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When people are inundated with choices, they end up being overwhelmed and unable to evaluate anything properly.  Quality is more important than quantity. Focusing on specific problem areas or asking contributors to select only their best ideas to submit are two elimination strategies.

Innovation: Elimination

Posted  on 8/03/09

Room full of people with hands raisedToo many ideas are worse than too few

Dating in NYC syndrome

Anyone who has lived in NYC is familiar with the NYC dating paradox: It is so hard to find a mate in NYC even though the city is full of singles. The reality of the NYC dating paradox is that it is so hard to find a mate because the city is so full of singles. Let's take an example. Molly is single and living in New York City. She decides that she's ready to settle down and find a spouse so she asks her friends to set her up on dates. This being NYC, Molly has a lot of friends who also have a lot of friends, so Molly now  has quite a few dates on her calendar. On date 1, Molly meets Steve and they hit it off, but Molly is concerned that he is an aspiring film maker, not a very steady job. Even though she likes him, she blows him off because she has so many other dates lined up. Date 2 brings Wallace, a lawyer, who is a little on the boring side. Molly attends date 3 with Jack, who is nice and has a good job, but doesn't make her laugh the way Steve did. Kyle is very cute and charming, but not nearly as intelligent as Wallace or Steve, and she really values intelligence. And so Molly continues on two months worth of dates this way, never finding exactly the right man and ends up with 15 extra pounds but no boyfriend. Because Molly has too many people to choose from, she becomes way too picky until no one can meet all her criteria.

Here's another example. You have an open position, determine the qualifications you need and post the position internally. Two weeks later, you have resumes from five qualified candidates. You review these resumes, and they all have the work experience and skills you need . However, one of the resumes just rubs you the wrong way, so you decide to eliminate that candidate and set up phone interviews with the other four. Hopefully, one of them will be the right person for the job.

In contrast, you post the position on the internet and now have resumes from 50 qualified candidates, all with the work experience and skills you need. Clearly, you don't want to interview them all, so you begin the elimination process. You find that 10 have gone to top tier schools, another 10 have worked in the same industry, and another 10 have advanced software skills. Now you want to find the candidate that has all three new criteria - top tier school, same industry, and software skills.  You have whittled down the 50 resumes to one viable candidate whom you still need to interview.

When we are inundated with choices, we naturally start our own elimination process in order to get to a manageable number. We can't properly evaluate 50 candidates. Either we increase our original criteria or we change our mindset from finding the right candidates to finding flaws with the candidates in order to eliminate them. I call this the refuting process. When you look for flaws, you will find flaws. The same thing happens with ideas. As the company-wide idea generation gains momentum, the evaluation team becomes flooded with ideas, way too many ideas to process comprehensively and so the refuting process begins and nothing looks good. Fewer ideas means fewer flaws.

Focus, self-select, and, above all, move on

The best way to avoid the refuting process is to avoid being inundated in the first place! Here are some ideas on how to emphasize quality over quantity:

  • Instead of soliciting ideas on everything from everyone,  focus on particular problem areas. You can ask different groups to work on different areas or you can choose one problem area at a time. The important thing is to focus on that problem only and not get side-tracked by other ideas.
  • Ask the teams or individuals to self-select their three best ideas rather than submitting them all.  Let them know that they can always submit ideas later, but right now you need to concentrate on the best. If you use the sponsor method, this won't be necessary. The sponsors will select the ones they think are best.
  • Once you've chosen which ideas to work on, move onto the action plans. If you absolutely must keep a library of old ideas, do so, but remember that these are the ideas that didn't make the cut, there are probably tons more ideas out there, and you need to implement. Do not spend much time or effort on an idea library. You can subscribe to idea banks, like Triz, if you really feel the need to have a database of ideas.

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Got Ideas?

Pile of light bulbsIf you have some ideas for articles, please drop me a note or leave a comment. If you have an article you'd like to contribute or link to,  I will be happy to publish your link and ensure that you get attributed.

Featured Neologisms

Undue diligence   –
the endless process of collecting more information in order to avoid making a decision
Team vynamics   -
Group behavior wherein individuals at a meeting vie for dominance