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April 29, 2009

What to do with all those ideas...

I originally wrote this post thinking about consultants - but I think it applies to anybody who has to manage a team of innovative, intelligent and motivated who have large ego's.

(For clarification - I like consultants to have an ego, if they do not they are less likely to be able to develop commercial relationships with decision makers and executives.)

Innovative people throw out several brilliant ideas per day. Some of which are commercially viable, some of which are just intellectual exercises, and some of which could change the world.

The problem is - what to do with so many great ideas?

Many of us seem to think that there is an idea approval agency and all we need to do is tell someone our idea, and wait for them to come back to us with the plans to move it forward.

That way it is no longer our problem. We've done our bit, we thought of it, and if nothing happens then thats somebody else's fault. (The person we told)

Not gonna happen! As a manager of consultants, and someone who interacts with lots of other consultants, I hear a vast number of brilliant ideas ever day. I couldn't act on 10% of them even if I tried to!

You need to turn ideas back on the people who came up with them. The key thing I try to get through to people is "Thats great, now how do we put it into practice, and how do we make money from it?"

The detail of what to do with an idea, and how to turn it from a good concept to a commercial reality generally stops people from rushing towards me as soon as they have had a blood rush to the brain.

And when I do speak to them about their ideas they are generally well formed, and there is a definite plan behind hem.

My questions to them are, in no particular order:

1) What is it? - This alone gets people thinking. people tend to often confuse an idea with an opportunity. For example, I could have told you in 1990 that a way to organize the worlds information would be great - but I could never in my wildest dreams have come up with an idea like Google.

2) Who wants it? Is there a real want out there? And if so which industry, discipline, sector, country etcetera would want it? And why do they want it? Is there anything around today that does the same job? Are we replacing something, or creating something that doesn't yet exist?

No analysis required. People didn't know they wanted a fat pen until one existed. So I don't tend to look too much to studies, research and particularly not focus groups. (Yuck)

3) What will be needed to put it into practice? Is this innovation or iteration? Is it something extremely new (like SaaS when launched) or is it just additional functionality, slightly different business models, or a different form of getting people to give you their attention?

4) How much will it cost? Rough figures of money, resources or time. There is always a cost, it is just a matter of working out what that cost is. Also, we need to work out who pays for it. Will a client fund the development of this? Or is there a friendly client who will allow us to test run it with their people / site / equipment etcetera.

5) What's it worth? As well as who wants it there needs to be some form of rough idea of how much this could make. Not magically appearing figures that strangely add up to the hurdel rate for investment - but non-emotional conservative estimates of earnings.

We need to know whether this is an asset, something that will earn money almost by itself, or an enabler - something that will allow us to entrench ourselves further, maybe build an additional service offering, or charge slightly higher rates.

I love innovation and I love innovative people. But enough is enough or you just end up as the dumping ground for everyones brilliant "this will change the world) random thoughts.

I am not in favor of setting a high bar, nor do I have any hesitations in branching into sidelines and other areas.

But I do want to put some of the responsibility for validating ideas back with the people who have the greatest stake in them, their originators. If they have a convincing argument then I will help to take it to the next step, if they don't then there is no way that I am going to be able to help them further.