One of the challenges that every innovative leader faces is how to select among different ideas that emerge during the innovation process. Which ideas do you select? What ideas do you begin to prototype?
Leading the innovation process requires getting your team to develop a lot of ideas (good and bad ones) and connecting them in creative ways. It's an ideation journey that's at once fun, exhilarating, and frustrating. But the rubber hits the road when you have to make up your mind which idea to move ahead.
In a world where resources are scarce and in an environment in which the most rational decision could lead to failure, leaders have to use their own experience in deciding which idea to move forward.
How do you select one idea over another?
The innovation leadership dilemma is a classic decision-making problem. Unless you have a template by which to judge ideas, you'll be flipping and flopping, and you'll never be quite sure how to select. In an organizational context where time and resources are essential, you need to have clear criteria to select the best idea.
In the final analysis, innovation leaders are held accountable not simply for the success of the prototype, but for their decision to move an idea or prototype forward. When you're facing that challenge, you have to give a justification beyond your gut feeling. You need to present the criteria you used to support your decision. The following are some criteria that you should consider.
Leaders can choose to rely on Occam's razor. They can select the idea that makes the fewest assumptions. By choosing an idea that has the fewest unknowns a leader can safeguard against surprises and disasters.
Of course, the simplest solution may not be the most daring. A leader who promotes innovation won't always take the well-traveled road, but won't leave behind their map either.
Does the idea fulfill a practical need? Is it utilitarian? That is, does it answer some particular problem or meet some particular market demand. If it does, is it likely that the idea can find a market niche? The practicality, usability, and marketability of an idea are crucial.
Is this a niche idea answering a one-time unique need or customer demand? Does the idea have some market stability over time, or is it a fad? Ideas that become antiquated before they even reach market are ideas that should be selected with extreme caution.
Is the prototype capable of being scaled? Can it be duplicated with consistency, meet continuous standards, and be replicated in such a way that it can be produced and produced again without constantly being reinvented or adjusted?
Can this idea become a habit or a trend? Often "stickiness" is used from the utilitarian standpoint (that is, its usability) but stickiness can also define its emotional appeal. Is the idea or prototype capable of bringing to market a product that will be driven over time by the customers' sense that it is a necessity?
Is this idea fully integrated with the organizational strategy? Often ideas and prototypes are wonderful in their own right, but outliers in the organizational strategy may not receive the organizational support necessary to sustain the viability of the effort. They will peter out. Great ideas, useable prototypes must be integrated, or capable of being integrated with the overall strategy of the organization.
This is usually what everyone focuses on. Competing ideas are always ranked by their perceived earning potential, but the answer is not always clear.
It's an innovation leader's unique job to keep an eye not only on an idea's dissemination potential and revenue opportunity, but also on the other factors discussed above.
Leaders often have to make hard decisions, and innovation leaders must constantly evaluate what idea or prototype to move forward. Every time you make a decision, you're at risk. No matter how much data you've accumulated or how much research you've done, something will be missed. What is important is that you develop a language of justification; whether your idea has succeeded or failed, you need to be able to let others know why you choose one path over another.