Tag Archives: ideas

Good blocking technique

I met with “John” at a coffee ship where we were to discuss his business idea that involved sports sponsorship and the internet.  John put down his crisp manila folder down on the table and we introduced ourselves as we ordered coffee.  John spent probably 10 minutes explaining his idea and I spent another 20 minutes asking him questions.  Finally I asked him what was in the manila folder.

Embarrassingly, it was empty.

It turned out that John’s idea was no more than that.  He hadn’t actually conducted any researched or validated anything he had said.  He just thought it was a really good idea and hoped I would make it happen for him. I tried really hard  not to be angry with John for wasting my time (not completely successfully) as I like to be responsible for myself.  I was the one who let him waste my time.

This coffee with John occurred about 7 years ago and I vowed I would never have my time wasted like that gain.  And I haven’t since developing a really simple technique.  I have shared this technique with others on occasion who have enjoyed it and I got reminded of it the other day, so I though I would write it down.

The Lesson – If someone wants you to do something for them, get them to do something first.

It almost doesn’t matter how small the task is.  The world is full of wannabees who aren’t prepared to step over the smallest barrier to make their “dream” come true.

eg.  Email me a one page briefing note first.  I will then get my assistant to tee up the meeting.

eg. Can you email me names of the two businesses that people are currently spending money with to solve the problem today?

eg. Can you register the business name, and send me the registration number?

It doesn’t matter how good their idea is, if they are fail at the first hurdle, you can never do business with them.

My experience to date is around 90% of people that want to catch up for a coffee to discuss their idea cannot cross the first hurdle.  My pay off is that I remain calm and simply don’t waste time with dreamers.

John’s killer idea never made it to the one page brief.

Its the great ideas I want, not just the good ones!

Last week it was my parents something or other wedding anniversary (north of 45, south of 50).  I got my daughter to give her Grandmother a call to say “Happy Wedding Anniversary, thanks for making me possible”.  Anyway we, my daughter and I,  got into a discussion about who my family was.  How could my parents be my family, when my family was my wife and children who live with me?  What I realised, at that moment, was I simply didn’t have the right words in the English language to adequately describe the concepts of my old family and my new family.

Fast forward two hours and I am being told by email by Ben Bickford that the Churchill club should offer a member get member scheme using free event attendance as the lure.  Unfortunately for Ben, I almost immediately said no because I get these type of ideas sent to me all the time.  “You should offer free brown bag lunches”, “you should get Dick Smith speak”, “You should offer weekend workshops”, “You should run breakfasts”, etc etc etc.

These ideas, although great and potentially worthy, are very frustrating for me.  Each idea requires a fair bit of thinking through on how to execute it, whether the execution will impact other programmes, both now and downstream.  Each idea also has inherent costs & risks that should be mitigated wherever possible.  All ideas also have an opportunity cost as I my time is scare resource.  However if I don’t run with each idea, the “offerer” is normally disenchanted “I gave you some good ideas and you just ignored them!”.

But just like the problem with my daughter, I didn’t have the right words to describe exactly what I wanted from people.  The ideas are interesting but they are just not thought through enough for me to act upon.  Although I don’t want a full fledged plan, I want a “little more meat on the bone”.  I want a………  (See I don’t have the words)

So I decided to make some up.  I called it cleverly, an Idea Plan.  Basically half way between an idea and a plan.  So now if someone offers me an idea,  I go back to them asking them to flesh it out a bit more.  If they don’t, I won’t waste time considering it unless its absolutely mind blowing.  Of course there’s no set framework for this fleshing out request as every idea I receive is different.

  • “You should offer brown bag lunches” – My Answer “Cool, could you find a good location for this that will offer us the space free and is close enough to a couple of hundred potential attendees so that they could drop in for lunch?”.
  • “You should get Dick Smith speak” – My Answer “Cool, could you please chase up his PAs details and find out what he would like to speak about – and I will contact him?”.
  • “You should offer weekend workshops” – My Answer “Cool, do you want to do up a web survey to out the best content/format/price plus find and cost up an appropriate venue?”.
  • You should run breakfasts “– My Answer “Cool, do you want to flesh your idea out and get back to me?”

So back to Ben’s idea of the free events as an incentive in a marketing programme.  Ben thinks its a great idea and is happy to be contacted by anyone to be debated.  I don’t really have an opinion though.  And I won’t be forming one until I understand the rough cost of writing  and maintaining the software to do it, as well as how much it will cost to operate the plan assuming different levels of conversion, not to mentin how much revenue it could generate.  i.e.  I need more than just a good idea before I am prepared to spend time thinking about it.   Not asking for a formal business case,  just an “Idea Plan”.

Now I don’t want to be accused of being a blocker or an innovation naysayer, in fact I thrive of innovation.  However its the great ideas I want, not just the good ones, which seem to be in near infinite supply.  This is how I get to the great ideas of others, I let them self select.

By the way, turns out that both my parents had forgotten that it was their wedding anniversary.  And funnily enough, I just didn’t have the right words to describe how I felt about that.

Failing or Flailing?

In the late 80’s when I was training to be an Army Reserve Officer, one of the major training (and leadership development) techniques that had a major impact on me was ownership of failure.  If you taught a lesson and more than a handful of people failed the quick test at the end, then you the instructor failed.  If your team was depressed, your fault, if they got hurt or “killed” it was your fault.  From the smallest mishap to the greatest catastrophe, you owned the problem.

All this failure from a training point of view was massively useful.  It let you gain an intimate understanding of why successful strategies or tactics worked, and how to execute on them seamlessly.

From my point of view, this focus on failure worked because of two major reasons.
1.    The objective you were trying to achieve was tightly defined, and therefore the failures had enormous learning value.
2.    There was a culture that accepted, and valued, failure in training as the pathway to sustainable success.

Interestingly, I have recently discovered a connection between the military and creativity.

Preparing for the upcoming Churchill Club Panel on Creativity , I have been reading a book by Nadja Schnetzler called the Idea Machine : How to Produce Ideas Industrially . Nadia runs a Swiss business called The Brain Store which was founded in 1989.  Nadja’s business focuses on the industrial production of ideas, and has a premium client list in Europe and the USA.

Anyway, an area that Nadja discusses early on is failure.  The Brain store has a culture that accepts failure on the path to success, and in fact sees it as necessary and highly valuable.  The key for them is to tightly describe the question before they start generating ideas to solve it.  This ensures that that every single failure has value when reviewed.  The result of the study of what went wrong leads to the development of the world beating idea (rather than mediocrity).

The process of tightly describing the question is so important that they have set up a business offering just to train staff!  They have a shop front service that allows people on the street to come in and get great ideas for a token fee.  Eg. A guy comes in and asks “What shall I buy my girlfriend for her Birthday?”.  This then gets improved into something that includes pricing information, her interests, what she hates, what you have purchased in the past and what would really excite her.  All this and more before the ideas flow.

Nadja describes the process as the difference between failing and flailing.  Failure is good, but when you regularly fail, don’t learn from it and are not sure where you are going, you are just flailing about.  I’m sure the Army would agree.

Just too bad that 95% of people I meet in business would rather eat worms than accept they may be responsible for a failure and get value from it.