Be Willing to Kill Your Favorite Ideas

file3441297827352Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, wrote about a tribe of people with a three-step method for making decisions:

  • During the afternoon, they held a council meeting to review their options.
  • At night they got drunk and made a preliminary decision.
  • After a good night’s sleep, they made their final choice.

This story captures one big reason that being an idea entrepreneur is so hard. Doing our best work literally means splitting ourselves in two.

One self is the drunken brainstormer who celebrates any and all ideas.

The other self is the cold-stone-sober critic who’s slept well, eyes the bottom line, minds the deadlines, and makes a binding decision.

One self is perpetually open-minded. The other is eternally skeptical.

Both of these are necessary. And they are never fully at peace with each other.

I often remember this when thinking about my clients. Many of them are highly creative. During a brainstorming session, some of them rise to a state of near-intoxication. They get high on sudden insights. They live for thrill of the loudest, latest, newest concept. They go to bed drunk with a fresh young idea and wake up in the morning wondering what happened.

The solution is being willing to kill ideas. Not all of them. Just most of them. Why? Because life is short. We cannot possibly take all our ideas and turn them into a finished book or other product or service. There’s just not enough time for that.

In the clear light of sobriety, we perceive the truth: Not all ideas are created equal. Some really are better than others.

Even the ideas that get us high can—when we actually try to manifest them in the material world—crumble to dust. Some of those ideas that we love so dearly are all heat and no light, all shine and no substance.

Keep in mind that “killing” an idea can mean kindly placing it in storage. In his wonderful book Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky recommends that you create a “back burner list.” This is a place to store juicy, low-priority ideas that you’re not willing to give up—just yet.

With these ideas stored safely out of sight, you can get back to the sometimes boring—and ultimately profitable—business of completing your current projects. This often means tackling one dull task after another until the last page is proofread, the cover is designed, and the book is ready to ship.