Paint & Pipette
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Paint & Pipette

To Make Room for Innovation, You’ve Got to be Willing to Kill Ideas

One of the most common responses to the realization that thousands of ideas are necessary to get a good idea is, “ So am I supposed to drop everything and come up with 2,000 ideas before doing anything else? “ It’s an intimidating figure no matter how you look at it, and the prospect of coming up with thousands from the get-go is almost paralyzing.

I find it’s helpful to think not just of volume, but also velocity. Flow is as critical an aspect of ideaflow as ideas are. Your flow rate is largely a function of your rate of experimentation. Which is to say, the way to move forward isn’t to generate thousands of ideas before doing anything else — that would result in an ideadam — but to have an instinct towards moving things forward in a rapid manner. Scrappy experiments are the way to determine which ideas warrant further investigation.

The goal is to create ideaflow — not an idea pond. Movement matters.

It’s counterintuitive, but killing ideas is essential to the creative process. Killing ideas frees up resources and attention that could be directed elsewhere. My friend and colleague Bob Sutton shared this anecdote on his blog: “Steve Jobs advised (a team of senior executives) that killing bad ideas isn’t that hard — lots of companies, even bad companies, are good at that. Jobs’ argument went something like this: ‘What is really hard — and a hallmark of great companies — is that they kill a lot of good ideas.’” Steve Jobs reportedly told Nike’s then-CEO Mark Parker, “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things. You have to pick carefully.”

Case in point: lists over 260 products that the search giant has axed. The reality is that every product that gets killed frees up precious resources for forward-looking exploration.

It’s much harder for us to remove something we’ve already begun. But to feed the flow, sometimes it’s essential to harvest experimental learnings, and move forward.

Related: Have Lots of Ideas
Related: Make Experiments Cheaper
Related: Add Subtraction
Related: Reflect on Experiments
Related: The Dynamic Duo: Ideas and Experiments

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Originally published at on May 9, 2022.



We’ve gotten creativity all wrong. Profound misunderstandings of how creativity works keep us from our most breakthrough thinking. Paint & Pipette illuminates the often counterintuitive tactics that drive differentiated outcomes across industries and disciplines.

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