You have an idea to solve a problem or opportunity, whether it be a new process for your department or even a new business idea. So how do you figure out if your idea will actually work and if it’s sustainable? People often come up with ideas that could be significant, but they struggle with quantifying them to determine if they can be viable products, improvements, services or businesses with true value.
Regardless of the initial inspiration, innovations that eventually produce results all follow a disciplined framework from problem/opportunity to impact. And successful innovation takes more than one great idea. The fact is that innovations succeed with a large number of ideas and fail because of a lack of them.
In order to determine if your idea is good enough, you must make sure it is fully developed. Here is a four-part question framework that will help you organize, quantify—and maybe even reimagine—your idea:
1. How well do you understand the problem/opportunity?
It is commonplace for companies and people to dive headfirst into finding a solution without fully understanding the problem or opportunity they are facing. They set out to imagine an innovative solution, while only seeing it through one lens—their own. To truly understand a problem/opportunity, you must gather information from a variety of sources and groups. You must understand not only how it affects you or your team, but also who else is being affected by it and in what way. This is where complete data collection and group collaboration is paramount. In striving to more completely understand the problem/opportunity, you must identify who can help you see it from a different angle.
2. How does your idea address the problem/opportunity?
Once you fully understand the problem or opportunity, it will be easier to break down exactly how your idea solves the need. By examining the results of your idea on everyone who is affected by the problem/opportunity, you will be able to see if your solution has value for only few or for many. You can use the same data you gathered to assess the problem/opportunity to measure how far-reaching your idea will be. Start by listing the ways that your idea will provide for solutions for others, and how many groups of people it will positively affect. This will help you see the true potential of your idea to have maximum effect. You may find that during this step you must add ideas to your original innovation in order to expand its reach.
3. How clear is your idea?
Once you’ve developed your idea, the next step is to clarify it. Using only a few sentences, you should be able to explain your idea to somebody, as well as the results it provides. The more clarity you have around your idea, the better you will be able to communicate it, which will help you get the support and funds you need from others. This enhanced clarity will also aid you as you start to execute the idea.
Asking more questions can help your idea become clearer. A great technique for enhancing clarity is the five whys method. You start with the initial question—'How does my idea solve the problem/opportunity?'—and then ask why five times, each time building upon the previous answer. In this way, you are able to come up with ideas that the previous question could not generate.
4. Is your idea the best solution?
After going through the first three questions, you will have involved others, examined the problem/solution more fully, and hopefully peeled back the layers of your original idea to reveal additional potential or even gaps that need filling. Armed with this information, now is the time to honestly evaluate whether your idea is the best solution to the problem/opportunity.
The answer may be 'yes'; the answer may be 'no'; or the answer may be 'partially'. Your idea may be the seed idea that helps the team you’ve assembled to generate even more ideas until a complete solution is discovered. In many cases the full potential of an idea is not evident and may not be found in the original problem it was intended to solve.
After taking your idea through these four questions, you should now know whether or not it is viable. You may also find that the idea evolved from question one to question four, which is part of the process of innovation.