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  • Writer's pictureDr. Babette Sonntag

The right maturity balance for successfull idea management

Drei unterschiedlich große Kugeln halten die Balance auf einem Brett
Die richtige Balance im Ideenmanagement

It's a dream situation when the thought pops into our heads: "That's a brilliant idea! This can work!". This feels so good. And the first description of the idea just flows onto the concept sheet. But then the big question for successfull idea management arises: How much do I have to clarify, research, answer, describe, analyze and calculate before I can talk to a decision-maker about my idea? How "mature" must be my idea be to be successful?

There are two often-discussed extremes when communicating a new idea: perfectionism and "early start".

Of both, only the disadvantages are considered and the recommendation is: “Choose the middle of them.”

In addition to the disadvantages of the two extreme approaches, I would also like to look at their advantages, because both have their justification. No one who chooses one or the other for good reasons should feel discouraged with a new idea. Afterwards I would like to give a good advise for the right “middle”, the “good maturity balance”, as I call it.

Perfectionism - the idea is MATURE

Perfectionism is defined as "excessive striving for perfection" and "excessive error avoidance" (see Wikipedia Link ). Synonyms include "pedantry", "formalism" or "finickiness", as can be found, for example, at WordHippo (Link)

In relation to our idea, this means, exaggeratedly, that we will only present it once we have answered all the questions we could think of about it. If we can give a detailed, graphically and content-perfect and in-depth presentation about it. Once we have calculated the business case and have invested a lot of time in developing our idea.

Disadvantages of perfectionism in idea management
  • Feedback from others on the idea comes very late, so that certain perspectives - customer, investor, user - are not taken into account.

  • The focus is therefore too much on the operational implementation of the idea, i.e. the approach, and not enough on the pain points and the needs that the idea is intended to solve (see my blog post about NABC: With just 4 building blocks to a convincing pitch - and better communication ).

  • If we cook in our own juice for too long, then we quickly go overboard with the huge mass of information we have collected about our idea, talk past the other person, pursue an unimportant idea for which there is no need and end up with a poor cost-benefit balance - a lot done, little achieved...

Benefits of perfectionism in idea management
  • Perfectionism is a way to confront one's own insecurity because it allows us to anticipate and answer many critical questions.

  • Furthermore, it is a fundamental attitude to life and way of working, which we also call "thoroughness" .

  • Depending on the person you are speaking to, these are helpful approaches.

Early start - the idea is still IMMATURE

As an "early start" I refer to the approach of going “public” with a still very fresh, immature idea, to go and talk to others about it without thinking everything through.

This means that we don't have a polished presentation, but perhaps just an idea sketch on paper, a flipchart or just our words.

I have often heard that an early start is the only right approach to innovation and idea management. This is the only way to incorporate feedback at an early stage, adapt the idea and take the right questions and facts into account. Which in turn is the most important success criterion in idea management. From my point of view, however, the early start is also an extreme with its advantages, but also disadvantages.

Disadvantages of an early start in idea management
  • The spark does not reach the listeners/addressees because there is still too much information and context missing.

  • The idea sounds half-baked and therefore unprofessional or uninteresting.

  • The feedback from listeners can be so versatile and diverse that it unsettles us and we no longer see the core of the idea.

Advantages of an early start in idea management
  • We receive customer/user feedback at an early stage and can use it to tailor our benefit argument accordingly.

  • We get suggestions on how our idea can be adapted to be even more successful.

  • We early recognize if our idea does not have the expected potential and save time by “sorting out” the idea early.

  • We find supporters right from the start.

It makes no sence so advise someone who always works very thoroughly and finds unfinished presentations, for example, an absolute no-go: "Go to the management very early with your idea, take a flipchart with you. That's enough!"

You can't say to someone who works very creatively, impulsively and extrovertedly, "Prepare at least 20 Powerpoint charts and calculate the business case for your idea over a period of 5 years before you talk about it with anyone."

Instead it is always said: “The golden middle is the best. You have to bring a little bit of both!"

But: what can the “golden middle”, the balance of maturity, look like?
Finding the maturity balance

When communicating a new idea, it is important to find the right balance between "the idea is ripe" and "the idea is (still) immature".

The feeling of "maturity balance" is different for each of us. But there are two rules that always help me to find the right time to communicate an idea and to involve other people in different roles as feedback providers and supporters:

PITCH logic

I think it is extremely important for the success of an idea to follow the logic of a pitch from the start. The structure of a pitch contains all the important questions about a new idea or innovation. This structure has proven itself and is used almost everywhere in innovation management.

It all starts with the most important question of all: “What pain point do I solve with my idea? What need am I adressing?" One way to answer this question in depth is the "5 Why" method, which I describe in another blog post here: 5 ultimate questions to recognize the pain points of your target group - The 5 Whys/The 5 Whys  

It is important to dive deeper at least 5 times why we believe a certain need is there and why a certain problem is important. The more we talk about the “why”, the deeper you dive, the more concrete the core of our idea becomes.

The question of “how”, i.e. the operative solution approach, is initially much less important.

See also my blog post The whole life is a pitch. ..

Adapted PARETO principle

It is important not to strive for inappropriate perfection. Nobody wants to invest a lot of effort only to be told “No, it doesn’t fit!” or "Uninteresting! You can cancel."

The Pareto principle, also called the “80 to 20 rule”, helps here (more info on wikipedia: Link)

The Pareto rule states that 80% of the results can be achieved with just 20% of the total effort. The remaining 20% of the results are achieved with 80% of the total effort, so they are disproportionately time-consuming, one could also say strenuous, inefficient, expensive. Or perhaps even unnecessary in idea management in the early phase maybe?

I don't believe that it is exactly and always 20% of the total effort that leads to 80% goal achievement. There are also conceivable other distributions, depending on how technologically or commercially sophisticated or complex the idea is.

The core of the principle is in any case to invest less effort in the early innovation phase and to be satisfied with less than 100% development of the idea (level of skill, level of maturity). The time saved is better spent to get feedback from other people in different roles (customer, user investor, friend, sales representative,...) and improve the idea little by little in certain areas.

Therefore I call my second rule adapted Pareto principle.

Both perfectionism and early start have their justification and not only bring disadvantages. To find the right balance between "ripe" and "(still) immature" the two rules described obove help to find a matching time frame to communicate an idea.

How do you find the right balance in the maturity of your idea before you “make it public”? What are your tips?

Please note: This text is translated into English by using Google Translate - I apologize for any mistakes in this text I may have overlooked.


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