This piece of advice was offered to me by one of my many bosses. And while the notion "eating our own children" sounds bizarre, or perhaps even a little comical (and knowing this boss, it was intended as comical), there is wisdom in the underlying message.
The point of this lesson is: We become overly attached to our own ideas, and we have to be willing to let them go, or even be proactive in destroying them in favor of something better.
I remember a book I read a few years ago (years after I learned this lesson) which nicely illustrated an aspect of this concept. The book was Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma". In it, Christensen gave us example after example of companies that became highly attached to specific products, technologies, market channels, and ways of doing things. Those products, technologies, market channels and ways of doing things served the companies well -- sometimes for generations. In a sense, they became the sacred bedrock on which the companies operated. Or, you could think of them as the company's "children".
In more of a micro-cosmic way, the same thing happens with each of us. We become attached to those behaviors which seem to work, and avoid those which don't, getting stuck in our own ruts. Those beliefs become like "children" to us -- magical formulas for success. But like the larger corporation, we often cling to those magic formulas long after they cease to work.
So why "eat your children"? As my former boss used to say -- it is better to eat them yourself, than have them eaten by others.
Discarding old ideas and embracing what is new and innovative launches us into a process of renewal and re-invigoration. If we are on the lookout for the pitfall of becoming too attached to our "children", we can avoid the painful disasters that come from clinging to outdated ideas, products, technologies or channels.
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