One of my favorite origin stories is of Slack. Fresh from selling Flickr, Stuart Butterfield and his co-founders started a video game company focused on the online experience. Unfortunately, they invested millions into the PC realm right when mobile was rising. Realizing their folly, they laid off virtually the entire team and went back to the drawing board. While they were working on the game, though, they created an extensive internal chat system that allowed them to quickly communicate and share files with each other. With nothing to lose, they began sharing the chat system with friends at Microsoft and other companies. The team was surprised at the response - and realized that their little side project, not their robust video game, was their real hit. 

All ideas are precious - until we let them walk away from us. It's not until we abandon them, share them as a prototype or test them in the market that we understand their true value. Until then, we have no objectivity. Frankly, many of our ideas shouldn't even make it to the prototype stage. It is quality control.

I recently killed many of my stagnant, albeit favorite ideas, because I needed to make space for new potential avenues. But what do you do with those tossed out ideas? Make manure. Here's how mediocre ideas can serve a better purpose.

Take out the good stuff: In the Slack example, Butterfield and company were so focused on the big game that they didn't notice the extremely valuable tool evolving right in their offices. With the shadow of the big project removed, they suddenly saw the potential in all the other parts of their work. It's possible to be too focused on one thing. Killing and dissecting the mediocre idea removes that issue.

Build on them: My first app, So Quotable, was inspired by a broader, more vague app idea I was pursuing. Letting go of the original idea gave me the room to create something even better, and So Quotable led to my TED Book Our Virtual Shadow and prepared me for my app Cuddlr, which was acquired less than a year after it launched. Imagine if I was too afraid to let go of the original idea.

See them resurrected: Not all ideas are meant to become real at this very moment. The Slack team could have noticed the chat potential earlier, but perhaps the market wouldn't have been ready for a smart alternative to IM and email. Accepting that a project isn't ready for prime time is one of my biggest challenges. In retrospect, though, nearly all of my products and services benefited from the delays it took them to come to life. Sometimes an idea is mediocre because the environment doesn't need it yet.

Trust this: If an idea is good enough, then it will bring itself back to life. You don't need to hold it with kid gloves.

Published on: Mar 9, 2016
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