Not all ideas are created equal

Alex Osborn got it half right.

It was Osborn who in 1948 taught us all how to conduct brainstorming sessions, the energetic and fun “divergence” phase of creative problem solving. It is Osborn’s rule to suspend judgment and avoid criticism that is most harped-upon by brainstorming coaches. That guidance may be fair enough in an actual live session, but sadly it often spills over into the entire process and paralyzes would-be innovators.

Alex Osborn at work

According to the Creative Education Foundation, Alex Osborn found that "conventional business meetings were inhibiting the creation of new ideas and proposed some rules designed to change that."

Not all ideas are equal; some are relevant to the task at hand, others are not. Some might be technically feasible as they stand, others might require extensive research and validation. Some are outright poorly framed, unintelligible, or uninformed.

To move past the idea generation stage, ideas must be collected, organized, evaluated, coalesced, developed, and often discarded, in order to create a smaller distillation of richer concepts that are suitable for serious prototyping and possibly full implementation. This is the “convergence” phase of problem solving.

Convergence isn’t nearly as much fun as brainstorming. It feels like, and is, actual work. It takes time, knowledge, and experience, usually from busy experts. It requires evaluation and decision-making on multiple dimensions. Too often it takes the form of emailed messy spreadsheets with poorly defined categories and a process that is easily corrupted by favoritism.

Many idea management systems support tick-box processes that mimic those ugly spreadsheets, and it’s no surprise that they’re often ignored in favor of the boss’s simple direct picks, which fails to tap organizational expertise and is too often influenced by risk avoidance over value creation.

But we can do much better. We can have a serious businesslike process for idea evaluation that is scalable, fair, information-rich, validated, and yet fast and even fun to do.

The method arose in the Enlightement, that heady era of Mozart, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson … and the Marquis de Condorcet.

Marquis de Condorcet

The Marquis de Condorcet's method was developed for politics, though has many applications in the world of collaboration.

Condorcet outlined a voting method that could select a parliament in a fair and unbiased way. Modern implementations of Condorcet’s method can present ideas side-by-side with evaluation against several criteria (“Which of these two ideas would be faster to implement?”). At the upcoming Innovation Leaders Forum in New York, Imaginatik will unveil a new tool that will use this method to make reviewing ideas faster, easier, and yes, more fun.

The Innovation Leaders Forum will be held Wednesday, Feb. 19 at the New York Stock Exchange in New York City. Register today to hear from innovation leaders including Braden Kelley, Rowan Gibson, and more.

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