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This Is What Makes an Idea Great

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Back to the Future DeLorean Time MachineGenerating ideas is wonderful. Remember those great EUREKA moments under the shower, while driving or just talking to others?

Unfortunately, the hangover is always later when you present your ideas to others. They are often less enthusiast than you and raise a lot of “BUT”… questions. Or everybody within your organization says it’s a great idea, but nothing happens after all. All of this is so frustrating. I have been there, seen it, done it and got fed up with it.

Let’s be realistic though. Most new ideas don’t lead to new successful introductions. There is considerable evidence that shows of the thousands of ideas out there, only one of them is converted into to a successful product. It takes 3000 raw ideas to get to 1 successful product1.

After I overcame my frustrations (at later age) I got the feedback and insight that my ideas were useless to both my customers and managers because they were not relevant and didn’t fit their expectations. Sometimes my ideas were way too revolutionary, way too complex or just too big to handle.

In general a great idea for new products, services or processes meets three criteria:

  1. Customers love it!
  2. The business model is profitable.
  3. It’s feasible.

When you think of recent great innovations, Like GPS navigation, the iPad, AirBNB, Uber, Tesla and Nest they all comply. And yes, innovation is in essence this simple!

Based on these three main criteria I’ve worked out a subset of 10 criteria you might use to check if your idea is great indeed, both from a customer’s perspective and the company’s perspective:

From a customer’s perspective:

  1. Superior? To what extent does the potential customer consider your idea to be superior to existing products or alternatives?
  2. Process Fit? To what extent does your idea comply with the present user-process of customers, their norms and values or in the case of business-to-business customers: their strategy.
  3. Understandable? To what extent can you explain the advantages of you idea in a simple way to potential customers?
  4. Demonstrable? To what extent are there opportunities for potential users to experience your new idea and it’s advantages?
  5. Risky? To what extent will buying – and using your idea be risky from a social or business perspective?

From a company’s perspective:

  1. Revenue Potential? What’ are the potential revenues for your idea the first three years after it’s introduction?
  2. Cannibalization? To what extent will the potential revenues of your idea cannibalize existing sales revenues of present products
  3. Positioning? To what extent will your new idea contribute to the desired image of the brand or company?
  4. Process Fit? To what extent does your new idea fit the present processes of the company (production -, IT-, logistic – and sales -).
  5. Investments? To what extent does your new idea require upfront financial investments?

Now, after you do your first personal check of how your idea scores on these criteria, make your first improvements. My final advice is to test your idea by approaching potential customers with it as soon as possible at the front end of your innovation process. Be sure to present your idea in a neutral way to them so they don’t get influenced by a wonderful looking picture, covering up a crappy idea.

Wishing you lots of success moving your great idea fast forward to market!

1 Stevens, G.A. and Burley J., 3000 Raw Ideas = 1 Commercial Success!, May/June 1997, Research Technology Management, Vol 40, #3, pp. 16-27.

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About Gijs van Wulfen

Gijs van Wulfen (1960; Dutch) is a keynote speaker on innovation and the founder of the FORTH innovation method, a proven structured way to ideate new products, services and business models. He is a LinkedIn Influencer with more than 260,000 followers worldwide and he was chosen in the top 10 of the International Top 40 Innovation Bloggers 3 years in a row. He is a best selling author on innovation with his latest book titled "The Innovation Expedition: A Visual Toolkit to Start Innovation."

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