People have grown accustomed to checking the expiration date on things like meat or milk, to make sure they haven’t gone bad or soured. Far fewer people check the expiration date on their projects or new initiatives, however, these, too, can lose their freshness and impact if you wait too long to use them. What may have been a great idea at one point in time may become bland, or even leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth, if you wait too long to use it.
How does one check the expiration date on an idea or project?
- How long have you talked about it? This isn’t an automatic rule-out. Sometimes you can be incubating an idea for a long time. One factor to consider is whether the idea has evolved and changed over time, or if you are still talking about it in general, nonspecific terms, retreading the same ground time and again. Which leads me to the second test of an expiration date . . .
- Do you use the word “should” when describing the idea — as in “we really should be doing this.” Fresh ideas aren’t something you should do. Fresh ideas light up the room, they feel like something you have to do, not because someone is telling you to, but because you feel in your gut that the idea can in some way be a game changer that will help extend your mission reach.
- Is everyone else already doing it? That doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t do it, but it’s a little bit like buying something that has been reduced for quick sale. The impact is likely to be far less that if you had implemented the idea when it was first available.
- Has it “gone bad in the frig?” These are the ideas that you have said you want to pursue — you “bought” it — however, your process of getting to implementation takes so long that the expiration date may have passed, but people feel they have no choice but to continue on because so much work went into the preparation.
As the leader, it is your job to check the expiration date on ideas or projects. That can be harder than it sounds because perhaps you pushed for an idea at one point in time — you could clearly see the potential — but you now realize the window of opportunity has closed. The expiration date has passed. When that happens (and it will), you can watch wistfully as someone else enjoys the benefits of the once fresh idea, or you can focus your energy on looking forward and preparing to tackle the next new opportunity . . . before it expires.