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All Great New Products Start Off as a Good Idea. But No Great Product Starts Off as a Bad Idea

I have been spending a lot of my time recently working on a winery business with my partners down in Paso Robles and Ukiah. We are really excited with the our first vintage and looking forward to launching our first release sometime this fall. As I have become more involved with the wine industry and wine making, I appreciate more and more what it takes to create a great bottle of wine, and how analogous great wine making is to developing and launching great new products.

For example: All great wine starts with great grapes, but no great wine starts from poor grapes. On the other hand, starting with great grapes is no guarantee that great wine will result. It’s all about the winemaker’s ability to transform great grapes into great wine. In the right hands, great grapes will become great wine. But even in the hands of the most gifted winemaker, bad grapes will always result in bad wine.

Same can be said for great new products. A good development and marketing team can take a good to great idea and transform it into a great business success. But no development team can take a poor idea and transform it into a great business success – at least not a sustainable business success. That’s why it is critical that your ideation process consistently generates good to great ideas that move into your formal product development process, because ideas that start out bad, usually end up bad.

How Do You Come Up With Good Ideas To Begin With?

Coming up with great ideas is a process – often called the  ideation process. It happens in the very front end of innovation. (See figure 1 below). Ideas start out vague and raw, lack clarity and definition.

I content that no new idea ever starts out fully formed, not even in the imagination of the gifted innovator like Steve Jobs – they may start off very promising and exciting – or whimsical and so-so, but never are all the answers – or equally important are all the “ question’s” understood. Einstein’s quote:  “Imagination is more important than knowledge” holds very true at this point.

Great ideas can come from almost anywhere, and from many different perspectives. Be it:

  1. A direct question from a customer: “do you have a gadget or solution that does….,”

  2. Or a hunch: “I bet people would buy this gizmo ….

  3. Or an observation: “There’s got to a better way ….


Figure 1: New Product Development Life Cycle

So why can’t we just simply pick the first good idea we come across and run it through the development process and launch it?  Wouldn’t we save a lot of time and money?

No! Because most ideas simple aren’t winners!

There have been lots of studies that try to determine how many ideas it takes to get to a final winning product. The most often number quoted is 58 ideas for every winning product (Booze Allen & Hamilton). I have seen other numbers in the order of one in 3000 (Stevens and Burley), and PDMA sites a number one in 7.  As we discussed in last week’s article (How Much Risk Is In Your New Product Development Portfolio?), these numbers are all subjective because what do we mean by new product? What do we mean by an idea?  And what do we mean by success?

Depending on your definitions and how formal your ideation process, I suspect the number is less than one in 3000 and probably more than 58. The point is: it requires some experimentation and vetting to discover and converge on the best opportunities with the best chance of being successful. A well designed process is needed to capture and transform ideas into winning new product concepts.

Phase 0: The Front Edge of Innovation Is Where Ideas Are Discovered And Cultivated

There are several approaches, tools and methodologies we can apply to generate ideas and concepts. Familiar tools include brainstorming, jobs-to-be-done analysis, ethnography and observation, technology analysis, customer services logs, and trend analysis just to name a few.

As shown in figure 1 though, idea generation is an ongoing process. It’s not something that happens only once in a while when our NPD pipeline runs dry. It’s analogous to the farming of grape vines to grow great grapes. Like growing grapes, idea generation needs to have an environment where ideas can flourish with leadership (the passionate farmer) and processes (farming techniques) to make sure the ideas mature form their initial inspirations into fully formed product concepts (ripe grapes) ready for development (harvesting and winemaking).

In future articles, I’ll explore how we can create an environment where ideas will flow and flourish, and the tools you can use to discover, cultivate and transform raw ideas into well-formed product concepts.

Sorting and Screening Ideas

Best practice companies create a robust free flowing idea generation process in the front end, because we frankly don’t know what we don’t know. Good ideas can come from anywhere, but we know we can’t chase them all. We have to filter them down into a digestible number that we can further refine through our NPD process (see figure 1).

We need a system to translate ideas into uniform concept statements (product concept statements and job-statements using J2BD terminology), to avoid the problem of good ideas that get overlooked because they are presented poorly and weak or marginal ideas that are selected because they are presented well. And a screening tool to select the best from the rest so we can focus our resources on bold new ideas and eliminate the ho-hum “me-too” boring products the market no longer wants.

In future articles, I’ll  provide methods of combining (growing), sorting and selecting the best ideas from the rest.  In the meantime have a great glass of wine and be thankful not only to the winemaker who made the wine but to the grower who cultivated the great grapes.



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