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How to Evaluate Ideas

How to Evaluate Ideas
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Far too often I’ve sat in brainstorming sessions where ideas died a slow death afterwards. Ideas alone are not innovation; without a process of evaluation, selection and execution, they remain mere ideas.

Brainstorming sessions and idea challenges have become commonly used corporate innovation initiatives. In ideation sessions, a higher quantity of ideas are encouraged in order to get to the truly breakthrough ideas. However, if you’re the Innovation Manager collating hundreds of ideas at the culmination of such an initiative, how do you choose the best ideas to carry through to implementation?

Before we delve into some tried and tested methods for evaluating ideas, let’s look at what not to do.

·       Don’t consider the idea’s projected revenue, return on investment (ROI) or net present value (NPV). Managers shouldn’t place too much emphasis on financial metrics for early stage ideas because most of the assumptions underpinning ideas are yet to be determined.

·       Don’t jump ahead to execution and think about the logistics of the idea. Again, the concepts have yet to be tested. Instead, consider how well the idea solves the problem at hand.

·       Don’t use resource or budget constraints as an excuse not to explore the ideas. Although not all ideas can be tested immediately, resource constraints can be an effective way to challenge teams to prototype ideas with less budget.

Let’s look at three methods for evaluation of ideas - used by innovation industry thought leaders:

Method 1 - Ask the right questions at the right times

Scott Anthony, managing partner of Innosight and author of The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas into the Market, uses a set of criteria to decide whether to explore an idea more deeply.

Here are some of the key questions to ask:

  1. Does this fit our strategy?
  2. Can we get to the market without any technological miracles?
  3. Is there someone who is a strong advocate of the idea and willing to push the idea forward?

Asking these questions helps to make the second decision about whether to run experiments to address the key underlying assumptions. Anthony then asks the following questions:

  • Does this fit a pattern? (You can find a a 12-question pattern generally found to be a helpful starting point for these efforts in The Innovator’s Guide to Growth)
  • Can we build a “reverse income statement” where reasonable assumptions support reaching our profit and revenue targets?
  • Is the testing plan well thought out?

Method 2- Identifying the greatest JTBD

Jobs-to-be-Done innovation theory (JTBD) is the subject of Professor Clayton Christensen’s latest book, Competing Against Luck. The central idea behind JTBD is that customers are not buying your products but rather, “they are hiring them to get a job done.”

Check out ourFuture Squared podcast interview with Christensen’s co-author Karen Dillon for more insight into this.

Christensen stresses that a “job to be done” is not an all-purpose catchphrase. “Jobs are complex and multifaceted. The term “job” is shorthand for what an individual really seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance and these jobs are never simply about function—they have powerful social and emotional dimensions. In most situations, the jobs that customers want to get done for which no good solutions exist are the ones that provide the greatest opportunity for innovation.

In the case of evaluating ideas using the JTBD method, idea assessment is a function of how important the job is and how satisfied customers are with existing solutions. One way to measure the importance and existing satisfaction of an idea or ‘job’ is by asking customers for their ratings on a Likert scale. As shown by the exhibit below, these responses can then be plotted and categorized as over-served, served right, or underserved.

In general, under-served outcome expectations are high-priority and are best addressed with a strategy of making the solution better. Over-served outcome expectations lead you to make existing solutions simpler, cheaper, and more available to more people. If the outcome expectations are served right, don’t do anything; focus instead on the other outcome expectations.

Method 3- Idea Selection for Groups

If you’re facilitating an ideation workshop and have mapped out lots of ideas onto flip charts, here are some methods we have used at Collective Campus to whittle down the best ideas.

Each person is given five dot stickers that they can allocate to 5 different ideas. As a group, participants place the stickers next to their favourite ideas. The ideas with the most stickers are progressed. While this method is quick and energetic, there is a chance that some of the more obscure ideas may be overlooked. Their potential may be developed if they are discussed. Another possible drawback is that in controversial or political situations, participants may be inhibited or influenced by the opinions of others.

Another method is for individuals to write their favourite ideas on slips of paper using concept called ‘working alone together’ before sharing them with the group. This method can circumvent ‘group think’ where participants converge towards similar ideas to avoid conflict. This approach also minimises the chance of individuals being influenced by the more dominant opinions or personalities in the room. While no discussion takes place during the ballot, group discussion of the ideas can begin once the ideas have been prioritised.

Where to From Here

  • Don’t be overwhelmed by the quantity of ideas, a large number of ideas is often needed to uncover the breakthrough ideas.
  • Remember not to focus on budget, logistical constraints or traditional metrics, it’s too early for that.
  • Consider whether the idea being evaluated fits your organisation’s strategy, leverages existing technology and has a strong advocate or influencer backing the idea.
  • Understand whether the idea solves a real problem and whether customers are over-served, served right or underserved by existing solutions.
  • For idea selection by large groups, try the quick and easy approaches of sticker voting or conducting a secret ballot. Although some strategic thought should be applied afterward, it’s a quick and effective way to achieve direction for the group.

Workflow Podcast

The WorkFlow podcast is hosted by Steve Glaveski with a mission to help you unlock your potential to do more great work in far less time, whether you're working as part of a team or flying solo, and to set you up for a richer life.

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To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.

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Frances Goh

Frances is the General Manager of Innovation and Strategy at Collective Campus. She is an innovation consultant, brand strategist and customer champion.

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