More than just a good idea

In the fall of 2009, I spent 2 days in a meeting where some of the brightest minds in my business came together to discuss the shared need of a new solution that addressed a known but unmet need in the marketplace. A new solution that we all had talked about around the water cooler so to speak, but didn’t quite know how to pull off. The exact nature of the business idea is irrelevant. The bottom line was that we knew it to be the right thing to do for our business and for our customers. After an intense dialog we left feeling good about ourselves and concluded the meeting with a commitment to follow-up with clear plan of action.

Fast forward many months later – not a single follow-up had taken place, and in darkened corners people still spoke about the opportunity we were potentially missing out on.

Fast forward again to the present day, and while not a whole has changed in the market, the new solution is now prominently featured as part of our long-term growth strategy. So what has changed? Let me say that what we did wasn’t rocket science. But in very complex organizations, it takes more than just great ideas to move the needle. It takes data, resolve and, quite frankly, a little bit of luck.

1) Quantify the opportunity. While anecdotally we all knew there was a need, it wasn’t until we quantified the opportunity and expressed it in actual dollars that ears actually perked up.

2) Validate your assumptions. After we quantified the opportunity, there was still the question of how we’d address that opportunity. We resolved that through some simple market research on our target audience. While we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know – I believe it was the tipping point that gave us the confidence to move forward, mitigating the risk of a miss in our offering.

3) Assign a single point of operational accountability. Determine who will, post conception, be responsible for the operational mechanics of the offering, This is essential because without that, 12 months goes by and you’re still left with just an idea. And if the business potential warrants it (as it did in this case), this person should be responsible for operationalizing as a full-time role, otherwise business as usual inevitably gets in the way.

4) Timing is everything. I mentioned there’s always a little luck involved, and there’s something to be said about being at the right place at the right time. Ideas just take time to be absorbed and comprehended. In the meantime, be prepared to defend your idea should the opportunity present itself.

If you’ve got a great idea, remember that it takes time to change an organization. Don’t get discouraged. Instead, think about what you need to influence the right stakeholders. Depend on more than just passion and anecdotal evidence to make your argument. Bringing a new product or service to market should never be about taking your word for it. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we went live with the new solution last month.


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  1. #1 by Sam on March 16, 2011 - 9:40 am

    once heard something that’s stuck with me: if it doesn’t have a budget and someone who’s responsible for it, it’s not a real “thing.”

  2. #2 by Max on March 16, 2011 - 11:59 am

    Great piece! I think you’re right on in saying that it’s never a reality that people are going to simply take your word for things. The organization is investing time, talent, and dollars not in your idea, but in your ability to make your idea become a reality that enhances the organization (or the organization’s bottom line). If they get behind it, they will experience the consequences of its success or failure…they have a stake in it. I also think you’re right in saying that reality is quantifiable and that we have to be willing to be held accountable to that quantifiability (share in the risk), not just to the inherent awesomeness of the idea. This stuff definitely applies in my line of work, too. Or at least it absolutely should…even though we might think of Number 4 as being more related to Providence than to luck ;-). Thanks for letting me learn from you! And congrats on the implementation!!

    • #3 by Kris Kaneta on March 17, 2011 - 9:56 am

      Max – thanks for the complimentary comment. Trying to see things from another person’s perspective is something I struggle with personally and the above experience went a long way towards better understanding that gap. I think the problem inherent in human nature is that we tend to assume everyone shares our “world view”. We assume a good idea to me should inherently seem like a good idea to you. But in business, as in life, our realities (and organizational inertia) shape how we prioritize what’s important. I’d say our responsibility, regardless of business or practice, is to make the project’s intent real for those we’re trying to influence.

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