The Power of Small

How does your organization handle ideas? Typically, leaders gather ideas (sometimes in suggestion boxes) and then funnel them through many layers of scrutiny and debate, culling hundreds or perhaps thousands of ideas down to a promising few. They provide resources to develop the chosen ideas through proposals, projections, plans, and more layers of approvals, to mitigate the risks associated with implementing the ideas. Eventually, they build and launch the finalist ideas with great fanfare, where minor changes might be made based on the reception of the ideas in the marketplace. It is easy to see why, in this kind of environment, top-down is a requirement: If everyone ran around implementing their own ideas, there would be a lot of expensive failures, far more than the business likely could sustain. The leaders, understandably, serve as gatekeepers, and fund the best ideas according to levels of acceptable risk.

But let me suggest this: What if the cost of trying something out were almost zero? What if there was little or no risk inherent in failure? Going one step further, what if it was possible to test every idea (hard to imagine, given what we know to be true from Chapter 7, “The Right Things, Not Everything”)? Rather than trying to predict the success of ideas, it would only require observing which of the ideas were successful.

Let’s compare the two approaches, hypothetically. An organization has 100 ideas for a new product. Leaders spend several months ...

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