Why Good Ideas Fail
In conference rooms across the globe, teams are meeting to brainstorm, discuss and evaluate new ideas that will drive organizations in new directions. From products, processes and services, companies are deluged with ideas from both internal teams and external influencers like customers, market experts and consultants.
I remember early in my career sitting in a large conference room, ready to unveil our latest piece of work to our Executive Team. Our team had spent months working on this idea and it was nothing short of brilliant (in our opinion).
Executives began to trickle in, visibly feeling rushed from one meeting to the next. We were the last meeting of the day, and the team’s excitement was palpable as we began to present our idea that would change our approach entirely when it came to the European Market.
Within three minutes of starting, our team transitioned from excitement to disbelief as the CEO systematically picked apart our idea citing obscure data and opinions on the market. Within three minutes, a VP at the end of the table proposed “another” approach that at its core was exactly what we had just presented. The CEO, leaned over and listened intently and the focus moved away from our presentation to the VP’s analysis of their “new” found idea. Wait, what just happened? Our team sat in a bit of stunned silence, as idea ownership officially transferred to someone else.
Time to Idea Failure : 2 minutes and 3 Seconds
There is something naturally exciting and inspiring about idea generation within organizations. The common feeling among teams of people is that we can create something bigger, better and more meaningful for organizations. People are very passionate about their ideas. Not all ideas, however, will be accepted — creating a demoralization factor that can’t be ignored. In fact, most times you will find it’s easy for people to dismantle the validity of your ideas versus rallying around them.
The danger and the challenge is knowing when it is the right time to release an idea into the wild (internally or externally). There is no specific science to this, it is more of an art. The art side demands the ability to broker deals with allies and foes within the organization. The art of the relationship is a critical component to success. Once you have established a firm beachhead relationally with both parties, you can begin to vet the idea. Do not spring ideas. They have to be trickled. While that might be a pain-staking proposition, the relational equity you gain will be valuable longer term.
In a prior position, we adopted an Open Innovation Model that pursued “outsiders” and their ideas to participate in the ideation process. We knew that within organizations there were disparate groups working on like ideas in their protected areas of influence. Additionally, we knew there was an abundance of like thinking occurring outside of the organization. We found that when we entered a co-creation mode, we generated higher quality targets for executives to react to. Instead of having 175 ideas coming from different areas, we would have 15 that represented the best and diverse thinking.
Lesson - Inclusion beats exclusion. Include people from outside of your organization as well as trusted internal teams.
The one thing I’ve found throughout my career is that nobody or group is short on ideas, the trick is choosing the right one. We have spent a great deal of time as ideators coming up with as many ideas as we can, filling the funnel, and yet we often fail in choosing the one that will have the most impact (while we do get lucky sometimes).
The science part is to have a method that will help you with the discipline of looking at all aspects of an idea, and then vet the idea through that process. We use a method that we developed that aligns ideation to strategic goals, unique market positioning, internal capabilities/capacity and most importantly, the organization’s core mission and value. You have to look at all of these influencers to ensure the idea has a chance of winning. One variable too far off can create mayhem in your process. And remember, even though the idea looks good in theory, the data has to relevantly support the idea.
The art part is really born out of experience and maturity. It’s the individuals or teams intuition and domain knowledge that lends itself to knowing the right play. This intuition is gained over time and exposure to the outside forces of the world.
I worked with a colleague for nearly 10 years who understood the art of doing this. He somehow knew what idea target to go after over 90% of the time and somehow the data always seemed to support his intuition. He gained this through years and years of product development, sales experience and just hard knocks maturity. There is no fast track to the art (although, I have met some brilliant anomalies).
Art and Science together is as we know a powerful combination, especially when it comes to idea development. Successful ideas are born out of having both equally represented.
Lesson - Ideation is not all art, you have to root decisions in the science as well. Insure your teams have both represented.
This seems pretty obvious but often is the most difficult part of growing and maturing an idea, making it a real produceable thing.
By our very nature, as ideators, we are quick in the beginning but tend to slow as our ideas require more time, more data and more attention. We like the excitement of the hunt and the “takedown” of an idea versus the ongoing “parenting” that’s often required to make it successful. So, at the end of the day, after you have aligned people around the idea and its crazy potential, you have to actualize that idea. Frankly, this has less to do with process and more to do with people.
Earlier I stated you need art and sciences represented. In people language, you have to have dreamers and doers on your team. When you have only “dreamers” on your team, the focus will be on the idea and what it could be and frustrations will grow as decision-makers begin asking about organizational impacts (market impact, ROI, cost of delay, etc.). If you only have “doers”, the beauty of an idea will get diluted by over-analysis and over-consensus.
It takes both dreamers and doers to execute a great idea. A team infused with passionate dreamers and relentless executers will not easily lose sight of the ideas mission. And while it’s a true exercise in relationship management, the reward on the other side can be pretty amazing. When you have this magic concoction dialed in, idea actualization often becomes an achievable thing.
Ten years and a couple of companies later, I look back on all the ideation I’ve had the opportunity to participate in and frankly, the ideas are not the things I remember. My markers of success have been the people I’ve worked with that had the “right” formula -passion, execution and leadership. When you have the people part figured out, the ideas and actualization just seem to happen.
Thinking back to that conference room, with all the wisdom, passion and leadership we had in one room, we should have seen it more opportunistically then we did. The idea, was in the open, the CEO had some data and the other VP’s bought into the idea by taking it as their own. It had all the components of a winning formula.
Ideas usually fail because we haven’t connected them with intuition, data and people.