Do a few basics well and creatively, rather than seizing on the next great idea

A splendid article in the McKinsey Quarterly, 2008, No. 4, at 131, by Stanford professors Hayagreeva Rao and Robert Sutton, makes the counter-intuitive point that efforts to innovate get a boost from constraints. Oddly, if you limit the number of choices people have to solve a problem, they may think more deeply and creatively about the smaller group (See my post of Nov. 13, 2006: decision makers paralyzed by too many options.).

Citing an example from the medical industry, the authors point out a corollary. In terms relevant to this blog, a law department that focuses on a handful of basic practices for, say, managing outside counsel, may well do better at developing and implementing ideas. Novelty alone is far from a guarantee of success; tested practices, the blocking and tackling of management, do better if people concentrate on doing them well and refining them. The authors pull together this idea succinctly: “Think constantly about how to develop the most successful blend of existing ideas rather than the newest and most radical ones” (See my post of Dec. 31, 2008: “systematic inventive thinking”; Jan. 2, 2009: management trends; and Jan. 2, 2009: grass roots knowledge management.).

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