Several years ago, one of us was invited to give a talk about managing ideas to a group of CEOs. Early on, when talking about small ideas, he was brusquely interrupted by one of them, the head of one of the largest producers of computer equipment in the United States.

“I think I speak for all of us when I ask you to please move on to talk about what we should do to get the blockbuster innovations, the ones that change the terms of competition in our industries. That’s what we’re really interested in.”

Everyone is attracted by big and dramatic ideas. The more novel they are or the more far-reaching their implications, the more we are drawn to them. It is not surprising that managers (like that CEO), when thinking ...

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