Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried on why all companies must be prepared to kill off ideas


As a business grows over time, new ideas will evolve, and shelving past ideas becomes a necessity, no matter how successful they were.

Writing at Inc., Jason Fried, co-founder of well-known project management software company Basecamp, describes this as an “also/or” scenario.

“Most companies, products and services start out simply,” he writes.

“It’s rare that the first version of something is more complicated than the second.

“But once a company starts saying yes to one good idea after another, it starts accumulating scars. And scars they are. When companies decide to do something and it works, it usually doesn’t go away. Ideas turn permanent. Before you know it, things aren’t so simple any more.”

It could be a case of good ideas accumulating and collectively having a negative effect; Fried says if more and more good ideas are taken on without shedding earlier commitments, this “invariably leads to a place of compounding complexity”.

“Too many good ideas eventually combine to make one big bad idea,” he writes.

Fried uses the example of software becoming overloaded with settings and preferences, with each one “an example of a company’s refusing to make a choice and offloading the decision to the customer”.

“By forcing a trade-off on every new ‘yes’, you corner yourself into considering the value of something,” he advises.

“And only once you value a thing accordingly can you make a better decision about what is worth pursuing. It requires you to reconsider: is this still worth doing? Would we be better off doing something else?

“That’s a healthy exercise from time to time. The true test of how bad you want something is whether you’re willing to give up something else to make room.”

Fried and his co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson were faced with one of these choices when they developed a concept for a new Basecamp podcast called Rework. The company had already been running a podcast called The Distance for three years, and had produced nearly 60 episodes. And despite The Distance still attracting listeners, they decided to end it.

“Ultimately, we felt The Distance had had a great run, and that ending it on our own terms meant we could make room for something new,” he writes.

Fried recommends pausing to consider choices — and the language used to describe the choice — before deciding one way or another.

“The next time you’re faced with this kind of decision, stop and think about the language,” he advises.

“Instead of saying ‘yes, we’ll do that also’, you have to practice saying ‘sure, we can do that instead’. ‘Or’ always forces a choice, and that’s a good thing.”

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