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Even the greatest visionaries fall victim to it.
You’re sitting at home or in your office, and out of nowhere inspiration strikes. What once was a confused jumble of unrelated concepts comes together to form a great business idea.
Before you even write down your idea, your mind starts racing. You’re thinking of ways to make it better, excitedly identifying areas that could be altered, tinkered with or improved. By day’s end, it no longer resembles a fledgling concept. Instead, it’s morphed into an intricate roadmap for an innovative business venture.
You didn’t realize it, but as soon as you started improving your initial idea, you almost guaranteed it never would see the light of day. A certain type of creativity kills viable business ideas. Here are four reasons why.
1. Creative ideas are meaningless on their own.
Most companies aren’t innovative, but that’s not because entrepreneurs lack the capacity for creative thinking. Harvard professor emeritus Theodore Levitt suggests it’s quite the opposite. People have an abundance of creative ideas that simply are too challenging to implement effectively.
Creative ideas on their own, therefore, are relatively unimportant to a business. What really matters is an organization’s ability to put these ideas into action. The more unconventional the idea, the harder it is to apply — and the less likely it is to become reality.
Ideas don’t implement themselves. If you have real hopes of seeing your business materialize, you must keep your ideas as simple as possible (at least initially).
2. Small adjustments can cause big roadblocks.
Every idea can be improved upon. It’s often tempting to share your opinion when you think you’ve identified a better way to do something. But even small adjustments can make simple ideas much harder to implement.
Renowned business coach Malcolm Goldsmith refers to this as “offering too much value.” It’s the tendency to improve an idea without thinking about how these changes impact implementation. A creative change that might appear insignificant on a conceptual level could have serious practical implications. Perhaps it drives a need to raise extra money, create additional supporting infrastructure or spend weeks longer getting a project off the ground.
Related: 3 Perspectives of Visionary Leaders
True, companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google make it their mission to continually improve their ideas. And this type of ongoing iteration is a central aspect of the Japanese philosophy of work, kaizen. How, then, can anyone argue that improving ideas is somehow counterproductive?
Here’s my suggestion: Be mindful of the order in which these revisions occur. It’s better to start a project with an idea that’s easy to implement and improve upon it later.
3. Creative ideas give you a false feeling of fulfillment.
Some people generate dozens of new business all the time, each one more exciting than the last. The problem with compelling ideas is you get an uncontrollable urge to share them with everyone you know. Scientists suggest this actually makes you less likely to pursue them.
Psychologists at New York University attribute this to a phenomenon called “symbolic self-completion.” Simply sharing a goal with someone makes you feel as if you’ve already accomplished it.
It’s a vicious circle. The more creative ideas you generate, the more compelled you are to tell people about them. The more you tell people about your ideas, the more you feel as if you’ve achieved them. As a consequence, you’re less likely to act on the idea and build the business you’re imagining.
Escaping this cycle takes practice. Research suggests creating a company that’s both viable and innovative requires more than just dreaming up ideas and telling others about your epiphanies. Apart from implementation, much of the innovation process relies on observation, experimentation and networking with people who have radically different perspectives. None of this can happen if you diminish your resolve to pursue an idea in the first place.
4. Too many ideas distract you.
Novel ideas sometimes become distractions. Big thinkers have an uncanny ability to captivate themselves and others with brilliant notions, many of which are a welcome diversion from the boring tasks and mundane procedures that require sustained momentum.
Progress within an organization, however, doesn’t rely on impulse and bursts of creative genius. It requires order and routine — both of which are compromised when your mind is constantly darting from one idea to the next. Yes, new ideas are valuable. But too many of them can paralyze you and render you incapable of deciding which one deserves your focus and other resources.
Psychological researchers call this cognitive process “choice overload” because too many options can be overwhelming. A greater number of choices can result in increased dissatisfaction and regret. You second-guess yourself, you wonder whether you latched onto the right idea, and you become unhappy imagining how alternate scenarios could have made your life better.
Creative ideas are an important part of innovation, but they can become obstructive if you don’t act upon them appropriately. Rein in your ideas and focus your energy on developing one until it bears fruit. This mental transition will empower you to grow a business that’s actually viable instead of being left with a tangled web of ideas.