Leadership

Evaluating Innovative Ideas

Ryan Miller
August 16, 2017

Evaluating Innovative Ideas

In a world full of instant access and information, we are constantly being asked for more. All around us, technology has given us the ability to not only dream about what is possible, but to openly inquire if it is already possible. We are all being asked to innovate at every turn.

Stuck between leaps of technological growth, we still communicate the old fashioned way with our colleagues, our bosses, and our partners. The ability to dream of an even more efficient world is not lost in those conversations and they often leads to comments starting with:

  • What if we could...
  • Do you think maybe we...
  • What would happen if...
  • I really wish there was a...

A scientist by training, these questions are written in my DNA. No one wants to evaluate the possibilities—both positive and negative—more than I do. But in the increasingly fast-paced world, we are often put in a position of quickly determining if these questions deserve thorough investigation and innovation, or if we just want permission to dream about possibilities.

To help sort the "important now" from the "possible later," I offer my own analysis that I’ve had the pleasure of developing through years of research chemistry. I call it the "Can-Should-How" Method.

Can we do this?

This is such a simple question, however it is often left unanswered. The challenge is not to think of how you would adapt your current processes to "get close" to accomplishing the objective. You can think through all that later. Instead, be overly critical of your (or your team's) time and technology. Be straightforward. This answer should come quickly to you and always be either yes or no, never maybe.

Should we do this?

Do you know the goal or hopeful end result, as well as WHY it’s important? This is the time to get to that answer. Sometimes people hide their “why” when given the opportunity to dream of endless possibilities. If you aren't sure why this is important or how it can be adapted, take time to pause, ask another question, and learn more. Remember, at this point, you haven’t said you can't or won't do something. Instead you're choosing to connect, learn more, and directly tether an idea or solution to a need. There is nothing more powerful than that.

How do we do this?

Once you have determined something can be done and you know why it is needed, you’re free to evaluate how to accomplish it. Now is the time to consider your current processes and how to adapt them to fulfill the need in a timely fashion. Keep in mind, if you are truly innovating or developing something new, your process may initially look very different than how you would hope to complete this in the future. That is ok! Recognize your current limitations and be open to ways to solve them in the future. Innovation is iterative.

We all have the desire to deliver expertly on all things to all people. With practice, Can-Should-How will help you not only do that, but save you time and build stronger relationships. Remember, people will evaluate you on how well you deliver what they need, not how often you do what they ask.

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