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Picking the best ideas

In the previous two articles I reviewed the issue of coming up with great ideas – the source of innovation. Now that the organisation has generated lots of great ideas, you realise that you do not have the capacity to implement all the ideas, and you will have to choose the top ideas to make the best use of scarce resources.  This is an issue which all organisations struggle with, finite capacity is the reality for all of us.
 So, in this article, I want to address two issues about evaluating ideas: How to deal with evaluating lots of ideas and how to actually evaluate the ideas.
Evaluating ideas
Before jumping into evaluation techniques, a quick side comment first:  When people submit ideas as part of your innovation efforts, please make sure that each and every one gets feedback on what is happening with their ideas.  Nothing kills an innovation drive quicker than getting everybody all hyped up and people submit their great ideas – never to be heard of again by anybody.
 Even if it is the bad news that a person’s idea was not chosen, the fact that somebody made the effort to read and the review the idea, sends the message that everybody’s contribution counts and is appreciated.
Having said that, take into consideration that sometimes, depending on which method you use, it might be that you will have to evaluate lots of ideas.  I’m not talking about five or ten ideas, I am talking about hundreds of them.  
I have seen idea campaigns with organisations in Namibia where over a hundred ideas have been submitted for one challenge.  
This means that you will have to have systems, processes and resources in place to deal with such quantities of ideas.  Reading, understanding and evaluating over a hundred ideas takes time and effort!  
A practical way of dealing with lots of ideas is to first “cluster” the ideas that are more or less the same and then summarize it into one single idea.  
It is a reality that there usually are lots of “me too” ideas and in adding them together, the evaluation load is lightened. Another sound practice is to have an unbiased, objective evaluation team in place.  
Don’t lay the responsibility of evaluating hundreds of ideas on one person alone.  If you have an evaluation methodology in place, and it is applied consistently, a team can quickly run through a long list of ideas.

In order to get to the best ideas, you will also have to apply certain filters to sort the wheat from the chaff.  Ideas are not usually submitted in their “finalized” version, meaning that an idea is usually tinkered with and more details are added before it actually gets turned into an action plan with resources, activities, a budget and a schedule.  Once it gets to this stage, the “formal” evaluation techniques such as net present value, break-even, return on investment, etc. can be applied. What I want to deal with here are techniques for efficiently and effectively getting to the best ideas, when still in their “raw” form.  
To be objective, you will have to set criteria against which the ideas must be evaluated.   It will differ depending on the industry and specific context, but to do a first cut evaluation, I like the method of Paul Sloan, called the FAN method.
Are you a FAN of the idea? Is it feasible? Is it attractive? Is it novel? It is a good start and you can add other criteria as well, depending on the context, i.e. such as does it solve a problem that is relevant and important to a customer; or does it cut costs, remove a significant barrier or create a significantly different capability?  If an idea can pass all of these questions, it has a strong chance of success. 

Next Time
Now that the top ideas have been chosen, the hard part of innovation starts, putting the ideas into practice. Coming up with ideas is the fun part, but in order to realise the idea’s potential it has to be implemented, and the harsh truth is that execution is where most innovation initiatives fail. So next time I want to look at the discipline of execution. I conclude with a quote from Winston Churchill: “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information”.

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