In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
Predictably, opinions vary about the process but all experts agree that there must be a lot of ideas to get a few good ideas and a lot of good ideas to get a few excellent ideas and then (you guessed it) a lot of excellent ideas to get one or (maybe) two “insanely great ideas” as Steve Jobs characterizes them. I’ve just read a book by Gerald Sindell, The Genius Machine: The 11 Steps That Turn Raw Ideas into Brilliance, that may be of interest and value. He shares his insights about thinking “that is directed toward improving an existing idea, thinking through a complete issue, or creating something new.” The eleven “steps” to which the subtitle refers are in a sequence devised by Sindell. He devotes a separate chapter to each. They are: Distinctions, Identity, Implications, Testing, Precedent, Need, Foundation, Completion, Connecting, Impact, and Advocacy. Obviously, the sequence suggests a specific process by which to subject an existing idea to rigorous and relentless pressure, to a “crucible” of scrutiny and evaluation.
So, the best way to generate great ideas is to generate lots of ideas, then lots of good ideas, and then lots of excellent ideas (subjecting each to a process such as the one Sindell advocates) and hope that eventually one or two great ideas survive that process. There are other sources worth checking out, notably Tom Kelley’s two books (The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation) in which he explains the brainstorming process at IDEO, a design and innovation firm based in Palo Alto that he and his brother David founded in 1991. With regard to generation of ideas, I also recommend Tim Hurson’s Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking and Making Innovation Work: How to Manage It, Measure It, and Profit from It co-authored by Tony Davila, Marc J. Epstein, and Robert Shelton.
It is important for everyone involved to remember, including CEOs and other senior managers, is that the process of generating and evaluating ideas, and then (perhaps) producing one or two great ideas inevitably involves lots of failure, is messy and frustrating, takes time, and requires sustained support. Potentially great ideas are like seedlings. They do not respond well to being pulled out of the ground to see how well they’re doing.
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob