Strive to produce masterpieces, not me-toos.

The more solutions I see, the clearer it becomes that the true function of an innovator is to produce a masterpiece. No other job is of any consequence.


Any one can be an innovator. All one has to do is to introduce a new method, idea, or product. And yet, very few in my experience produce a work of outstanding artistry, skill, or workmanship to be worthy of recognition, let alone to be the best piece of work they are capable of producing.

Introducing something new is not enough. Neilsen estimates that 85% of new products are unsuccessful, having not achieved popularity, profit, or distinction. Do innovators devote significant time, effort, and energy — not to mention vast sums of money — to make something that, eventually, will succeed only one time in every fifteen?

Some believe this result is due to failures in marketing. They may be right in thinking so. Yet, all the market research and advertising in the world won’t matter if our solutions don’t help people to get an important job done better.

Others believe this outcome is due to failures in design. That may also be true. Yet, all the purpose, planning, and intention that exists behind our solutions won’t matter if they don’t help people to get an important job done better.

I believe the critical failure is in not knowing what the job is and in what ways to make solutions that help people to get the job done meaningfully better. In the absence of knowing this, innovator’s may default to the conventional wisdom of developing solutions that emulate a rival that has already been successful. These me-too products are a disservice to the production of masterworks. We incur an opportunity cost when we sacrifice the pursuit of creating our finest work with trying to surpass our competition by imitation and one-upmanship.

Historically, craftsmen would submit a piece of work — their masterpiece — as a qualification for membership to a guild as an acknowledged master. Today, we present our work to another judge — the market. Before we do so, let us look to notable thinkers, serial entrepreneurs, and marketers of successful products in our domain as our standard. Let us use their reference as our benchmark and ask, “Who would we have to be, or what would we have to do, to get the job their solutions are hired for done significantly better?”

Failures are inevitable. Failures are also solvable. Let us not fail by producing me-too products. That path is riddled with failures anyway. Let us instead act as craftsmen and strive to create something that is our best piece of work, something that is striking, worthy of attention, and of importance and significance.

Acknowledgements and Sources

In writing this piece, this quote from Cyril Connolly inspired me:

“The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.”

The reference to new product failure rates comes from this Nielsen site: http://www.nielsen.com/innovation accessed October 17, 2017.

Throw away your Idea List. Make a Success List instead.

Do you have a laundry list of ideas you think you “need” to create and that leads you to feel overwhelmed? Or a super-focused list of essential things that leads you to real success?

Idea Lists are long. Success Lists are short. Idea Lists pull us in all directions. Success Lists help to maintain our aim on our target. Idea Lists contain everything, and that’s exactly where it takes us – everywhere but where we want to go.

Over time, I found I wasn’t building my Idea List around success. My long and exhaustive catalog of thoughts and suggestions were a distraction. I’ve packed my Evernote notebooks with ideas that gather digital dust. And what did I have to show for it? At times I felt guilt for having sown crops of ideas and having few inventions at harvest to show for it.

Being buried with too many ideas is a not a side-effect of being an innovator. Its a consequence of having no filter. Choosing to pay attention to one thought or suggestion over another is a costly decision. Flip-flopping between many can be disastrous.

To solve this, we must get clear on what is essential. Then, we need to organize our entire life around those critical things. Everything else is a distraction.

In my experience, it is essentnial to help people get their jobs done better. That may mean getting their most important job done in less time. Or delivering the results with excellence. Or taking fewer resources or less cost to do so.

For me, that means I focus on my most important innovation project. And what is that? Given the people that I can reach, I pay attention to helping them get their most important job done better.

I then organize my day around that critical goal. I devote the first two-hours of my morning to deep work. I check that box early, so I’ve already had a successful day by the end of breakfast. Except for my energy and my family, everything else comes second.

With a Success List, you’ll spend more time making progress and less doing the things that don’t. You’ll make more progress creating the significant, positive change you want.

What does a successful day look like for you? What’s the one thing you can do each day to help the people you serve to get their most important job done in less time? With fewer problems? With excellent results? Or at a lower cost?

Do you have an Idea List or a Success List? The key to winning the future is to help your people to get their most important job done better. Nothing else matters. Scrap your Idea List. Create your Success List. Check the boxes. Daily. Create a string Masterpiece Days on your way to creating your Innovation Masterpiece.

Acknowledgments and Sources

In writing this piece, this quote from Gary Keller inspired me:

“To-do lists tend to be long; success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions; the other aims you in a specific direction. One is a disorganized directory and the other is an organized directive. If a list isn’t built around success, then that’s not where it takes you. If your to-do list contains everything, then it’s probably taking you everywhere but where you really want to go.”

Hire experts for their critiques, not their predictions.

I’ve heard it said that the average expert is roughly as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee. If that’s true, then why hire experts?


Why are those who have invested years developing comprehensive knowledge and skill no better than someone with limited or potentially none at predicting?

In seeking answers, I’ve found it helpful to go back to the reasons why we, as innovators, act in the ways that we do. I believe the common bond that unites us is our desire to create significant, positive change. Not just any change, because change by itself is not enough. We want the changes we make to be essential improvements. We want the advancements we create to be sufficiently significant to be noteworthy. And that’s the rub. In the vast majority of cases, we’re not sure about what changes, out of the countless number we can make, will produce the results we seek.

The question often takes the form, “What should we devote our time, effort, energy, and money to?” Answers to this question are a form of prediction. And prediction, at its core, is a guess. Meteorologists call their guesses a forecast. Gamers call it a gamble. Doctors call it a prognosis, attorneys a premise, and advisors a recommendation. Academics call it a conjecture and scientists a hypothesis. Theologians call it a prophecy. Engineers call it an assumption. Strategists call it a strategy. They’re all guesses. We form opinions and draw conclusions based on incomplete information as a starting point to making progress in our endeavors. In the absence of knowing, guessing is the best we can do.

Not all predictions are created equal. Some are like clockwork — repetitive, predictable, and accurate — such as when the sun will rise or set or when a train will arrive or depart. These predictions are reliable because we have a clear understanding of what causes what and can explain why.

Many other predictions are nothing like clockwork. Accurately predicting the outcome of political, economic, and cultural events is difficult. Being able to consistently choose between options reasonably and correctly, especially when the stakes are high and the results are are not easy to foresee, is systemic in life an in innovation. It is in these situations when we do not yet have reasonable explanations of what causes what and why that we often turn to solutions for help.

In ancient Rome, people would turn to religious officials known as augurs to figure out whether their gods approved of their proposed actions. The augurs would observe naturals signs (such as the behavior of birds) to indicate their gods’ divine approval or disapproval. Today, our augurs might be priests, ministers, or religious leaders in the context of our spiritual affairs, consultants such as attorneys, physicians, or financial advisors in our life matters, and experts or specialists in our business concerns. We hire them as solutions to anticipate “What will happen?” or “What will happen if…?” we take a proposed action.

Some solutions we hire are much better at getting the prediction job done than others. Doctors subject their guesses to diagnostic tests, attorneys to debate, academics to peer review, scientists to experiments, and engineers to tests. These are all forms of constructive criticism, an attempt to detect and correct the errors in their guesses. Other solutions, in my experience, fare much worse. It is rare for prophets and pundits to subject their predictions to criticism or to test and track their accuracy.

Much of the progress that we’ve enjoyed since the discovery and application of the sciences eluded our ancestors for millennia, despite them having the same faculties to reason and understand, because of their reliance on inferior prediction methods. Methods matter. Just as there are better routes to take on a road trip to reach a destination, there are better solutions to getting the prediction job done.

Experts can make better predictions in the areas in which they have acquired knowledge and know what works and what doesn’t. If you’re going to open a restaurant and you have never done that before, then I suggest you hire an expert to help. You can guess yourself and inevitably make mistakes — or — heed the advice of others who have already been down that path and can tell you which of their guesses failed. We can learn from their experience and increase our odds of avoiding the avoidable mistakes.

In the realm that we as innovators play — on the edge of the unknown — experts will be no better than us at guessing. I believe that the reason why is that they, like chimpanzees (and like us), are guessing. I suggest you stop hiring experts for their guesses unless they can explain why their way reliably produces better guesses across time and domains.

I’ve heard it said that predictions can be like old news — soon forgotten. Experts may be more knowledgeable and skilled. They may be more confident, have more charisma, and tell more compelling stories with conviction. They are likely to be no better than us at guessing, though, in the absence of them having better information, better methods, and a commitment to tracking accuracy and continuously improving.

To be fair, it is difficult to make accurate forecasts far into the future or in situations where we don’t yet have reasonable explanations for what causes what and why. At the same time, a good judge doesn’t decide the guilt of a defendant after only hearing from the prosecution. A good doctor doesn’t say, “Take two pills and call me in the morning” without having evaluated their patient.

Instead of hiring experts for their predictions, let us instead turn to them to help us critique and to improve our guesses. Let us turn to them for guidance and recommendations on which of our many guesses are the best to experiment and test. Let us turn to them to help us to detect and correct errors in our ideas, methods, and solutions, rather than for their guesses.

Acknowledgements and Sources

I was inspired by this phrase in Philip Tetlock’s and Dan Gardner’s masterwork, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

“…the average expert was roughly as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee.”

Their project, The Good Judgment Open, is worth a visit (and fun, too.)