Bam! There he is again. The fourth time already in three weeks time, because that’s exactly how long John works in your team. You started calling him ‘Jolly John’, but only in your head of course. You can hardly blame him for a lack of commitment. And always with the same enthusiasm, the same childish and disarming smile on his face he walks into your office, “Boss, I’ve been thinking a while and suddenly I had this brilliant idea”… Not again, you think. But you keep quiet.
Defer your judgment, listen and ask questions, lift on the idea. That’s the right way to give it a fair chance to grow. Sure, it is the first and perhaps most important basic skill of creative thinking. No more “yes but”, we now go for ‘yes and’! That’s what you’ve learned. And that’s how it should be.
But then again, not all ideas are gems. At least not right away, we should indeed cherish them a little, or ‘greenhouse’ as it is called. When you pour ideas into a creative process, you can afford the luxury to defer your judgment to the selection phase. Good for Jolly John, because that way his ideas will have a much better chance to evolve. Unfortunately, that’s not a daily reality in most organizations. But how can you, as a superior, manage to evaluate ideas on the spot? What criteria are you going to maintain in order to make a correct judgment?
Those criteria are often specific to the problem. Discovering the accurate ‘why’ question is an essential part of the creative process. Should we then assume that the quality of ideas are relative, merely depending on the criteria of the problem? Yes and no. Because there are some basic conditions that every good idea must meet.
1. DIFFERENT AND BETTER
At least a good idea must bring a certain change. Change that, at the same time, contains a certain level of improvement. The idea itself should not necessarily be completely new and unique. In most cases, it even comes to small alterations, tiny improvements to a product, a service, a structure, a process. And that’s OK. Big disruptive ideas don’t pop up every day.
2. DELIVERING VALUE
The improvement mentioned above should also deliver value. Someone — or a certain target group — should benefit from it and also allow and accept the improvement that goes with the idea. The latter might sound a little strange, but accepting the change and improvement is crucial in the success or breakdown of an idea. Many commercial launches of innovative products or services have therefore failed.
Permanently ridding the world of war and starvation, building a teleportation machine or developing a pill that makes us immortal … Brilliant ideas where smart people somewhere on this globe are certainly working on right now. But do they fit within your structure, your context and your possibilities? Not a big chance. And therefore, such ideas — at least for you — are of little value, so we can hardly classify them as good ideas. Dreams are made to cherish, but good ideas are made to implement. Dreams are made to cherish, but good ideas are made to implement.
4. COST-BENEFIT BALANCE
When an idea takes more time, energy and money to develop it than the benefit or profit it will ever generate, we should better get rid of it. Unless it is just an experiment, or an indispensable part of a bigger concept. Cost and benefit should always be in balance. And also on the market side, no sensible consumer is willing to pay a ridiculous amount of money, not even for a world-shaking innovation. It sounds logic, but again this is one of the reasons of many product failures.
In today’s world, we are bombarded with stimuli. Our attention span is getting shorter and shorter every day. Intuitively, we therefore look for simplicity. A good idea is uncomplicated, straightforward and comprehensible. At least that’s how the user should experience it. Words like usability and design thinking have become quite popular with the development of each new product or service. Simplicity will always win over complexity.
These five basic criteria will offer you the right handles in the appraisal of ideas. Obviously, every challenge has its own unique aspects and requirements. It is convenient to determine these requirements in advance with your team. That way you will avoid huge disappointments afterwards and it will help you to coach your own Jolly John in coming up with good and valuable ideas.