How to Pick the Right Idea?

Often times coming up with new ideas is not the hard part. In this example, a team came up with 752 new business ideas in a single workshop. But how can you pick the ‘right’ ideas? Gijs van Wulfen shares five lessons that he has learned in his innovation practice.

In my last post I wrote how an innovation team of G+J Publishers in Amsterdam generated 752 new business ideas in 4 hours. Of course, that is impressive. A lot of people asked me how to pick the right new business ideas from such a huge wall full of post-its.

In my innovation practice I learned five lessons, which I like to share with you.

1. Take your time. You should spent at least 2/3 of your ideation process on picking the right idea and 1/3 on getting a lot of ideas, instead of the other way around. Promising ideas at the front end of innovation are like rough diamonds, which look like other regular stones but will shine beautifully in the end. You have to take your time to be able to recognize them. And be sure to converge in several steps. Even in several workshops.

2. Have a clear vision of what you want. How can you choose ideas if you don’t know what you are looking for? Especially when converging, selecting and improving ideas is a group process you should have a shared vision on where you want to go. That’s why G+J Publishers started their innovation project with a clear and concrete innovation assignment, involving their top managers. From the start it was clear for which market/target group the innovations must be developed and which criteria these new concepts must meet. We used these concrete criteria to help to identify the right new business ideas.

3. Reflect from the customer’s perspective. In converging, selecting and improving ideas it is very important to criticize and challenge them from the perspective of their potential customers. And that’s why we organized idea reflection workshops with potential target groups last week. We will improve and pick the right ideas based on their feedback.

4. Make a mini new business case. Ideas are often too vague for managers to decide on. They are used to business cases: a clear, strategic, commercial, professional and financial plan for a new initiative or a new investment. So be sure you make a Mini New Business Case for attractive ideas. In this way you strengthen the persuasiveness of your ideas by highlighting the attractiveness of the strategic, commercial, and professional aspects of the innovative product or service.

5. Make a feasibility road map. Companies need to work on ideas which will be attractive and innovative on the one hand and at the same time are realistic and feasible on the short term on the other hand. You should pick great ideas, which combine attractiveness with feasibility. Otherwise your innovation won’t make it to the market. Make a feasibility road map, which will support the feasibility of your innovative product or service idea.

So how did we continue the ideation workshop, looking at this wall with 752 ideas? No we did not start grouping them. This would take you hours and you would lose a lot of energy spending time discussing non relevant ideas. Instead I asked each participant the read the innovation assignment and take two ideas (one evolutionary and one revolutionary) from the wall. We transformed these ideas in idea directions. After a second round and a final selection from the wall we ended up with 49 idea directions as first step in the convergence phase. The participants selected the 12 best ones fitting the assignment. We worked out these 12 idea directions as idea mind maps and on the second day of the ideation workshop as concrete concepts. The 12 concepts were improved a week later and were tested in 3 focus groups a week later. Right now four of them are worked out as mini new business cases in the final four weeks of the FORTH innovation expedition for G+J Publishers.

I hope my practical learnings will inspire you to become even more successful in the early stages of your innovation process.

By Gijs van Wulfen

About the author

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.

Image: businessman holding lightbulb from Shutterstock.com

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  • Andre St-Martin

    I would add – beware of trying to use a funnelling process – you do not, and should not, have to select one idea from the initial bunch. Try to see what it tells you, what insights can you gain from them, perhaps it should a combination, perhaps it tells you a direction to explore.

  • Sonia Boudreau

    When creating a ‘mini business case’, it’s also important to ensure the accuracy is appropriate for the phase of the process – certainly accounting grade accuracy shouldn’t be expected early on. As the idea moves closer to execution the team will need to hold themselves accountable to a detailed business case. Without this, ideas that don’t meet the ‘clear vision’ in number two tend to live on. It seems simple, but so often the team wants so much to keep the idea alive that the business case can become quite soft.

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  • http://twitter.com/PaulSloane Paul Sloane

    I have used similar methods on the innovation camps I have run and you are right. It takes time to sift and select the best ideas. A one page business case is good next step. And then ask the question, ‘Can we try this idea in a low risk way?’

  • Geoff Carss

    Hi Gijs, we have been experimenting with different methods or approaches for use in different situations for understanding and selecting from a ‘batch’ of ideas. One method which has proven to be very sucessful is Pairwise. Basically a reviewer is given two ideas to consider against 2 – 3 criteria (time to market, risk etc) – the ideas are a random pair – and it samazing how quickly a team can work through a number of ideas and get a good result.

  • Leila

    Great article! Lesson #3: Reflect from the Customer’s Perspective, is important to keep in mind. But when choosing ideas, an employee suggestion form can be helpful to have. The form can help you understand your employees’ suggestions better. I wrote a blog post on how to create an employee suggestion form: ow.ly/kLhc7

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