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.”

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: accessed October 17, 2017.