Should You Only Execute Good Ideas?

The obvious answer to the question in the title is yes, right?

But I’m not so sure that this answer is correct.

I thought of this because of an experiment that Martijn Linssen tried in January – writing one blog post a day for the whole month. In the comments the idea came up that if you set volume goals like this when you blog, then your quality will inevitably suffer.

Julien Smith made the same point quite forcefully in a discussion of how to increase the impact of your blog:

If you’re anything like me, you write your posts, and your titles, with yourself as audience. This results in a majority of posts which rank 6, 7, or 8/10 with the outside world.

Last week, if I didn’t have a 10/10 post, I didn’t publish at all. This resulted in three posts instead of 5-7, and many more subscribers than I’ve gotten in previous weeks combined.

This is important because we often see the same thing when people talk innovation – a lot of the time it is assumed that every idea that we try should be successful.

There is a deep flaw in this thinking – it assumes that we know in advance which ideas will work. But it’s impossible to know in advance which ideas will work.

Sometimes I have a great idea for a post, which I just can’t execute very well. Other times I have a throwaway idea that I execute nicely. The simple fact of the matter is that I don’t know what people are going think are a 10/10 post before I publish it – and no one else does either.

If every idea that you try is successful, this is a sure sign that you’re not trying enough ideas.

Check out this video:

What is being creative? from Kristian Ulrich Larsen on Vimeo.

Once you get over how cool the phone is, pay attention to the points they make at the end:

  • Stay away from the direct path.
  • Take risks.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because it’s from the mistakes that really interesting things happen.

Selecting ideas is a critical part of the innovation process. However, it’s only in executing ideas that their true value is discovered.

Idea selection is important because we all have limited resources. If you write a blog, the limit is usually time. If you run an organisation, the limit can be time as well, or money, or skill.

Nevertheless, the correct answer to the question of how many ideas you should execute is not: “only the good ones.” It is “as many as you can afford to try.”

I’m looking forward to finding out if this was a good idea or not…

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “Should You Only Execute Good Ideas?

  1. Thanks for this Tim. I can attest it is undoubtedly true. Often, my favorite posts tank and ones that seem marginal take off. Many times, the reason why becomes obvious in retrospect.

    In other instances, I find that a post that I thought was a loser resonated with an important, albeit small, constituency.

    This also touches on another, more practical application. You should always offer options to clients rather than one “best” solution. Often, they will choose what you thought was the worst option with the result being that they are not only happier with the outcome, but it costs you less expenditure of resource and effort.

    - Greg

  2. It’s peculiar, isn’t it?

    Your last point is a good one, and dead on. I’ve always tried to do that and it is a very useful tactic.