How to Kill A Good Idea, Quickly

I have these great ideas. Books, articles, client questions, TED Talks, observations, or suggestions have all triggered moments of brilliance.

Sometimes I am consumed by all the things I could be doing. I’ve even gone so far as to reduce the time I devote to inquiry in order to stem the tide of ideas.

Nothing worked until I experienced a client that did the exact same thing. He was completely and utterly stuck on what to do next because every idea was precious. “That’s a good idea, isn’t it? We should do that.” So instead, nothing got done.

I could easily see how many of his ideas weren’t worth pursuing, but I needed to understand how I came to that conclusion and address the reasons he couldn’t. In order to help my client and myself, I wrote out my filtering criteria in order of priority. If I could learn to do this filtering for myself, then I could legitimately help others do the same.

Where to start?

My children had a lot of great teachers. One, in particular, happened to be an accomplished author and coached interested children through writing workshops. One of the best lessons she shared was about deleting your favorite sentence. Her point was – and I paraphrase, “If you fall in love with a sentence, delete it. You will spend too much time writing around it. By deleting it, you will work harder to ensure that the thought lives on.”

Don’t stop having great ideas, but learn what to do with them.

The same is true for the ideas, initiatives, and programs we come up with for our businesses. A great idea can make a lot of noise, scream for your attention, but deliver nothing of value. It can distract you from the things that will do a better job of accomplishing your goals. The lesson isn’t to stop thinking, it’s to learn what to do when the sentence takes over your writing or the business initiative displaces more immediate needs. The ideas you actually pursue have to meet certain criteria. Here’s my method for processing filtering out the unimportant ones:

What to pursue:

  1. Ideas that can be completed – time, resources, skills
  2. Ideas that allow another more important idea to happen
  3. Ideas that are urgent and important
  4. Ideas that support your true goal

Think of this as a funnel with filters. Each filter is finer, and the ideas that make out the bottom have been fully vetted and should be pursued right away. Store ideas that exceed your bandwidth, aren’t vital, get in the way of more important things, or don’t currently align with your business goals. However, don’t throw these ideas away. Save them.

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What to do with these stored ideas:

  1. Let it cook – This idea needs more thought
  2. Save for later – Consider this idea again when [specify a milestone] happens
  3. Rejected with reasons why. If it comes up again, you can quickly dismiss.

Important note: If an idea lives too long in your stored items list, it becomes a distraction. My rule of thumb: If I reconsider something three times and it doesn’t move up the list, it gets archived.

I have ideas all the time for blog posts, papers, marketing initiatives, keynote presentations – you name it. They are all brilliant at inception, but when I store them properly and come back later to see if their time has come, most of them turn out to be rubbish. I know my assistant appreciates that I am starting fewer dead-end projects. I bet your employees will appreciate it if you did the same.