What Makes A Good Idea, Good?
Never before in history have ideas been so important, nor so plentiful. Ideas are everywhere these days! Big ideas, game changing ideas, groundbreaking ideas. All intended to fuel the ever-increasing consumer demand for innovation. Creative problem solving has become a daily activity for millions of eager and ambitious business people around the world.
The problem is, most don’t have a clue what a “good idea” actually is.
All Ideas Are Not Created Equal
Think about it. Just what constitutes a good idea? That it is a breakthrough concept and fundamentally changes the way people do things? Like the Kindle did? Maybe you’ve forgotten the original Sony Bookman, a monumental failure. Obviously a digital book reader was a great idea in 2007 – not so much in 1991.
That it utilizes technologies in powerful new ways? Was the atomic bomb a good idea? That one is still being debated.
Because it’s cheaper? The Yugo is considered one of the most disastrous car introductions in history.
Because it takes something familiar and “improves” on it? Like New Coke in the 80s or Crystal Pepsi in the 90s? Neither lasted a year.
Apparently new, better, improved, technologically advanced and all the other holy grails product developers and marketers seek are not what defines a good idea, at least not all the time.
So what are the characteristics of a good idea? Are they specific to the task at hand? Or are there consistent qualities that apply to just about any idea? More important, can they be defined before idea generation begins, to help guide us to the biggest, best idea possible? Or are they only evident after an idea has been conceived, implemented and tested – suggesting that generating good ideas is pretty much a matter of chance?
There are certainly common characteristics shared among all worthwhile ideas. But in most cases there will be more specific qualities that must be present for an idea to be considered highly effective for solving a particular challenge.
The Common Elements of Good Ideas
Different/Better – For a good idea to be good, it must be at least somewhat different from something else – whatever the new idea is attempting to replace. And it must offer some degree of improvement. Otherwise, it’s just an okay idea or a bad idea. It doesn’t necessarily have to be new (as in never before done – as in “innovative”), just different from what has been done before for the specific challenge.
Delivers Value – “Value” is an interesting word in that it requires two connected elements. First, the idea must do something better – faster, cheaper, easier, more elegantly, more powerfully, more effectively, more efficiently. But that improvement must also be something somebody actually wants. All of the examples given earlier (and pretty much every other legendary product or marketing blunder) failed because nobody really wanted the improvement provided, or at least not at the expense of something else more important. Value is, by definition, something “valued.” And it is an essential component of a good idea.
Doable – A flying car or a home teleportation chamber would be nifty. But unfortunately both defy the currently accepted laws of physics. For an idea to be good, it has to be possible. It might seem obvious, but if you sit through enough brainstorm sessions, you will hear lots of impossible suggestions.
Acceptable Cost-Benefit – If the idea costs more to implement than it can deliver in terms of value, it is impractical. This applies not just to financial cost, but time, resources, energy, etc. If no one is willing to pay the price for whatever benefit the idea delivers, it’s not a good idea.
Specific Criteria for Good Ideas
Of course, every challenge has its unique aspects and requirements. So in addition to the common elements of good ideas discussed above, it is important to determine what specific characteristics an idea must have in order to be considered “good” – and to do so BEFORE you begin generating ideas.
This is rarely the case in practice. In typical group brainstorms, for example, unless the session leader has been trained in advanced brainstorming methodologies, it is unlikely that he or she will have considered the objective selection criteria for ideas generated.
By taking the time to do this before ideation begins, and sharing those criteria with the group, everyone is on the same page. The team knows what their ideas will be measured against, and can consider this when generating them. Adding this one, simple step to the brainstorming process can result in dramatically better results, both in terms of quality and quantity of good ideas.
If you’re like most people, you’re coming up with ideas all the time. Some for challenges or opportunities in business, some for use in your personal life. Take a few moments to consider – ideally before you start thinking – just what a winning idea will look like.
You’ll find it a lot easier to recognize one when it finally shows up.