Why You Should Let Your 'Brilliant' Business Ideas Die

Being able to constantly innovate means seeing opportunity and seizing it, but it also means knowing when to let something go. William Faulkner is believed to have said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” In business, I find it’s the same feeling to build something up, push it out into the world and occasionally let it go. The line between a genius who gets nowhere and a genius innovator is being able to say “no.”

Here’s how entrepreneurs can avoid becoming too attached to ideas, say no to distractions and keep moving ahead toward greater outcomes - even if it means leaving your darlings behind sometimes.

A Declining Culture Of Innovation

There is a direct link between declining entrepreneurship and big business, where people become used to hierarchy and long-term roles with predictable, minor growth. The Atlantic reported that entrepreneurship has declined since the 1970s, with millennials being the least entrepreneurial of any generation. The article argues that while some industries, like technology, have celebrated entrepreneurs as role models, upcoming generations see more and more big businesses and fewer small businesses or startups and are less likely to take risks and innovate themselves.

When it comes to innovation, starting something, of any size, is the first step. You can’t decide between several ideas or programs if you haven’t had the chance and drive to start them in the first place.

The Harvard Business Review takes another stance and segments entrepreneurs into productive and unproductive. The piece also cites a Brookings Institution study, which found that in 2009, there were more businesses closing than opening for the first time in three decades, across all states and all industries (even high tech). What’s the difference? The unproductive entrepreneurs are creating something to obtain a special status with the government or a large company, essentially not sharing their knowledge. The productive entrepreneurs are creating something that is breaking the mold and benefiting society by making something new while also being profitable.

This gives us a good idea of what innovations will and won’t be a success, which is a great starting point for budding entrepreneurs. It’s also a good indicator for seasoned entrepreneurs on what new programs will and won’t work out.

A Declining Culture Of Innovation

There is a direct link between declining entrepreneurship and big business, where people become used to hierarchy and long-term roles with predictable, minor growth. The Atlantic reported that entrepreneurship has declined since the 1970s, with millennials being the least entrepreneurial of any generation. The article argues that while some industries, like technology, have celebrated entrepreneurs as role models, upcoming generations see more and more big businesses and fewer small businesses or startups and are less likely to take risks and innovate themselves.

When it comes to innovation, starting something, of any size, is the first step. You can’t decide between several ideas or programs if you haven’t had the chance and drive to start them in the first place.

The Harvard Business Review takes another stance and segments entrepreneurs into productive and unproductive. The piece also cites a Brookings Institution study, which found that in 2009, there were more businesses closing than opening for the first time in three decades, across all states and all industries (even high tech). What’s the difference? The unproductive entrepreneurs are creating something to obtain a special status with the government or a large company, essentially not sharing their knowledge. The productive entrepreneurs are creating something that is breaking the mold and benefiting society by making something new while also being profitable.

This gives us a good idea of what innovations will and won’t be a success, which is a great starting point for budding entrepreneurs. It’s also a good indicator for seasoned entrepreneurs on what new programs will and won’t work out.

Saying ‘No’

Let me be clear, I’m not advocating to take on all projects and ideas all the time. We live in a culture that values being busy, and it’s not for the best. If you ask someone, “How are you?” the common response is “Good, busy.” But how often is this busy schedule actually accomplishing the goal of creating new, relevant growth or generating information that can be used to make decisions? The act of being busy can even lead to negative side effects on your body, such as losing sleep and having trouble concentrating. Put simply, being busy can hurt your business.

This can all be solved with the word “no” and a little prioritizing. We are able to assess resources this way but are somehow unable to turn that same scrutiny on ourselves. We have finite resources, too, and when we stretch ourselves too thin, we don’t pay the proper attention and effort to any one thing. By saying “no" respectfully, clearly and often, we can get in the habit of keeping our goals within our target.

If I want to start a new project, but I also have another project beginning and one mid-way, I might have to make a choice. When I am testing a new business idea, technology or process, I remind myself to remain objective, test ideas and results rationally and know when to quit. It can be hard to sunset a project that has so much time and many resources invested, but it’s more damaging to try to keep it going at the expense of other, more proven projects. There are infinite new ideas to explore, and for them to have a chance, the least viable ideas need to die.

By Joel Landau