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3 criteria your business ideas must have for them to work

idea selection in innovationThis is part three of the series on how to leave small thinking behind. In the first post, I showed you a simple technique for coming up with radical ideas. On the second part, I showed you how to evaluate ideas so they don’t fit into “me-too” territory. Here, I’ll tell you how to determine which ideas might work.

A short recap from part 1 and part 2:

In part 1 of this series I elaborated a little bit on how to shift from “me-too” thinking to “radical thinking” by taking your existing strategy and stretching it to an extreme, and scaling them back a little bit. This technique yields ideas that are impractical, super expensive and dangerous. But you can scale them back a little bit to make them doable.

In part 2, I showed you how to further filter those initial ideas by using an evaluation criteria of creativity, business, and people impact.

Great, but after you’ve developed a list of radical ideas how do you decide which ones to pursue?

Which ideas will work?

For business ideas to work, they must be feasible, defendable against competitors, and fit the internal culture. Here’s how to make a strong business case so you won’t hear the two deadliest words in business:

Feasibility

Before knowing whether an idea is ready to become part of a strategy, you must assess whether it has a chance of being implemented. Ask yourself: What will the implementation cost? What other resources are required? Are there any legal or regulatory constraints? Big ideas should not just be dreams. They have to be realistic ideas that create impact and propel your organization forward. Do not assume that everything will fall into place. Now is the time to listen to financial planners, the technicians, the engineers, the detail-obsessed managers, and see how you an address their concerns.

Execution is where the rubber meets the road, so be serious about envisioning implementation.

Defendable

As stated in part 2, your ideas must be defendable in the marketplace. You best approach is to do something that will not do. Make a list of current competitors, customers and suppliers, emerging players, and threats coming from adjacent industries.

Ask yourself: How will our big idea stand up to these challenges? How will customers feel about the idea? How will they react? Will they need lots of persuading? Will they understand the benefits to them? How will competitors react?

Internal fit

Sometimes ideas may have great potential to make a business and people impact, be feasible and defendable, but might not fit your culture. Ideally it should have a strong match with the mission, vision and objectives of your organization. But if your mission, vision and objectives are weak, diffuse, or uninspiring, then the really big idea will ultimately fail. This, indeed, is a frequent problem. If your organization is too bound to convention, it will not embrace your big idea.

This is the reason I recommended a “preemptive strike” approach in part 2, because sometimes you will have to be forceful. That might mean putting a side team together, one that is willing to shake things up. Other times, especially in times of transition, you will need to push ideas that don’t fit internally just because that might be the right thing to do.

Little Bets: The shortest path to innovation

After you’ve decided on what ideas to pursue, it’s time to put them in an action plan for going to market. This is easier said than done, but today it’s easier to go to market and know whether or not your idea will work without having to put down a significant financial investment. What is this productive approach to innovation?

Two words: Little Bets.

There are plenty of frameworks and methodologies for doing innovation, and a common understanding between all of them is that there is room for trial and error. This is great, because the main obstacle to innovation is not doing anything at all. People get paralyzed at the notion of making mistakes, but even with a license to fail, they’ll still be afraid. But, as stated before, there is no innovation without experimentation.

Little Bets, or experimental innovation, is nothing new. More than anything it’s a sign of the times on how businesses, especially on the internet, are launched and marketed. The time between launch and feedback has been shortened, this means that you can move faster from feedback to iteration.

I’ve been there, way before I ever knew about the Lean Startup, design thinking, or any other methodology. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of following frameworks and methodologies to the T. I’d even argue that anyone who follows them lacks imagination and daring.

Anyway, before even considering using some kind of framework, I’d add that you should have a point of view of what you want your customers to become. Not just simply give them what they want, as this usually leads to “me-too-ism”. In other words, develop a vision.

I doubt Steve Jobs used the Lean Startup methodology to come up with the iPod!

Still, even for the more intuitive and daring among us, the shortest path to innovation is testing the idea, getting feedback and iterating it based on that feedback. And importantly for your organization’s culture, when you adopt an experimental mindset, you go from a “Prove it” culture, that makes decisions based on clear expectation of results, to one that says “Test it”.

Conclusion…

Ultimately, you won’t know if something will work until you try it. And if there’s a simple way to sum up this three part series it’s this way: Think Big, start small, fail fast.

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