insights & research

How do you pick the best ideas?

You have just had a great brainstorming session and came up with a ton of new ideas. What do you do next?  How do you pick the very best ones?

People naturally get excited about their ideas.  However, one thing that bothers people who are generation oriented is that, in their mind, they see the right way to look at a problem and probably the right solution.  Yet, they implicitly know the idea will go forward to people in management who often have hidden reasons for picking what they, themselves want to do. These people will often trump what obviously is a good idea and the right thing to do for the business, by something already prejudged in their mind and kill the idea.  

Here are some tips for facilitators to make sure the ideas keep coming and best ones prosper:

Diverge on the evaluation criteria first.

It might sound crazy to some people but is critical: effective evaluating starts with diverging - not on the actual ideas but on the criteria you will be using to discuss and evaluate the ideas. You have to be open-minded about evaluation. As a leader, you have to get everybody diverging first before they have any chance to jump into picking something for a ‘hidden’ reason that we don’t know or something that’s going to be ‘hot’ for the next three months instead of a really, really good long-term idea.  

Everyone has a voice.

The next thing that is critical – picking (converging on) the best criteria to evaluate the ideas also requires being creative.  You just don’t make a grid of the criteria vs. the ideas, then give each idea a number rating and pick the one with the highest score. You need to be thinking about how do we involve other people?  How do we get people to say what they’re thinking?  What’s the best methodology we’re going to use?  Maybe it should be comparison analysis? Maybe it should be something else?  You must be creative about it that includes involving people - bringing out the best in them and being careful not to let higher-level people take over or talk down to them.  This is where careful converging still using deferral of judgment is done - it helps everyone voice their thoughts so that the group and the leader really understand what it means to “pick” a certain idea.

Watch out for the strong personalities with no stake in the outcome.

Another challenging situation to avoid is where you are trying to evaluate some good ideas and make some tough choices and someone with a very strong personality, who might just be there to help, has their own agenda and tries to take over.  It could be a group of people working on something at their church or a benevolent issue in their local community/city.  Gathering a large group of people to get their input is crucial, but you often find out there’s really only one or two key clients – those individuals whose “necks are on the line” to get something done. Be very careful if you have a person who is only there to help but has their own agenda and starts taking up a large amount of time rambling on and not letting other people talk and yet in the end, they’re not really the one(s) who are saddled with the responsibility of implementing the solution.  A good facilitator must be deft at letting the group be creative and not let energies be drained that way.

No voting.

The final essential tip - no “voting”.  Two pitfalls of voting – 1) you don’t talk about it and 2) there will be winners and losers. Nothing is going to work when you have winners and losers - you might get people buying into stuff on the surface but they don’t really underneath.  They’ll go back and report: “I never voted for it and I know it will fail.”  Make sure that at every step of the process (fact finding, problem defining, idea finding, etc.) has consensus and people onboard.  Without consensus at each step, you’ll end up with “a house of cards”.  With no consensus there is no commitment – you’ll end up with something that isn’t going to work and people who will just nod their heads to be nice.  

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