The Pursuit of More Ideas

the pursuit of more

With a rebel yell, he cried “more, more, more!”

In Jim Collins’ book How the Mighty Fall (affiliate link), Collins gives the five steps that most companies go through on their way from success to failure. The second stage is the “undisciplined pursuit of more”.

This is the stage of decline where the company becomes successful and starts to believe that anything they do will turn to gold. No idea is a bad one! Expand, expand, expand! These companies spread themselves too thin across too many (unproven) ideas, while not tending to the thing that brought them their initial success. They effectively kill the Golden Goose.

Ideas are hard. They’re easy to generate, but hard to filter and even harder to finish.

I try to swing for the “sweet spot” in the idea distillation process:

  1. Capture every idea
  2. Mercilessly pare the list down

This is incredibly hard to do, and takes practice. Mostly, because ideas are sneaky.

Most ideas start out innocently enough: They look “really easy” or “won’t take much time”. The worst is when a really good idea is deemed “a gold mine!”.

(Have you ever noticed how people never talk about the process of building gold mines? You need transportation, lots of manpower, financial backing, workers, managers, oh, and copious amounts of dynamite. And that’s just breaking ground. It’s not easy.)

Nobody wants to admit that finding the gold is often the easiest part.

Scott Belsky, (the guy who knows how to make ideas happen), believes that having too many ideas is detrimental. In fact, his team only spends 1% of their time generating new ideas. An intern at Behance was saddened to discover that her time there probably wouldn’t be spent generating new ideas at all.

Our eager intern was clearly disappointed when she realized that we spend less than 1% of our time generating ideas. As our founder explained to her mid-way through her time in the office, ‘if anything, we have a surplus of ideas. Excess ideas are our greatest cost. What we need is fewer ideas.’ In addition, our intern observed that the team essentially lives in ‘execution mode.’ Not much fun.

This business of taking on too much and trying too many ideas is easily my achilles heel. I’m guessing it’s many of yours too.

So how do you combat the idea generation addiction? Or do you? I think there are many ways to tackle this, and I’d love to hear your take.

Photo by misocrazy

Leave a Comment

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Nikoya March 2, 2011, 2:39 pm

    Wow.. This is me all day, and even some businessmen that I have interned for as well. I always take an idea for gold – then after the fact realize, exactly what you said, that it is a huge amount of work. The only way I calm this part of my idea brain is to write. It tames and organizes… that helps me to see the bigger picture in the beginning.

    :) Nice post – this is my 1st time visiting, I will be back.

  • Alison Moore Smith February 10, 2011, 3:11 pm

    This is one of those non-intuitive genius ideas.

    As entrepreneurs, my husband and I have an idea book that that we add to regularly. We don’t mercilessly edit from the *book*, but absolutely we pare down what we will actually *do* in a given time — based on what we feel will have the best ROI.

    Thanks for the great insight.

  • Toni Powell February 2, 2011, 7:40 am

    Such an interesting idea to have LESS ideas!! I like it! Great blog, just found it tonight.

  • Lauren E January 26, 2011, 8:26 am

    Certain aspects of this can be beneficial for reflection in personal lives as well. Thinking and creating and capturing new ideas is vital to our growth as individuals. But it is also important to narrow down ideas in order to make decisions or choices that would be beneficial. By thinking openly, but also making choices, we examine what actions need to be made in our lives for our wellbeing, and to be successful in whatever we do. While new thoughts are beneficial, too many broad thoughts can create internal conflict. This post makes a gold point of both sides and finding balance.

  • Riley Harrison January 25, 2011, 4:47 pm

    Well I certainly feel that intern’s pain. Having good ideas is the fun and easy part of the process. This illumination phase is when you feel you are in the groove. After I have that “AHA” moment and capture it, I will just sit on it and let it marinate in my brain. If it gets past that phase, I’ll do some sort of due diligence to evaluate the merit of the idea.

  • Tomas Nihlén December 18, 2010, 10:27 am

    Wow, that hit me spot on… I’m always coming up with new ideas and it causes great stress since time is limited. In theory I understand that it is impossible to execute all ideas but in practice it’s so hard to “kill your darlings”.

  • Peter G. James Sinclair December 15, 2010, 11:13 pm

    Even when pursuing ideas I do the 6.

    Here is the principle that guides me…..

    In the early 1900s when Ivy Lee advised the managers of Bethlehem Steel to list their top priorities and to then work on tasks in that prioritized order, not proceeding until a task was completed, he was rewarded handsomely.

    Charles M. Schwab, who was the head of the company at the time, paid Lee $25,000 because of the power of his advice that positively effected the performance of his managers and of his entire company.

    Personally, I have found that the discipline of writing a prioritized list of the six major things that I need to do for the next day, at the end of each day numbered 1,2,3,4,5,6, has helped me to work with greater purpose, direction and efficiency.

    ……now that’s a great IDEA!

  • Ralph@retirement lifestyle December 7, 2010, 6:49 pm

    Granted you need to limit the number of ideas that you actually persue but don’t you need to generate a lot of ideas in order to find the one or two that are great? Then I suppose you need to judgment to know the difference. This raises a question. Is it better to stop with the first idea and run hard with it or generate a bunch and then pick what you think is the best?

  • Chris November 28, 2010, 10:23 pm

    I think that I fall in the same boat of way too many ideas. I sort of disagree with the whole premise of “we have too many ideas” though.

    I think that having ideas, writing them down, finding the ones that stick, then moving forward on them is important. Idea generation isn’t the problem, it’s idea filtering that causes creative people grief. What I have had to do is realize that not every idea is something to pursue at the moment. Maybe when I have have more time or resources I can get around to it.

    So, what I do is create an extended Someday/Maybe list that is literally a dumping ground of good ideas that I can’t do at the moment, or even in the next couple of years. I review them maybe every month or whenever I feel like it.

    Doing it this way allows me to have as many ideas as I want; it allows me to put things good ideas on the back burner until I am ready for them.

    Thanks for the post.

    • glen November 29, 2010, 8:00 am

      I don’t think there’s a problem with having too many ideas either. I completely agree with the fact that the problem is the filtering of ideas.

  • Dan M November 19, 2010, 12:06 pm

    I hear you re: taking on too much and trying too many ideas. That flat-out destroyed me over the summer. I took on way too many commitments, and while I enjoyed all of them individually, it was impossible to do all of them *properly* at once.

    I’ve realized that the way I fall into this trap is by looking at my calendar. When considering a new commitment, I check to see if I have time for it in my week. This is stupid because I will always find hours somewhere in my week to handle something new and exciting. And so, I’m doomed to overload myself.

    My solution for handling this from now on is to try to focus on energy-commitment rather than time-commitment. Who cares if I have time to join your soccer team? If I don’t have enough energy to really push myself on the field at every game, it’s not worth doing. That’s kind of an obvious example, but it applies just as well to things like web design and public speaking.

    Maybe the same concept would work for ideas, too. Instead of “how many of these do I have time to execute?” we should start asking “how many of these do I have the energy to execute *well*?”

    • glen November 19, 2010, 9:47 pm

      Instead of “how many of these do I have time to execute?” we should start asking “how many of these do I have the energy to execute *well*?

      I like that. I’ve never tried it (probably should), but I’ve heard great things about energy graphs, which you kind of describe.

  • jDesai November 19, 2010, 6:29 am

    Coming up with a hundred ideas is cool but what’s cooler is to effectively narrow down to the one that actually have some substance and the potential to grow and hit the right chord among your customers. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  • Jen Boys November 17, 2010, 7:45 am

    Reading this was like someone just put the spotlight on what happened to my company before it basically imploded after only 5 years in business. We started doing well and we started to go crazy, brainstorming pages and pages of the next big idea, all the while allowing that first big idea to sit untended. Instead of developing that first idea we were idea hungry, almost all of which did nothing but take up thinking time and never got to a doing stage. We should’ve put down the notebooks and focused on doing what we did right in the beginning.

    Oh well, bygones. At least I feel like I learned something and I won’t make that same mistake twice.

    • glen November 17, 2010, 8:56 am

      Hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20 :)

      I’m glad you were able to learn from the situation, though.

  • Shay November 16, 2010, 4:41 pm

    Like you, I find the hardest part of this whole process is hitting the sweetspot – not only in generation of ideas, but in execution.

    Ideally, I’d like to pour work into good, valid ideas while they’re still good and valid, but avoid missing opportunities by suppressing idea generation.

    I also don’t want to get left in the lurch if my “good idea” becomes suddenly less good (competitor introduces, feasibility not there, cost too high, timing wrong, etc.). I want to have something to move onto next, thus need to keep the idea cycle flowing.

    Scale is also an issue – at large companies, constant idea generation can hinder. At small, nimble companies, idea generation can inspire and inform.

    Balance, to be sure, is key.

    • glen November 17, 2010, 8:55 am


      Yeah, I definitely think there’s always going to be the “what if?” questions around any idea. That’s why I just have a massive list of “someday/maybe” ideas and only throw the idea away if I’m absolutely certain it’s going to work.

      I’ve got really old ideas that I probably should throw away in the list, but there’s a chance that I can use bits of it later.

      Some might frown on this, but it works well for me :)

      • Shay November 20, 2010, 10:53 am

        I completely see the challenge of keeping ideas around – just on the idea that someday, somehow, you may be able to salvage something useful from one of them.

        I struggle with the same problem. I’ve recently decided that the work of carrying these ideas, much like things, is more than it may be worth if one eventually becomes useful.

        Less is more, even with ideas. For me, anyway.