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Why Promising Bold Ideas Often Never See The Light of Day

By definition, a bold new idea is a departure from the status quo. It invokes fear and discomfort amongst the establishment. Bold ideas simply don’t fit the standard operating mold– they are full of uncertainty and doubt. No wonder they are met with skepticism and disdain.

Bold ideas require bold new strategies

If your team is chartered to define the next big thing, then they must be thinking strategically. But often times, teams are confusing strategy making (the creation of bold new strategies), with incremental product development idea generation. They continue to apply their tried and true ideation and screening process hoping to come up with the next big thing. But because their screening process works so good, the next big thing never sees the light of day.

If we judge bold ideas based on established decision making criteria early on in the innovation process, it is highly likely we will dismiss bold ideas as being too far outside our business comfort zone. As a result, we forgo possible breakthroughs and are instead left with safe bets and line extensions. While safe bets are fine for the near-term, they will not yield the game changing concepts companies need to stay ahead of the competition.

Show me the proof!

There is a natural tendency for us to judge the merit of new ideas – be it a bold new product idea or a new business strategy – based on what we believe to be true. Our collective wisdom and experience has guided us well over the years, and has helped us create a winning playbook.

Our innovation playbooks typically includes a screening process that facilitates our decision making on what we believe are likely product successes. We know from experience what works and doesn’t work in the market place. We believe anything that doesn’t fit our criteria will fail.

But what if we are presented with a game changing new possibilities? Where potential the rules of the game will change? Or a new possibility that defines a whole new ball game?

How can we decide if the possibility is real without evidence? And how can we be certain “if we build, they (customers) will come?”

What clear evidence exist to validate a future strategic option?

A future strategic option (possibility) may or may not unfold. We simple don’t have enough evidence to make a judgment based on the initial facts if a possibility will materialize. Any discussion of evidence in the early stages of the strategy process hinders our ability to cultivate a breakthrough strategies beyond what we think we know today, thus we end up dismissing great possibilities for the future.

Arguing “what is true” in the early stage of generating strategic options (a.k.a. bold new product ideas) detracts from the innovation process. In addition to killing promising ideas before they have had a chance to form, the culture becomes combative and closed minded to imagining new possibilities. It becomes a game of which idea originator can “sell” the best, and which skeptic can derail other’s ideas the fastest. Not conducive to an innovative culture.

What would “have” be true for a bold idea to be true?

If instead we change the dialogue to “what would have to be true,” then the skeptic can say “for me to be confident in this possibility (idea), I would have to know ….”

For example: “ I would have to know that people struggle to get this specific important job done and are looking for a better way to get their job done.”

When the skeptic reframes his concerns this way, he not only opens up the dialogue for future exploration, but specifies the exact source of the skepticism rather than a blanketed condemnation. This also helps the rest of the team understand the skeptic’s reservations and develop the proof to overcome them.

What are all the conditions that must be true for a possibility to be a success?

For each possibility under consideration, a team must explore and enumerate all the conditions that have to be true for a possibility to be an attractive strategy. Everyone on the team must be able to say “if this condition were to be true – then I feel comfortable this possibility is a reality.”

All conditions put forward by the team are added to the list. The person putting the condition forward should simply be asked to explain why that condition would be necessary for her to be confident. She should not be challenged about the truth of the condition.

You want every member of the team to examine all the conditions that would have to be true, in order for each member to feel cognitively and emotionally committed to each possibility under consideration.

If any members of the team are not committed to the possibility, they must be asked “what additional condition would enable you to say yes.” This line of questioning should continue until every member replies affirmatively.

In future articles we will examine Lafley’s and Martin’s Seven Point Strategy Framework to uncover the conditions that have to be true for a possibility to be an attractive strategy. And explore how to consolidate the condition list down into the specific conditions that are most likely not to hold true, and test them to validate or refute the attractiveness of the innovative possibility under investigation.

Here’s to great possibilities!


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