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Killing Ideas That Waste Resources

By May 31, 2011Article

Idea generation is important. It stimulates innovation and drives growth. But for a more direct path to success, businesses need to know how to effectively handle any and all initiatives that come their way.
It’s critical to learn how to distinguish the good ideas from the bad ones, and, perhaps more important, kill those ideas that don’t make sense for the organization.
We’ve developed a method that can facilitate this process. The following 5 steps provide an approach that ensures that each new idea is thoroughly scrutinized. The steps also provide the tools to eradicate ideas that just don’t make sense – the kind of ideas companies often find multiplying like rabbits during a down market. Ultimately, it’s a strategic, problem-solving process with the potential to save every business a lot of time — and money. Some might call it a trip to an intellectual playground. We call it “Murder Boarding”. Here’s how it works.
1. Understand the current situation.
To fix anything it’s vital to know what is being dealt with. That starts with understanding the current state of affairs in the business — knowing what works, what’s broken, and how the people and organization as a whole manage. This part of the process is about establishing a baseline.
For example, here are two very different scenarios. In one, the staff has high morale and the technical strength to implement a comprehensive overhaul of a line of business. In another, there are few leaders and poor morale across a base of unproven employees who can’t carry a heavy load. Each forms part of the “current state” of the company involved and are as much a part of the situation as the market saturation, customer churn data, and other things that can be “analyzed.” Emotions, facts, biases, skill sets, or past failures are all valid when it comes to understanding the current state. Without getting a clear picture, it’s impossible to determine the starting point, which means it’s hard to see the goal.
2. Postpone the solution.
Most people want to stop after they understand the situation. In business, we’ve been schooled to use past ideas and experience to fix problems and move quickly to execution. This step is counter-intuitive and requires doing just the opposite of that. Following all the steps in the “Murder Boarding” process will enable the team to pit scenarios against one another and view them individually. After those exercises, selecting the one best possible solution becomes much easier.
For now, generate several different paths to solve the current problem.
Listen to all the people who could be involved in implementation. Why? Because that is the only way to understand what kind of execution is going to work.
3. Present ideas out loud, looking for feedback.
Trust that no matter how much an idea gets beaten up, if it’s good it will always survive. It’s important to know a lot more before deciding which of the many options can, and will, work. This step is about figuring out where there are gaps of understanding so that facts can be checked, more information can be gathered, or additional data can be located. The consequence of not doing this in advance of choosing “the solution” is finding out post-facto all the ways the plan needed to be patched to make it work.
There are no rubber stamps anywhere in the “Murder Boarding” process. Present a rich set of ideas with a solid description of the details so that the scenario can be fully tested. Bring the situation to life in such a way that team members can see more than a flat, one-dimensional picture and effectively apply their operational knowledge. Let people ask a ton of questions. Encourage them to turn over the rock. In this step the team turns into a group of operational “spoilers.” They poke holes in the scenario and use their operational expertise to determine what may happen down the road. If the situation has good potential, the team improves on it.
The process is a no-holds-barred opportunity to follow a specific line of action to its logical conclusion and assess the imagined results. There will be alpha, beta, gamma, and perhaps several additional passes to be sure the thinking is right.
By the way, this is the crossroads. A lack of operational knowledge makes it impossible for the team to play out scenarios correctly.
Prior to selecting one solution, it’s important to think several through. We’ve found that the executive who can clearly present ideas to their executive team or board is the same one that will end up with a solid plan. Take on the responsibility to share the possible scenarios and solutions with enough information so that the team has a good feel for all the elements involved. The details enable the group to play out the scenario effectively.
4. Kill the bad ideas.
OK, now comes the tough work: Killing the ideas that don’t make sense to do. It could be that it won’t work within the organization. It could be that the side effects are too great. And it could be that some are more complex than others and the 80/20 rule can apply to solving for most of what you need. Some ideas may sound good at first, but will fail due to issues related to motivation, timing, resources, or competition. And no “Cinderella” solutions, please. The team needs to look for the practical and workable, not a fantasy. Apply real-world operational thinking to construct an end game that would actually happen.
If this phase is skipped, no one may notice in the near-term, but after early execution it will become apparent. Skipping this phase may also be a waste of talent. My team has more than 50 years of operational experience and “Murder Boarding” capitalizes on that. Note that ensemble thinking sees things that individuals are prone to miss. See it, play it out, and think about how to mitigate risks long before it’s needed.
5. Consider all the options.
When it appears that every possibility has been explored, take another look. For example, in selling a company, there are a number of choices to be made:

  • Peel back resources and profit optimize for the last few periods, then don’t reinvest in the business.
  • Figure out ways to invest in the business so it can grow and produce more saleable assets.
  • Transfer assets for less than what they might be worth in a purchase if employees are linked to the deal and it’s important that they land well.

All three scenarios are perfectly viable options to pursue. But which one really makes sense given who you are, the mission of the business, and the possible outcomes being sought? What criteria will shape the decision? Is it about money, or values, or brand maintenance? What are the risks and options in each of those decisions? Weigh which factors could be or should be applied more heavily than others.
Consider those “operating” things mentioned above in alignment with the goal to gain more clarity about which strategy will actually result in the desired goal. What this does is almost magic. It eliminates lots of unnecessary concepts and lightens the mental load. There may even be a feeling that it’s what we don’t consider that can make us take the wrong path. To avoid mistakes, “play out” the scenarios fully and determine what doesn’t work. Let the losers go and focus on the winners.
With this process, ideas can be pitched to clients, co-workers and bosses with confidence — the situation and resources have been considered, multiple ideas have been vetted, and there’s an operational basis for how the winning idea will play out.
A great strategy is not the one that sounds good in PowerPoint. A great strategy is the one that makes sense in the real world and that, when executed, results in your winning markets.
Nilofer Merchant is CEO and founder of Rubicon Consulting, a strategic marketing consultancy to technology firms. Read more from Nilofer at

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