I work with highly creative people in fast-paced environments. As a result, "great ideas" come up every day, and the temptation to follow all of them can be powerful. I have found that doing so can be very detrimental to an organization.
Case in point: I spent a substantial amount of money and time on building a system that would allow our customers easy access to their previous research. The project got out of hand as we continued to ideate on all the cool things the system could do, and the development of the system moved us further away from our core business. Ultimately, it was an expensive and unnecessary distraction.
I was talking with Rob Bellenfant from TechnologyAdvice--a digital marketing agency that recently pivoted to a site for matching technology buyers with potential solutions--about this very problem. He told me his company's philosophy for avoiding what it calls Idea ADD:
Learn to Say No
In TechnologyAdvice's early days as a digital marketing agency, Rob told me it tried to be everything for everyone. Video production, Web development, email marketing, SEO strategy, content creation--if a client needed it, TechnologyAdvice tried to deliver it.
Rob realized that trying to do everything for everyone made it difficult to do anything great for anyone. It was holding his company back. He had to learn to say no to certain requests and opportunities, because it would not be in the best interest of both the client and the business.
Lesson: Learning to say no allows you to say yes.
Don't Eliminate Idea Creation; Just Focus It
Rob explained that TechnologyAdvice promotes a collaborative and creative environment, but the company let it get out of hand. The company was incredibly supportive of every new business idea and subsequently invested time and energy into making each of them a reality. The company even tried to make an online dance class a reality.
Very few of the ideas became profitable, because the company was spreading its business resources--especially time--too thin.
To correct this problem, Rob communicated that all ideas should be centered on their core business of technology marketing. I used the same philosophy for my research company. To consider a project or idea, it had to center around talking to users to be a good fit. This rule helps everyone on your team decide if an idea is a "good" idea to pursue.
Lesson: It is important to identify your greatest strength and build your services around that strength.
Act More; Think Less
Ideas are great, but they are worthless without execution. Rob told me that his favorite quote from Inc.'s GrowCo conference came from Morgan Newman: "Inaction leads to failure more often than wrong action."
If you spend more time coming up with great ideas and thinking about ways to bring them to life, you're spending less time actually executing on those ideas. Put great ideas related to your area of focus into action immediately, then analyze and adjust.
Make ideas a reality before you try to make them better. An added bonus to this approach: Your customers will help you understand what needs to be improved to make an idea work.
Lesson: Think production over perfection when building a business.
As you build your business, make sure you structure idea creation in a way that it is helpful, not hurtful, to moving your organization to the next level of success.