When I was a young journalist, one day, an older colleague saw me at my desk struggling to hammer out a story on deadline. He wandered over, eyeballed me for a moment, and then offered up some of the best advice I’ve ever received: “Don’t fall in love with your words, kid; an editor is just going to kill your babies.”
At first, I thought it was simply the cynical grousing of a veteran writer whose work had been brutally rewritten by editors one too many times. But as time went on, I realized he had given me something much more valuable — practical advice.
What he was saying in a not-so-subtle way was that it is much more important to get the idea out of your head quickly than it is to make that idea perfect. There will always be time later to tweak and fine-tune that idea. Or, in the case of writers, know that you’ve nailed the facts and context of the story and leave the editing to the editors so you can move on.
In the years since, I have passed his sage wisdom along to every writer I’ve managed, mentored or hired. But I have also offered the same advice to young entrepreneurs and up-and-coming executives.
At first glance, it may not seem that writers are a lot like business leaders, but in a lot of ways, they are. Both have a natural tendency to spend too much time trying to be perfect — whether it’s writing a single sentence or story or developing a new business idea or the details for a major initiative.
Imagine the stereotypical writer alone in his or her room, sitting at a typewriter or computer and staring at a page or screen for hours or days, and you’ll have a better sense of the dilemma. He or she is locked in and determined to assemble those words in just the right sequence so that they’ll live forever alongside such brilliant literary gems as, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
Unfortunately, reality is drastically different. Any idea needs an immense amount of work once it’s been drawn out of your head, and even the most carefully crafted and well-formed concept for a new product or service requires ample reflection, fine-tuning, tweaking, testing and, often, reformulation before it’s ready to take to the market. To get it right, you must be brutal in your critique before you amplify the idea.
Too often, there is a rush to take a product or service to market. Time is money, they say. So after a brief brainstorming session, one idea is accepted by consensus, sketched out and extrapolated to its logical conclusion.
But just like trying to write the perfect sentence before getting the entire story out of your head, this too is doomed to fail.
There is a better way.
- First, brainstorm ideas and land on one or two that are worth further exploration.
- Next, let them percolate for a little while. It is amazing how powerful at problem-solving the subconscious mind can be.
- Then, start to expand and tweak the ideas.
- Let them percolate again, just so they get another fresh look.
- Finally, fine-tune them and go live.
In business, as with the written word, you have one true opportunity for a strong launch or release. And while it is imperative to adapt a philosophy of continuous reinvention and innovation with every idea that’s live, there are just too many half-baked ideas that weren’t well-thought-out, carefully scrutinized and fine-tuned before they were taken to market in the first place.
Remember, your consumer, reader or customer is going to be critical of whatever it is you offer them. So why shouldn’t you view your brilliant idea through the same lens?
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7026.