Can You Measure Ideas?
One of the oldest pieces of management advice is “what gets measured gets done”.
Some attribute the quote above to the mathematician, Rheticus, in the 1500’s. Since then, it has been quoted, in some guise, by every major management guru as the only way to keep focused when delivering business projects.
But can you apply this to the intangible? An idea, for example?
And if you can measure an idea, should you?
MOK, our Founder, recently visited Intuit in the United States. Intuit’s founder, Scott Cook famously told his internal innovation teams to “spend almost no time doing financial forecasting or plotting plans on spreadsheets” (Inc.com). He argued that early stage ideas shouldn’t be prematurely assessed based on financial return. That the key measure should not be the tangible, for example money, but instead potential.
Measure for Potential
We wholeheartedly agree – potential should be the only measure of ideas when you are in idea generating mode. Once you bring profit, return, money into the conversation, the whole ethos of an innovation culture changes; people won’t offer their ideas for fear of being told they wouldn’t generate the right return.
Therefore, to measure the potential of ideas, ask yourself things like what insights are you building upon? will it attract new customers? Does it open avenues for diversification? Will it excite and engage employees – would they get behind it and want to bring it to fruition? Will it do anything for brand positioning – both positive and negative?
Build ideas around insight
Ideas alone are cheap. They must be grounded in insight and so the more ‘Yes’ answers you have in response to these questions, the better the potential. While this doesn’t offer a guarantee that the idea will lead to a great innovation, it certainly helps to sift the ideas, with those most likely to lead to improved business performance, prioritised.
Test, test, test
Perhaps the key to understanding the role of measuring in innovation is to recognize that good innovation starts with insight, followed by idea generating, then prototyping and then testing. Testing ideas is where measurement comes in. Google always launches projects to the public when they are no more than 80% finished and they use real-time data from users to perfect the product or discover it is not viable. You may not have the resource for real-time testing, but there are simple ways to measure successfully and freely. Our Innovation Training sessions have some simple tools to measure the value of ideas against business objectives and strategic plans but crucially, measurement has to be about value for the end-user or customer.
So, can you measure ideas?
You can measure ideas, and you must measure ideas if innovation is going to thrive and be effective in your organization. But, crucially, you must only start to measure the detail of ideas at the right time. When idea generating, the most liberating and empowering thing you can measure is simply this: how much potential does this idea have?