Is the hallmark of a great company its ability to resist half-heartedly attempting to implement good ideas, but rather to focus on perfectly implementing a few of the best? Steve Jobs thinks so. From Bob Sutton “Wisdom From Steve Jobs: The Importance of Killing Good Ideas”:
[Steve] Jobs’ argument went something like this: What is really hard – and a hallmark of great companies – is that they kill at lot of good ideas. Sure, this is tough on people who have come-up with the good ideas as they love them and don’t want to see them die. But that for any single good idea to succeed, it needs a lot of resources, time, and attention, and so only a few ideas can be developed fully. Successful companies are tough enough to kill a lot of good ideas so those few that survive have a chance of reaching their full potential and being implemented properly. I would also add that this approach also applies to good product and experience design. If every good idea is thrown into a product, then the result is a terrible and confusing experience. (This seems to be the problem with the latest version of Microsoft word, it does everything, so therefore is very annoying and confusing to use.)
If you take this argument to its logical conclusion, it means that innovative companies might keep track of these two metrics:
1. How many good ideas are killed? (If this number isn’t high enough, that is a bad sign.)
2. Are people complaining – even leaving – because too many of their good ideas are killed? (The idea here is that if no one is complaining about this problem, then there aren’t enough being killed. The complaining, and even people leaving, is bad. But if no one is complaining, it is a worse sign. Creating this kind of frustration is an unfortunate byproduct of an effective innovation process and if your people don’t have enough pride and confidence to get upset when their innovative ideas are killed, then something is wrong with them — or your culture.)
These weird metrics may or may not work, but they make sense given Jobs’ argument (which I find quite compelling). His argument also resonates with our experience teaching in the d.school — the groups that often do the worst work have too many pet ideas and can’t bring themselves to kill enough of them, so they don’t do a decent job on any of them. Groups that can’t kill enough ideas also often suffer from bad group dynamics, either because multiple members won’t allow the group to kill their pet ideas, or because the group avoids difficult conversations about which ideas (and therefore whose ideas) to kill, and instead, tries to develop too many ideas (None of which are developed well — which results in collective failure.) As Perry tells our students, there comes a point in the process where you have to kill the ideas you have nurtured and come to love, even though it hurts.