Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Death to Good Ideas: a New Metric

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

I imagine some of you will not be able to relate to what I’m about to say. Oh well.

There are many companies out there that struggle to generate good ideas. Perhaps your company is one of them. Your pipeline of ideas and concepts is far from overflowing and in reality should be considered anemic at best. You’re currently looking for ways to simply generate ideas in hopes that from shear volume something good will materialize. If this is where your company finds itself – attempting to generate more good ideas - the mindset set forth here will not likely resonate with you quite yet. You’re simply in a different place at the moment. But feel free to read on if you like.

This isn’t a post about how to generate ideas, or how to recognize and vet good ideas, but rather simply a philosophical mindset (with a slightly less than obvious metric) that you may find useful as your ideation endeavors evolve.

I admittedly sometimes have way too many things going on in my head. As the founder of Big E Toys I’m a person that spends a considerable amount of time dreaming up various new games and other fun stuff. In addition to these efforts, as a consultant I have new product development and marketing work I perform for other organizations. And not to mention various writing endeavors, including blogs, books, screenplays, etc.

I don’t have an issue, either on a personal or professional level, with the number of ideas at my disposal. I actually don’t feel I have an issue either, on a personal or professional level, with the number of good ideas at my disposal. Perhaps I’m delusional, but I feel my proverbial cup of ideas runneth over.

My issue arguably lies in my inability or perhaps unwillingness to kill a good idea. Thus I sometimes get a bit bogged down.

Whether you’re a small organization, big organization, somewhere in between, or even simply an individual working on a collection of projects and ideas, your time and resources are finite. Certainly you recognize this. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t possibly develop every idea and project on your list.

Assuming you have a method for determining the quality and viability of ideas and concepts, killing off an idea that absolutely sucks shouldn’t be a problem (unless the idea of course is a pet project of a prominent C-level exec. In which case you have an entirely different problem that I won’t attempt to address here. You might simply have to accept the fact that you’re screwed.) Killing off bad ideas shouldn’t be an issue either. Killing off mediocre ideas shouldn’t be an issue either.

But herein lies the existing fundamental quandary for most organizations. Your pipeline is anemic and thus mediocre ideas get approved. There simply aren’t enough good ideas in the pipeline. You inherently recognize this as a suboptimal long-term strategic condition. And to you, the solution seems obvious. Generate more good ideas. To do this, you establish a goal to produce “x” number of new ideas in a given timeframe and you establish a few new initiatives to accomplish this objective. You also begin tracking in earnest, if you haven’t already done so, the number of ideas generated as well as the number and percentage of ideas killed. With these stated goals and process, mediocrity will be eliminated. You’re starting to feel good.

But eliminating mediocrity shouldn’t be your objective. This is where the mindset needs to change.

I’m all for tracking idea generation and kill rates. These can be interesting and telling measurements. But don’t be fooled. Your success isn’t actually dependent on your ability to generate and kill ideas. Your success is dependent on the opportunity and your ability to kill good ideas.

Start tracking kill rates for good ideas. For if you’re forced to kill good ideas, you’ll be left with something truly great.

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