• October 2010

How To Separate True Inspiration From The Fad of the Moment

By Dr. Alice Waagen
Founder and President
Workforce Learning

I suffer from a malady that plagues many business owners/founders. I call it innovate-itis.

The symptoms look like this: A new business idea comes to you out of the blue and grips your brain and imagination. Your eyes brighten, your face flushes, your speech speeds up — and sometimes slurs — while your pulse races. “This is the one!” you say to yourself.

It is the ultimate killer app, the world’s best mousetrap. It’s the product or service that will to make you millions and put your company on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

And then … another big idea comes roaring in, and the cycle begins again.

Are you a victim of innovate-itis?

If so, inspiration will never be your problem. The real challenge will be execution. And the true malady is lacking the patience and perseverance to stay focused on the few stellar ideas through to full implementation.

If left unchecked, the innovative entrepreneur will run a business into the ground, generating numerous half-developed products and services, untried and potentially flawed.

A testament to the fatal nature of innovate-itis came from a client of mine, a VP of product development for a midsize software firm: “I’ve had three major projects tabled this year because my resources were redeployed to other new product teams. Sales whines all the time that they have nothing to sell since we‘re more than six months behind on new product releases.”

What’s the cure for innovate-itis?

Sadly there is no cure. Those attributes that create great entrepreneurs—vision and drive and impatience with status quo—are a deep part of the psyche and can’t just be turned off.

But I’ve devised some concrete tactics for myself over the years that help me take great ideas to completion:

  • Create a “Big Idea” file. It can be a notebook or plastic container where you pop in scraps of paper with your ideas. Periodically pull the file or notebook out for review. If it is a sound idea, it will stand the test of time. If not, you will not have wasted precious resources on it. This “cooling off” period enables you to separate true, viable inspiration from the fad of the moment.
  • Organize a Big Idea advisory board. Invite people to join who know your market and who are thoughtful, analytical “devil’s advocates.” Bring those Big Ideas to them to question and criticize. I have a buddy for whom the glass is forever half empty. If Joe says my idea has merit, I know I have a winner.
  • Hire an “executor.” Some individuals have a wonderful ability to take a concept and see it through to its completion. These folks thrive on bringing high-level ideas to life. If you lack this skill set, get someone to augment your genius with down-to-earth tactics.
  • Set measureable, observable metrics for success for any idea or concept. That way, you will know when it is “done” and ready for market. Some innovators want to endlessly tinker with things before they are ready to launch. Early on, decide what “good enough” looks like, then focus your energy on getting there.
  • Track your implementation rate. What is the percentage of ideas that truly generate revenue and help you grow your business? If the percentage is high, fantastic. But if you have shelves of half-finished projects, you need to take a serious look at your skills and abilities at execution.
  • Take your time. Intelligent innovation has low waste, so if your gift is to innovate and inspire — as it is for most entrepreneurs — augment it with tactics that slow things down. Smart growth means optimal use of resources with minimal waste. Keep having those great ideas, but slow down, test the waters, and develop a team that will see those ideas through to fruition.


About Alice Waagen

Alice Waagen, Ph.D., is president and founder of Workforce Learning LLC, a leadership development company she founded in 1997. In the past three years alone, more than 125 leaders from 24 organizations have graduated from Alice’s unique leadership-development workshop series.

Learn more about Alice’s work at www.workforcelearning.com.

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