The following is from Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers:

Ultimately, learning launches need to result in decisions. If you have tested key assumptions, you should also be able to make concrete decisions about if and how to move ahead with the growth project. If you decide not to move ahead, think “table” and not “kill.” Chances are, if a concept is strong enough to get to the learning launch stage, its problems may be temporary. Times change and so do enabling technologies, customer readiness, and so forth.

What does the expression, think “table” and not “kill”, mean?

  • 4
    Considering that both words are used in a way different to how they're normally used ("table" is much more commonly used as a noun, and "kill" is being used metaphorically), I don't think that this should be treated as "Go look it up in a dictionary".
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 25, 2016 at 1:42

3 Answers 3


To "table" an idea, in American English at least, is to delay or postpone an idea that has been presented and not necessarily reject it outright.

In British English, it's used in a rather opposite manner: to put an idea forward to be discussed. From the OED:

table something (British English) to present something formally for discussion

table something (North American English) to leave an idea, a proposal, etc. to be discussed at a later date

I'd say to "kill" seems very final; the subject is no longer up for discussion under any circumstances.

Edit: The OP has updated the question with the actual context for his question. The quote comes from the book 'Designing for Growth' published by Columbia Business School, which is an American school.

With that in mind, it's clear that the quote is using the American English verb "table"; it is saying not to reject ideas outright ("kill"), but to temporarily put them aside for further consideration in the future ("table").

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    Aside: in BrE, we'd probably use the word "shelve" where AmE uses "table". Sep 23, 2016 at 15:14
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    @RogerLipscombe When i (as AmE) think to shelve, i think to put it aside for future discussion (like putting a book on the shelve, for later). So in BrE, is it the opposite? Strangely though, I have never heard anyone use "to table" much ever, let alone to mean the same as "to Shelve". I do know that if you "bring something to the table", it does mean to present for discussion, though table is a noun in this example, instead of a verb. This may just be a MIdwestern USA thing though for all I know.
    – Ryan
    Sep 23, 2016 at 16:39
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    The British meaning presumably comes from the idea of bringing a document to a meeting and putting it on the conference table so that it can be picked up and considered. The American meaning likely refers to putting it back down on table because the time is not ripe for a decision. To shelve something naturally suggests less likelihood of future consideration.
    – David42
    Sep 23, 2016 at 16:51
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    I'm with @Ryan on this one. I'm more accustomed to "shelve" as a verb to mean to put something aside until later. I haven't heard "table" used this way before and I would actually assume it meant to put it up for consideration. I'm an American from California. Sep 23, 2016 at 17:12
  • In the British context shelfware sounds as though it's related to 'shelve'. It isn't so far as I know, but it does resonate.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 23, 2016 at 18:23

The terms are from "parliamentary procedure". "Tabling" a bill or motion puts off consideration of it, possibly for a specified period, possibly indefinitely. "Killing" a bill/motion (I think there's a more polite term in Robert's Rules) completely removes it from consideration.

The paragraph is simply saying "Don't be too quick to discard an idea completely, as either circumstances or your understanding of it may change".

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    It's not from British parliamentary procedure. Tabling puts something on the table in front of people, ready for debate.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 23, 2016 at 12:39
  • @AndrewLeach With respect, all students of constitutional law and history in the UK would recognize the terms to "table" and "kill" a motion or bill as being part of Westminster's (both Houses of Parliament) lexicon of the legislative process. Sep 23, 2016 at 13:05
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    No, to table a motion in Parliament is to put it forward for consideration.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 23, 2016 at 13:12
  • For reference, the quote provided by the OP (which came after I gave my answer, I was flying a bit blind) comes from the book 'Designing for Growth' published by Columbia Business School. With that in mind, I think it's a safe bet that it's the American English understanding of 'table' being discussed here, not the British one.
    – Herr Pink
    Sep 23, 2016 at 13:20
  • Even in the US the term "table" is ambiguous, in that "putting a motion on the table" implies putting the motion forward for consideration. But "table" as a verb implies letting the motion sit on the table, vs someone picking it up and acting on it.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 23, 2016 at 17:06

I agree with @Hotlicks that these terms are from Robert’s Rules of Order. I also agree with the general sentiment that to kill a bill is more definitive and final than to table the bill.

In referring to this summary (http://www.robertsrules.org/), I would like to point out a few terms.

First, to Lay on the Table means:

Temporarily suspends further consideration/action on pending question; may be made after motion to close debate has carried or is pending

Its inverse, to Take from the Table, means:

Resumes consideration of item previously "laid on the table"

(While I wouldn't disagree with BrE commentary on the interpretation of table, I wonder if AmE speakers use table as an abbreviation for Lay on the table while BrE speakers use it as an abbreviation to Take from the table.)

To Postpone indefinitely means:

Kills the question/resolution for this session - exception: the motion to reconsider can be made this session.

In the US Senate and HR, a bill can be killed in a number of ways, including:

  • Being voted down (See House Kills Transgender Bill After Moderate Republicans Panic)
  • Not being referred back to the main body from a committee (See this.)
  • Not being taken up (See this from the Canadian Senate).
  • Being postponed indefinitely
  • By being laid on the table (and not taken up again during that session)
  • Through a filibuster (Senate only), which is not having the votes to limit debate and stopping further progress of the Senate.

I think the meaning of the OP's quote is that an idea whose time has not yet come should be reconsidered at a future date, as opposed to being banned from any further consideration.

  • In BrE, I think "Leave (the proposal etc) on the table" (i.e. postpone further discussion of it until a later time) is more common than "Lay on the table".
    – alephzero
    Sep 23, 2016 at 20:59

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