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Would You Kill Your “Precious”?

by | Process

Anyone who has seen the Lord Of The Rings trilogy (or preferably read the  books!) will find it impossible to hear the word “precious” and not associate the image of Gollum slinking through caverns hissing about his love for his ring, or as he calls it “Myyyyyy Precious…..”

Creepy? Sure. The ring has such an intense hold on Gollum that his entire life had become about preserving and protecting it. It is unimaginable what he would do (and did!) to maintain possession of it. There is no end to his obsession.

I’ve met many creatives who are passionate about their ideas. they live, eat and breathe possibility. Most of the people I meet don’t struggle for new ideas, and they don’t struggle for a desire to make great things. However, they do struggle with knowing when it’s time to kill their Precious. I’m often one of them.

Several years ago I had an idea. A great idea. It involved making significant changes to the organization I was leading, and it seemed like the right idea at the right time. And…it failed. No problem, except that I couldn’t let it go. I was still obsessed with making it work. It haunted the rest of my work, and significantly affected my ability to lead and generate new ideas. It also affected a lot of other people, including my family. I simply couldn’t kill my Precious.

I learned a valuable lesson: innovation is frequently as much (or more) about what you say no to than what you say yes to. We often need to eliminate the good in order to get to the great. We need to get really good at pruning so that we have free and clear space to focus on our most important work.

Question: have you experienced a time in your life when you inability to kill your Precious prevented you from moving forward, or are you currently struggling to let go of something in order to move on? Prune relentlessly!

Don’t allow ego, your obsession with getting it right, or sunk cost to prevent you from shedding unnecessary weight.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Elle

    “…innovation is frequently as much (or more) about what you say no to than what you say yes to.”A resounding YES to this. One of my main passions is writing fiction, and although I’d written a number of short stories, I’d never tried a novel. Well, a few years ago I got an idea for a novel and I toyed with it a bit over the years but never sat down and wrote it. Last year, when I made a resolution to COMPLETE a novel, whatever it took, I came across a lot of advice that said that if an idea’s been with you for a long time, that’s the one that you should really write. The theory is that the good ideas are the ones that LAST. Well, as you can probably guess, the novel was terrible, and that was only partly my fault. The idea just wasn’t good enough. It didn’t work, the motivations didn’t make sense, and it relied on a sort of cheap gimmick. What I had to realize is that it wasn’t that this idea lasted because it was GOOD — it was that I had never gotten around to writing it because it was BAD. Tough lesson to learn, when it takes you 80,000 words to learn it. :)

    • Todd Henry

      Erg. Sorry for your experience, but I’ve learned many similar lessons. Sometimes those “splinters in your mind” are just splinters. Nothing more. 

      However, congrats on completing the novel! That’s something that few who express the desire ever actually DO. You have that experience under your belt and are better prepared – I assume – to tackle the next long-arc project. 

  2. Wes Roberts

    Wisdom + here!  Thank you, Todd!!!  This goes out to those I mentor.

    One of the remarkable young leaders I’ve the deep privilege of mentoring has told me he may connect with you at SXSW.  Mike Worley is well worth the time.  Thank you for any time given to him…will be well worth your investment.

  3. fjr

    Sometimes it is not sunk cost precisely. Sometimes it is an attempt to hang onto an idealistic notion about what something could become. My challenge has been to get myself just to withdraw from situations in which members of an organization cling steadfastly to a narrow view. For reasons of conservatism or political fears or plain narrow-mindedness, for example, they will not depart from the status quo or they move toward circling the wagons even more rigidly. It takes me a long time to give up on people and organizations.

    • Todd Henry

      This is quite true. Sometimes it’s a fear of change itself, and sometimes it’s the refusal to give up ideology that makes us feel comfortable. Failure is a natural process and result, but the need to *feel* right is a powerful motivator. Confirmation bias can lead us to ignore all signs that we’re in the wrong.

  4. Debra Gould, Entrepreneur

    Todd, I totally get what you’re saying and do agree that what we say no to is just as important as what we say yes to. On the other hand, there are many great ideas that are poorly executed and don’t work for that reason. There are also tons of great ideas that are abandoned just a bit too soon. Lack of perseverance is a huge barrier to success because most people give up as soon as they hit “the dip” as Seth Godin calls it.

    Which brings us full circle back to how do you know when to let something go, rather than adjusting your strategies/tactics or just giving it more time?

    • fjr

      Debra, this is part of what I was trying to get at above. In the case I used, when does one just realize that hammering a little longer won’t get something to budge? I meant specifically when a sinking ship could stand a rescue but those on board are still in denial.

      • Todd Henry

        Agreed. I think the real question I was trying to pose in this post is “are you really objective about your idea, or are you holding onto it for emotional/illogical reasons?” There are – as you say – a lot of ideas that are poorly executed and need another run in order to vet their merit. Sometimes, however, we hold onto ideas for sentimental reasons or because we don’t like what failure means.
        I think Seth’s book The Dip is a great resource for people struggling with when to quit on something. The trick is not quitting because of the “project plateau”, as Scott Belsky calls it, but because the merits of the idea have been tested and found lacking. At the end of the day, though, it’s up to each of us to determine whether we’re continuing because we still believe in the idea or because we have an unhealthy emotional attachment to it.
        Does that clarify my point?

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