What’s the point of mediocre ideas?

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas
Linus Pauling

This is an old observation, bordering on bromide. I’ve used it before and will most likely use it again.

This comes to mind as I was thinking about a chance encounter with my CEO as he came out of a meeting. Clare, another of our partners, had brought up a technique from on old self-help book and Mel wanted to know what I thought.

I was familiar with the book and the technique. I had read to book years ago and didn’t find the technique terribly helpful. I’m not naming the book, the technique, or the author because that isn’t the point. The point in the moment was that Clare had scored a small status point with Mel and I had lost a point. It comes to mind today as another aspect of trying to balance between efficiency and effectiveness in a work world that runs on ideas.

Linus Pauling isn’t the only fan of lots of ideas. We’re all familiar with brainstorming and the exhortations that “there are no bad ideas”, despite the mounds of evidence to the contrary. For all the popularity of brainstorming inside organizations, few seem to be aware of the evidence that it isn’t a particularly effective technique. How do you bring that evidence into an organization that is fond of brainstorming?

In an efficiency world you fire out ideas to ensure that you get credit for them. In an effective world you make choices to not waste other people’s time at the risk that your decision to skip the stuff you deem unimportant will never garner any recognition or reward.

I’m not generally a fan of sports metaphors but there’s something here akin to hitting in baseball. You can’t get a hit if you don’t swing. If you do swing, you’re more likely to miss than to get a hit. Swing and miss too often and you’ll lose the opportunity to swing at all. One challenge is learning to choose your pitches. Another is to figure out how to get enough at bats to get pitches to look at.

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