By Aaron Eden on July 14, 2014
All great startup ideas come from ‘tinkering in a garage’, right? That’s where the lone wolf genius has an epiphany, whereby a new idea is born, which will soon take the world by storm. The flash of a light bulb — the invention of which is usually credited to Thomas Edison — has become the cliche image for this spark of a new idea. Yet decades of light bulb inventors preceded Edison, who first filed for a patent to improve the light bulb in 1878. He tested hundreds of differently filaments before finding a material that lasted.
It would be amazing if you could predict which innovative new ideas are going to be huge for your enterprise. However, much to a lot of people’s dismay, it doesn’t work that way.
A more common scenario is this one: You get done with an amazing brainstorming session that yielded several ideas you think are worth pursuing, but when you brief your manager, he merely scowls. He tells you and the team that he doesn’t feel like you came up with any “big ideas.” “We need something that will help fill this $50 million dollar gap we have next quarter”.
Has this ever happened to you?
While he has a right to his opinion and to challenge the team to think big; during the brainstorming phase, it’s way too early to tell if an idea will be big or not. It’s impossible to predict which ideas will succeed and which ones won’t, until you actually have some data about the market reaction to a specific idea and its associated business model. That is to say; until you get your ideas in front of real customers and run behavioral experiments, you really won’t know which idea to spend your precious time and resources pursuing.
You should, however, choose a starting point and move toward by focusing on one or two ideas that begin to show promise.
Here’s how we recommend you move forward:
Bringing an idea to market is never a linear process. You will pivot and iterate many times before you find a business model that works (or before you decide to kill the idea). For that reason, start by rapidly applying two criteria to each of your ideas.
1) Which ideas do you think are most novel?
2) Which ideas are you most passionate about?
You can either use a 2 x 2 matrix to plot the ideas or simply have team members vote in 2 passes using these criteria.
![Prioritize using 2x2] (http://22.214.171.124/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/2014-07-11-06.45.32.jpg)
2 x 2 prioritization matrix – Ideas are ranked against each other based on passion and novelty.
Voting prioritization – Each team member gets 1 vote for every 3 ideas the team generated. (P = passion, N=novelty)
Either way, don’t spend more than 20 minutes on this exercise. Time spent choosing the idea to work on is time you could be out learning from customers.
Once you’ve settled on an idea to start with, you’ll want to significantly increase your customer empathy by conducting customer development interviews, customer safaris and running some behavioral experiments with these customers. From these interactions, you’ll be able to look at patterns and hopefully generate some insights about your customer and the associated business model.
As you gain insights, you will change your original business idea to suit your customer’s needs or tweak to increase the chances of having a successful business rather than a hobby. Not only will you waste less time, you’ll get to know your customers more intimately, which may reveal other ideas.
Explore Many Ideas
What if we chose incorrectly? What if one of those other ideas we prioritized low is actually our next big winner?
In most cases it will make sense to revisit your prioritized list and repeat the above process against multiple ideas. By spending a fixed amount of time searching for a winning business model for each idea you’ll increase your chances of identifying the right puzzle pieces more quickly.
The data and insights that you glean from one idea can typically be applied to another. Using this logic you could either have one team testing multiple ideas (sequentially) or you could have multiple teams exploring different ideas and sharing their data / insights with each other to move more rapidly.
We’re certain that this process will likely lead you down a different path. In other words, the idea you finish with is very likely to be nothing like the idea you began with. Using these methods you will be able to triangulate your way to a winning business model.
Your Eureka moment is simply this: Believe it or not, humans cannot predict the future. Lean Startup is about working within the cross section between creative inspiration and scientific rigor. You should feel inspired to think creatively about new ideas, but also empowered to test the ideas’ viability in the marketplace.