What I know for sure…
I’m sure you already have lots of ideas and will continue to have lots more. It can be challenging to know what to do with all of those ideas, and to decide which ones you want to start progressing first, especially on top of doing daily business-as-usual activities.
Read this article for tips and insights into my techniques that will help you to capture your ideas in one place, and to prioritize them, and download my awesome free Idea Sorter here.
This article will cover:
- Is your idea an entrepreneurial opportunity – and how do you know? Is it a current or future opportunity?
- How to quickly prioritize a number of ideas.
Your Idea Time® activity is to set yourself up with your own Idea Sorter, so you will need either a notebook, file or device that you usually keep with you, and can use for capturing your ideas in the moment as they occur.
- An idea can only become an opportunity if you do something with it.
- Trying to progress too many ideas at once can lead to weaker delivery overall.
- Balancing quick wins with longer term, bigger projects creates a healthy, sustainable and deliverable innovation portfolio.
What is idea proliferation, and why does it matter?
Idea proliferation – or coming up with lots of ideas on an ongoing basis – is a really important ingredient of creativity.
Having lots of ideas helps you to come up with even more ideas! Here’s why:
- If you have 2 ideas – a and b – you can only derive 1 new idea from those which is ab.
- If you have 3 ideas – a, b, and c – you can derive 4 new ideas which are ab, ac, bc, and abc.
- If you have 4 ideas – a, b, c, and d – you can then derive 11 new ideas which are ab, ac, ad, bc, bd, cd, abc, abd, acd, bcd, and abcd.
To give you clearer picture, here are the numbers above and some more:
- 2 ideas can generate 1 new ideas.
- 3 ideas can generate 4 new ideas.
- 4 ideas can generate 11 new ideas.
- 5 ideas can generate 26 new ideas.
- 6 ideas can generate 57 new ideas.
- 7 ideas can generate 120 new ideas
Ideas are your competitive currency
To compete, on an individual, professional level, as a team, and as an organization, your core currency is ideas – ideas on how to solve problems, create opportunities, differentiate, bring new, added value.
Ideally you will create a constant flow of ideas, so that you always stay fresh, in tune with the changing market, and become the architect of your own opportunities.
The challenge of having lots of ideas, and how to solve it
The challenge is that having lots of ideas can feel overwhelming. Either we can get carried away by our enthusiasm for having lots of ideas, and may struggle to find the time to get started, or we have so many we don’t know where to start and with which one.
Also, developing ideas into real innovations and opportunities comes at a cost, in terms of time, money, resources and focus, and the opportunity cost of working on one thing when we could be working on another. How do we know which idea will turn out best?
That is why it really important to have a pipeline of ideas that pass through a sort of activity funnel, helping you to do just enough work on each idea to establish whether or not they are a potential ‘goer’, before making a choice to move to the next phase of work, park it for now, or bin the idea entirely. Here are the Big Bang Partnership Limited, the company I founded and which owns the Idea Time® brand, we each have our own individual personal development idea pipelines, as well as ones for each key area of the business.
Here’s the process we use:
Capturing your ideas
So many entrepreneurs waste their ideas and the potential within them in by letting them drift away, especially if the initial thought doesn’t feel quite right. Sometimes, with a bit of incubation, time and development, a ‘not-quite-right-at-first’ idea can be transformed into something special. That is why it is really important to have a place to capture all your ideas, so that you never lose the germ of what could be something great, however insignificant it may seem at the time.
I always carry a pack of sticky notes and a pen. They weigh next to nothing, fit in pockets, purses and wallets, can go anywhere – and you can have strategic stashes of them around the house. I even have some in the bathroom for when I come out of the shower! I write every idea on a sticky note as it comes in, and then periodically – sometimes daily, most often weekly, I get them all together and put them in one place.
Some colleagues prefer to use the voice record or notes functions on their phone. Others go the traditional notebook route, some having more than one, stashed in different places.
It doesn’t matter which method you choose, as long as it’s:
- Always there and accessible
- Workable for you
If you lead a team or business, the same principle absolutely applies. It’s really helpful to have somewhere to capture all your collective ideas.
If you’re a virtual team, or out and about a lot, and you don’t have anything in place, easy-to-use, low cost apps such as Trello or Slack can be really effective. Sharepoint, GoogleDrive, Yammer work well too.
If you share an office you could go old school of course and use a whiteboard, although I’d avoid the suggestion box idea, as research shows it’s healthier to create a culture of openness and discussion when it comes to innovation.
Evaluation and shortlisting – value, fit and do-ability
When you have a large number of new ideas, I really do not recommend that you spend a long time doing detailed evaluation of each one. This is a waste of time, and could take a long time to complete. Instead, it’s better to use your intuition, along with the right amount of structure, to do a first cut, and then focus your subsequent efforts on those ideas that make it through.
Useful criteria to apply in your first, high level screening process include:
- Value – the tangible and intangible benefits that the idea could bring.
- Fit – how well the idea fits into your overall strategy and portfolio.
- Do-ability – how achievable the idea is, given the resources that you believe you can access, including with some stretch.
As you sift your ideas through the sieve of these criteria, you can make a decision on each idea:
- Go – the idea meets all the criteria, and should progress to the next stage.
- No go – the idea falls significantly short of the criteria.
- Modify – the idea nearly meets all the criteria, and could meet them all with some tweaks.
- Park – the idea is showing potential merit but the timing or conditions aren’t right. Hold this as a potential idea to revisit in the future.
Not using some structure and criteria to sort your ideas helps you to view them as part of a portfolio, and to make better decisions about how to allocate your finite time and resources.
Going through to the next stage
When you have your ‘Go’ ideas, the next stage is to action them appropriately. Put each idea into the most appropriate category:
- Business-as-usual (BAU) – work it into the usual operations of the relevant part of your business activities.
- JDI – ‘Just do it!’ – crack on straightaway!
- Project – needs organisation, structure and planning above the day-job or ordinary business activities, and is best delivered as a special project in itself.
Quick idea sorter for Evaluation and Shortlisting
- First, use this really quick and effective technique to give yourself the first evaluation and shortlisting cut for your ideas. This is not a detailed, data-driven approach. Instead it is intuitive and high-level, but you can follow with more review later and this does give you a good place to start, especially when you have lots of options to consider.
Download my awesome free Idea Sorter here. You don’t have to use this if you don’t like grids. You can use post its, pen and paper, or any other method you choose instead.
Give each idea an intuitive score, from 1-5, for each of the following items.
1 = Strongly disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Neutral
4 = Agree
5 = Strongly agree
Consider your ideas against these criteria:
- Value – The idea creates real value for me / the organisation.
- Fit – The idea fits with my strategy for where I / the organisation want(s) to be / go.
- Do-able – The idea is achievable, even with some stretch, with the resources that I will be able to access.
2. Once you have scored them, decide the next step for your ideas:
- No go
- Modify (if so, how?)
3. For each of your ‘Go’ ideas, then decide if they are:
- Special project
4. Then begin work!
Keep continuously adding your ideas into your Idea Sorter and following this process so that you build up your own pipeline which includes a repository of your ideas, your idea sorter and your decision-making framework.
Bumper bonus bits
The four follow-up options
For a more time-extended innovation pipeline once you have completed your Idea Sorter, you could consider funneling your ideas through the 4 follow up stages of Ideation, Incubation, Seeding and Growth. The worksheet has been designed to help you do that as an option.
- Ideation is about having ideas. This stage focuses on having more ideas to support your original idea – e.g. what your solution looks like, how it might work in practice, additional features and so on. Socializing – or getting others to feedback on and buy into – your early ideas can provide some important food for thought. If your work at this stage looks promising, move to the incubation stage.
- The incubation stage is focused on nurturing the original idea, and supporting ones that you created in the ideation phase, strengthening and developing your thinking. At this stage consider how well your concept will fulfil your goal, and if this is the best way you can think of to achieve it. Once you are confident that your concept is becoming relevant and fit-for-purpose, move to the seeding phase.
- The purpose of the seeding stage is to explore the product and market fit for your concept, carry out more practical, commercial research and test the user experience by constructing a prototype product or service. Using the principle of MVP – Minimum Viable Product – is essential here. MVP means the most pared down version of a product or service that can be released without material negative impact. Using the MVP principle keeps your financial and time investment as low as possible, and builds in the flexibility for learning that will empower you to adapt your proposition accordingly. These adaptations and developments are likely to be an iterative process once the idea is launched.
- The growth phase involves launching your idea, and handing it over to become integrated with business-as-usual activities, still being tended to, but with supporting actions becoming more about promotion and take-up.
Do as much sorting and decision-making as you can early on
You will probably have noticed that the stages become more intensive and costly as they progress from 1 to 4. The further your ideas travel through the funnel, the more management and attention they need to succeed. Clearly, this is why your Idea Sorter can play such an important role at the beginning of your innovation activities.