“You see, I’m an idea man, Chuck. Alright. I got ideas all day long. I can’t control ‘em. It’s like they come charging in every night; I can’t even fight ‘em, if I want to. Watch out—stand back. (Talking into the tape recorder.) This is Bill. Idea to eliminate garbage: edible paper …”
—Bill Blazejowski, Michael Keaton’s character in Night Shift, movie, 1982
One of our most praised creatives, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, wouldn’t have been satisfied with being called an idea man. As one of the most demanding leaders of our time, he expected more of the artists working at Apple. To Steve Jobs, ideas were worthless, until they could be produced and shipped to a customer, saying, “real artists ship.”
A Huffington Post blog set me off on this concept, saying, “I don’t need a room of California brain boxes to get new ideas; I regularly convene groups of twenty people — at any level of an organization — who, in a matter of hours, can compile a list of twenty products or services that are perfectly viable, executable and desirable. This isn’t my brilliance — it’s theirs. … It makes me wonder, really, why the world is in such a mess when we have such brilliant thinkers among us. Maybe it’s because doing is actually harder than imagining.”
What does it take to move from imagining to doing? How can we ship the ideas?
We have long lists of creative ideas that we’d like to implement at eFulfillment Service. Planning for the next year, and the next decade, we’re looking at how the most creative and successful companies produce results. Doing this research, I came to know Greg McKeown in Essentialism and he recommends an idea he describes as “the disciplined pursuit of less.”
We fail to ship when we get excited about everything, react to everything, pursue every opportunity, and regard every brilliant idea (and there is always one more) as worthy of the same share of our limited attention and energy.
But the ultimate goal isn’t to be an idea factory, but to be able to discern the trivial many from the vital few. That means operating from a single well-understood strategy that is both concrete and inspirational; to focus on making the sort of decisions that, as a consequence, eliminate the need to make a thousand other decisions; and to express an intent and a direction to your team that is both memorable and actionable.
The question is: What needs to be done that is truly essential? Because it is execution itself that is the hat trick, and that ultimately requires the consumption of your team’s resources in the form of time, money, and attention. To that degree, real leadership means, in the end, eliminating nonessentials, and, in turn, “to eliminate nonessentials means saying no to someone. Often.”
Lastly, of course there is the matter of execution. Of actually shipping. And as so often is the case, we “produce more — bring forth more — by removing more instead of doing more,” or at least this is an essential job of the effective leader. Effective execution in the disciplined pursuit of less means finding those few obstacles which, once removed, would make the majority of the other obstacles disappear.
In this way the ruthless and focused pursuit of less is a big part of why real artists ship. These are principles we are looking to apply in our planning.
In our warehouse, we have thousands of ideas stored on our shelves, and one can track each SKU back to a moment of creativity. Unlike the Bill Blazejowski character in Night Shift, these ideas made it out of a tape recorder into a box and are ready to be shipped to a customer. Each product, each idea on the shelf is ready to ship. And so are we.