How Too Many Ideas Can Kill Your Business

I’m a creative-type. If you watched the Disney movie “Up” – I’m like that dog, Dug, except instead of squirrels, I go ADHD over new business ideas. Between the ages of 18 and 28, I launched about 15 different companies. I would get excited about something, develop a branding and launch strategy, and happily start generating a few thousand dollars in revenues. Then I’d get some other “great idea” and turn my attention to that while the other business slowly faded away.

To say I lost out on opportunities is an understatement. Of course, most of those ideas probably couldn’t have gone much farther anyway, but there were a few that could have become much more had I known how to switch from Ideas to Execution when the time was right.

Finally, at 29 I started a new company and made a conscious decision to force myself to stick to one idea. It wasn’t easy, but within 3 years, the company had grown from zero to $1.4M in revenue.

When a company is gaining traction, learning to execute effectively can mean the difference between a $100k business and a $10M business.

Ideas are the Enemy

For a new company, ideas are its lifeblood. New ideas represent innovation, growth, new revenue streams, and fresh marketing initiatives. But once the offering is honed, the marketing is humming along, and growth is in the double and triple digits, it’s time to focus on execution -- not ideas.

Creative thinking isn't bad, but as the business matures, all ideas need a singular focus. Define specific goals such as "double revenue", "increase user base", "triple the newsletter list", then aggressively reject any idea that does not directly contribute to these goals. Don’t even take the time to hear them out. They are the enemies of your goals.

A company reaches its potential when everyone is focused on the same goal, not when the team is being pulled in different directions by a constant stream of bright, shiny objects in the form of ideas.

Embrace Friction

If this change is coming on the heels of a year or two in ‘startup mode’, expect a lot of people to be upset. The time for pet projects and 3 hour brainstorming sessions is over. There’s going to be a lot of quiet, head down grinding that needs to happen and that can be a difficult transition for creative types.

Gary Hamel, author of The Future of Management and What Matters Now, said, “You can't build an adaptable organization without adaptable people--and individuals change only when they have to, or when they want to.”

Help the team want to change by:

  • Clearly defining overall goals for the company as well as for individual teams

  • Assigning team leads to project manage and help the rest of the team stay focused

  • Explaining the benefits for reaching, and consequences of missing, assigned goals

Don’t be afraid of a little friction. The team members that were critical and thriving in the “idea days”, may find themselves replaced by the organized manager types during this stage of the company. This shift tends to make people uncomfortable and upset. Be aware of how it affects company productivity, but make it clear that “whining” is not going to change the direction of the company so everyone needs to learn to embrace and contribute to the newly defined goals.

Remember the Ebbs and Flows

Modern businesses need to remain fluid. The world is in a constant state of change and while a company might be in execution mode right now, that doesn’t mean it won’t need to switch gears to get past a plateau in the future. Having short term goals and long term goals, and regularly evaluating performance against those goals, is the best way to determine whether it’s time for hard core execution mode to reach a target, or idea based innovation to overcome the next hurdle.

Finally, in the words of Jack Welsh, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

New ideas can be fun and exciting, but don’t give up when the ‘drive to completion’ gets boring. Stay focused and you’ll be surprised where it can take you.



This was written by a SG contributor.  

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