Why It's Vital to Kill Your Own Ideas

05/15/2015 02:04 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016

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Take out a lottery ticket. Feels good, doesn't it?

All those possibilities, should you win. Freedom. Possessions. Independence.

Ideas are like lottery tickets. They tempt you with change. And we love them for that. But here's a question for you: is your idea better than guesswork?

Truth is, the throw random stuff at the wall and hope something sticks method is dangerous and wasteful. It's akin to playing the lottery. You're not lean if you just build random stuff and throw it out of the building.

The point is not to build stuff. It's to test ideas and the underlying guesswork.

Nick Swinmurn, founder of Zappos, had mastered this. Back in 1999, he had a vision to sell a huge variety of shoes online, all immersed in a great experience. Way ahead of his time. So, what did he do? Just go and write code for 6 months, right?

He posted pictures of shoes online. If someone bought any, he'd physically go buy and ship them himself.

There was no warehouse, no sales team, no anything. But he tested his central idea: whether people will buy shoes online. A clear, small idea, tested quickly and cheaply.

Usually though, your idea won't work. What then? Only one thing for it: you gotta kill it and move on.

Now that's tough, no question. Even when you know there are great things to discover out there. So why is this hard?

It boils down to one thing: your mind. It's just as smart as you are. And let's face it: we love our own ideas. They're a part of us. Why on Earth would we kill something we love?

Your most treasured ideas call into action so much of your personality, you're guaranteed to be attached to them. Can't be avoided.

Think about Webvan, an enormous dot-com era crater. An epic flame-out. With a gigantic total investment of about $800 million, they were wedded to their idea. Sell groceries online, deliver quickly, but most importantly: scale as fast as you can, before you have any evidence of where you're going. Hit the accelerator so hard you can (hopefully) ram right through the brick wall in front of you.

The result? A mountain of cash up in smoke. Not to mention the emotional pain of a dead vision.

The lesson for us? Don't test the entire vision, complete with all its complex parts. Test its most important small bits.

Consider Ocado, another web grocer with a similar vision. Did they test it all at once and launch with a ton of infrastructure? No. They started with three people, working in a tiny London office, doing pilot deliveries.

A vision can be powerful, no doubt. But its power must be harnessed. Ingesting all of it, all at once, every day, harms your perception.

"Don't get high on your own supply."
- Scarface (1983 film)

Wait though. There's a second lesson, and it's profound. Turns out, Webvan may actually have been on to something. Ocado grew into a sizeable player, with a similar business model. Will they become as successful as Webvan was ambitious? Unknown. Yet, something sprung from the ashes.

That's precisely why it's critical to let go of bad ideas. You give yourself a chance to discover greater things.

"Don't let existing knowledge get in the way of exploration."
- Alexander Osterwalder (and others), Value Proposition Design

When it comes to ideas that don't work, it's okay to kill. Because out there, in the space of possibilities, there are always great ideas. Waiting to be discovered. Unbelievable value, just sitting there. But if you hold on to what you already know doesn't work, it'll forever stay out of reach.

Go burn that lottery ticket. Let go.