Why Innovating Means Eliminating Much of What You Have Just Created

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Here is an excerpt from an article by Greg McKeown for Fast Company magazine. He explains why, although it may seem like a waste of time or a step backward, we sometimes need to subtract from our “big ideas” to add to their strengths to be truly innovative. This is what Albert Einstein had in mind when suggesting that if we cannot explain a great idea to a six-year old, we probably don’t understand it. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information , please click here.

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It’s common knowledge that to be innovative, we must first explore, play, and brainstorm. But the second part of the process is more surprising.

True innovation also comes from eliminating, or as Steve Jobs put it, saying no to thousands of ideas so we can say yes to one really great one.

Such a task takes discipline, but with these four steps, you might just be able to come up with something truly innovative.

[Here are the first two.]

1. Flare and focus: To flare is to expand your ideas and explore diverse possibilities, while focusing is about eliminating the nonessential ideas–even really good ones. To breathe life into the ideas that really matter, you must become a disciplined editor.

2. Be the Chief Editor: Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Square and the cofounder of Twitter, says his most important job is to be the Chief Editor of the company. He tries to create a culture where lots of people speak up with ideas and inputs. Then his job is to edit them into the one or two things they can really pursue.

We can see the result on the homepage of Square.com: They have one simple product and one simple “story.” Such simplicity never happens by default; it is always by design.

Reid Hoffman, the cofounder of LinkedIn, put it this way to me:

“Entrepreneurs succeed when they say ‘yes’ to the right project, at the right time, in the right way. To accomplish this, they have to be good at saying “no” to all their other ideas. But when I talk about the role of subtraction in innovation, I’m not just talking about saying no to good ideas, although that is a start. This kind of elimination is about letting the new break through the old. It’s about letting the old way of thinking and doing things fall away in favor of the new visions.”

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Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

Greg McKeown is the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. He writes, teaches, and speaks around the world on the importance of living and leading as an Essentialist. He has spoken at companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, and Twitter and is among the most popular bloggers for the Harvard Business Review and LinkedIn’s Influencers. He is the co-creator of the popular course, Designing Life, Essentially at Stanford University, and serves as a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum.

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