most organizations need fewer ideas and a more disciplined process to get those ideas to fruition.

The teams that I've worked with that often do the worst work have too many ideas and can't bring themselves to kill enough of them, so they don't do a decent job on any of them! As such, they suffer from bad group dynamics, they avoid difficult conversations and decisions.

For any individual, team or organization to grow, they have to depend on not just coming up with a lot of good ideas but the ability to implement them as well. The best leaders I know teach and inspire their people to accept defeat and learn from failure gracefully and move forward to implement the very best individuals, teams, and organizations have, even if it isn't one of their own!