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On Pruning Moldy Ideas: Knowing When to Say No

July 5, 2013, 5:00 AM

As human beings we like to collect things.  Companies like to collect things also - people, products, business models.  And we really struggle with letting go.  So, for example, companies struggle with divestiture.  They like to buy stuff, they like to hire people, but they really struggle with letting people go or divesting things. 

This happens also in innovation where we have all of these petri dishes full of great ideas and some are growing, some are growing mold, some aren’t doing anything but we keep them all around.  And what happens is you start to allocate both human capital and capital towards this broad set of ideas.  And the challenge is that as a company you only have finite resources and you need to pick some bets. 

And I think one of the things that’s really important is to be able to prune, continually prune in order to get the right outcome.  Get the things that you believe and you may not always be right but make the bets that are real bets.  And I think a lot of times we don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings, this team’s been around, we loved the idea when it started.  All of these things sort of manifest themselves so they’re on life support.  And we’re just going to give them one more breath of air.  But we keep giving them another breath of air.  And I think what’s really important from a leadership perspective and from a company perspective is that you need to cut the oxygen off a few times, and focus it over in another dimension.

That takes some conviction.  It takes some courage.  You’re going to hurt some feelings.  You have to be okay with conflict.  You need to be able to say no.  We really struggle both at the human level and the company level to say no.  We always want to say yes because that feels good.  The challenge for companies and for people is to get focused, ruthlessly focused.  And part of doing that is the pruning and deselecting some of the things out of the petri dishes. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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On Pruning Moldy Ideas: Kno...

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