Ideas might be a dime a dozen, but a successful idea has the potential to transform your entire business.
Ideas are an essential part of the Idea Management Process, so properly understanding what constitutes a successful idea may be the key to unlocking your company’s full potential.
How then do you learn how to identify a successful idea?
First things first, there are actually two different ways to interpret the question:
- How do you generate and/or identify a successful idea, i.e. an idea with the potential for success.
- What can you do to help an idea to succeed?
Only by answering both of these interpretations can you get a full and powerful picture of what a successful idea really looks like.
How to generate a successful idea
It’s important to note that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to generate one single successful idea. Just as one person is unlikely to come up with the solution to every question your business faces, your first idea is only occasionally going to be the best.
In most cases, what ultimately becomes the successful idea emerges as a result of broad, imaginative brainstorming. Sometimes it’s an amalgamation of a number of successful ideas. Often you’ll only be able to truly see the successful idea for what it is when it’s placed in contrast with many, many other potential solutions. In short: one idea is rarely enough.
If you want to help your team generate many high-quality, useful ideas that may become successful, there are three key questions you should ask of each idea:
- Does it tackle a real problem?
The best way to help your team (or yourself) to come up with a successful idea is to set a clear objective. This can either be established from the top-down, as part of your wider business strategy, or bottom-up, as your employees bring you issues and friction points that they encounter day-to-day.
Make sure to let your team know what your priorities are, and what insight you need, while always remaining open to seeing what else emerges.
- Is it possible? Is it realistic?
While ‘blue sky thinking’ – an exercise where you imagine what would be possible if there were not limits – is a fantastic brainstorming tool, it doesn’t always help you to identify a successful idea.
As you review and evaluate your available ideas, you need to ask: can this actually happen, given our realistic energy and resources?
- Does it satisfy key stakeholders?
This can be one of the trickiest questions when trying to identify a successful idea, as it is the most subjective element.
You may feel that your chosen idea both solves a real problem, and does so in a realistic way, but it still won’t please your key stakeholders.
Prepare for this by maintaining a two way dialogue, taking everyone’s expectations into account from the start of the process. After all, a successful idea needs to make sense to the people who make the final call, or it’s not going to work.
How can you help an idea succeed?
So you’ve generated an idea that has the potential to be successful. Now you need to maximise its chances of success. This means working out how to present your ideas accurately, persuasively and with maximum impact, and then taking it to the right people.
Before you escalate the idea to the top-level decision makers in your business, consider how best to present it in order to meet the needs of each level of stakeholder along the way. After all, for your idea to succeed, you need everyone to get onboard.
For each group that needs to buy in, consider: should this idea be encountered as a presentation, email, business case study, or as part of a wider company meeting? Check in with colleagues and other staff members who have presented successful ideas in the past to see how they did it, and if they have any tips.
Once you’ve delivered your idea and it’s been approved by all the relevant stakeholders, it’s time to implement.
As you begin to turn your idea into reality, you need to ensure that you are:
- Testing, i.e. think about running a small or medium-sized pilot scheme (or both), to iron out any kinks in your plan before a hard launch.
- Iterating, i.e. don’t be afraid of implementing your idea in waves, and making changes along the way.
- Evaluating, i.e. invite feedback from both above and below throughout the process, and always set KPIs before you start, so you can measure success against tangible gains.
This is where the Idea Management Process really comes into its own.
What makes an idea successful?
Ultimately, a truly successful idea is one that successfully reaches full implementation.
Treat ideation as the funnel that feeds your overall innovation strategy. Like a physical machine, this funnel will need to be cleaned and maintained. You should refine your process over time, by applying the same tools that you use to evaluate ideas to the process itself.
If you practice this over time, your chances of identifying and implementing a successful idea will constantly improve.