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Innovation Inspiration: Why You Need to Throw Away Your Idea List Today

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Man contemplates a full board of his innovation ideas.

“To-do lists tend to be long; success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions; the other aims you in a specific direction. One is a disorganized directory and the other is an organized directive.”

—Gary Keller, founder of Keller Williams, entrepreneur and best-selling author

Idea Lists are long. Success Lists are short.

Idea Lists pull us in all directions. Success Lists help to maintain our aim on our target.

Idea Lists contain everything, and they take us everywhere but where we want to go.

I discovered I wasn’t building my own Idea List around success. My long and exhaustive catalog of thoughts and suggestions were a distraction. I had packed my Evernote notebooks with ideas that gather digital dust. And what did I have to show for it? At times I felt guilt for having sown crops of ideas and having few inventions at harvest to show for it.

Being buried with too many ideas is a not a side-effect of being an innovator. It’s a consequence of having no filter. Choosing to pay attention to one thought or suggestion over another is a costly decision. Flip-flopping between many can be disastrous.

To solve this, we must get clear on what is essential. Then, we need to organize our entire life around those critical things. Everything else is a distraction.

In my experience, it is essential to help people get their jobs done better—whether that’s opening a clogged artery or making a cup of coffee; roofing a house or feeding a farm full of cows to produce the best milk. Getting the job done better may mean getting it done in less time. Or delivering the results with excellence. Or taking fewer resources or less cost to do so.

I’m an innovation consultant, so that means my Success List contains my most important innovation projects. I pay attention to helping them get their most important jobs done better—often this means predictably managing and innovating their product portfolios and reliably growing their businesses.

I organize my day around that critical goal.

I devote the first two hours of my morning to deep work that furthers my top innovation project. I check that box early, so I’ve already had a successful day by the end of breakfast. Except for my energy and my family, everything else comes second.

With a Success List, you’ll spend more time making progress and less doing the things that don’t. You’ll make more progress creating the significant, positive change you want.

So, do you have a laundry list of ideas you think you “need” to create and that leads you to feel overwhelmed? Or a super-focused list of essential things that leads you to real success?

The key to winning the future is to help your people to get their most important job done better. Nothing else matters. What’s the one thing you can do each day to help the people you serve to get their most important job done in less time? With fewer problems? With excellent results? Or at a lower cost?

Scrap your Idea List. Create your Success List. Check the boxes. Daily. Create a string of Masterpiece Days on your way to creating your Innovation Masterpiece.


Eric Eskey

Eric Eskey

Eric Eskey is a Principal of Strategyn and a Practitioner of Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI). As a Practitioner, he focuses on how corporations can create significant positive change with customers using ODI. As a Principle, he oversees everything from Strategyn’s reputation and service quality to the development of its analysts. Eric has more than 17 years of experience with innovation management and corporate venturing. Prior to rejoining Strategyn, he was a Senior Manager in the Innovation and Digital Enterprise Strategy practice of Ernst & Young LLP for two years. He began his career at Tektronix, spent six years with HP leading an R&D team and co-founding a new business creation team, and was a senior Strategy Advisor with Strategyn for ten years. Eric has a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Portland and an MBA from Purdue University. He also holds a certification in change management.

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