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  • Thomas Storteboom

Evaluating Ideas: Invest a Little to Learn a Lot

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Innovating is hard. Picking the right idea can sometimes feel like guessing. So, how do you know if you are working on the right ideas?

Have you ever looked at your idea pipeline and wondered: “Why are we spending all of this time and money on these ideas? Are these ideas really going have the impact we need?”

Evaluating ideas, especially at an early stage can feel like guess work. Even harder is when you have an idea that is more risky than the other ones. That idea never gets traction because everyone can poke a hole in it. You think it could have a lot of potential, but getting people to rally around it is hard.

Albert Einstein once said:

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”.

The risky and crazy ideas are the ones with the potential to really change the game. They are also the scariest because they are so different. The comfortable ideas are the ones that are most similar to what you are doing today. They are not usually going to move the needle very far. So what do you do?

It comes down to how you manage the ideas through your process. Approving an idea for evaluation creates momentum to progress that idea through the process. The more spent on an idea creates even more process momentum. The more process momentum an idea gets, the harder it is to kill. Now you are stuck with an idea in the pipeline and everyone is wondering “why are we working on this?” Yet no one wants to be the one to stop it.

Mediocre ideas THRIVE in this kind of an environment. Game changes never see the light of day.

If you want to change this, flip your approach. You need to keep things from gaining process momentum. Break them down into smaller chunks and constantly make the idea prove itself. Keep the focus on the greatest risk associated with the idea. Make sure your investments are tied to helping reduce that risk. Use small investments to learn as much as you can about the risk. In other words:


By focusing your investments on the riskiest parts of the idea, you learn the most about the idea. Investing in part of the idea that you already are comfortable with does not make you smarter. It creates confirmation and process momentum. Now you have a potential bad idea gaining traction. Instead, focus on the risk. Spend a little bit at a time. Ensure you are learning from your investments. Evaluate what you learn.

Do you like what you learned? Invest more in the next risk.

Did you learn something you don’t like? Time to end it. There is no reason to invest more in an idea when you are learning things that do not work.

The great thing about learning is that you can stop learning at anytime. You can blame the learning for why the idea died. It s no ones fault. You just do not like what you learned. It becomes an easier conversation than stopping an idea everyone has invested a lot of effort into.

If you like what you learned? Great! Pick the next biggest risk, invest a little, and learn a lot about that one. Progress. Risk reduction. Idea evaluation without creating the wrong kind of momentum. Lot’s of opportunities to progress or end an idea as needed. Create momentum around learning and risk reduction, not around getting the idea through the process. Learning momentum will create more confidence in the ideas that are in your innovation pipeline. Hopefully it will give you the confidence to evaluate more risky ideas.

Because “if at first the idea is not absurd…”

Next time you look at your innovation pipeline, ask yourself: What do I need to learn about these ideas? Are we investing in learning? Are we learning about some risky ideas that can change the game?

You will become more confident in your innovation pipeline when you start to learn more about it.

Thanks for reading!



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