“Who the hell wants to copy a document on plain paper?”

That was from a rejection letter Chester Carlson received in 1940. That also was in response to his XEROX-machine plain-paper printing idea. Not deterred, Chester represented his idea to over 20 companies between 1939 and 1944. Many of these organizations used the word “useless” to describe Chester’s idea. Even the National Inventors Council dismissed it. Today, there is virtually no one who has not copied a document on plain paper.

Again, In 1977, Ken Olsen, declared “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”   That was coming from a man who should know. He was the President and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation.

I imagine you may be reading this his outburst with a ‘personal’ computer device in your Kitchen.

Many an organization has thrown away innovative ideas only to wake and see a competitor implementing the same to their chagrin and loss. Also, employees whose ideas are quickly thrown away without due consideration are not likely to bring more to your table. You have to be strategic in your response to ideas brought before you.

Every great organization survives and thrives on good ideas from people. Some organizations, and even functional units, have a culture that encourages idea-hunting competition on a regular weekly basis. The bane of poorly managed brands are that it’s only the Boss’ ideas are ever considered good enough.  For others, if it does not cost a ton via a renowned consultant, then, it cannot be good.

Great marketing ideas can be found anywhere even from the most unlikely places. Where employees are motivated to submit their new ideas for a reward, wonderful things are birthed regularly. Ideas are contagious and causes chain reaction in a well-selected brainstorming group. One person comes up with an idea; another adds few shades of colours to it while another prunes dust and debris off it and the customers and shareholders are smiling to the gallery.

No idea is totally useless.

Therefore, before you discard or even accept that next idea, there are a couple of strategic questions I will recommend you hold it up against. These questions will aid your idea screening process.

  1. Can this idea work here? This is a better posture instead of simply dismissing an idea by categorically stating ‘it wouldn’t work here.’ You may surprise yourself to discover that having such an open mind can do a lot for your department or business.
  2. Can we try this? Did I hear you say we’ve tried that before? Have we really tried it specifically the way this employee is proposing it? What if the circumstances have become different since the last time you tried it? Market, economic and other impinging factors may have changed to favour this old idea that is just being born anew.
  3. Does it meet a need? An idea may not meet a global need but can meet local need. If you’re prune to thinking global, you may miss out on ideas that have huge regional acceptability. In determining if it is worth the investment at all, you may drive this further by asking what number of people needs this or can be favourably disposed to it.
  4. Does it have distinctive value or bring any specific group appeal? Ideas that offer superior value may not always appear so at first glance. A content marketing idea mayn’t appeal to all mothers but may strike a high pitch with nursing mothers.
  5. Ask ‘do we have the technical know-how?’ If no, how can we or do we know anyone who does with whom we may collaborate?You don’t always have to reap 100% from your idea. It may not always be the smartest thing to throw away an idea because you don’t know a jack about it. You can reap 40% and allow someone else 60% if you can identify areas of strength they possess that can complement and elevate your idea. Fear of collaboration has been the death of many a sound idea and growth opportunities. In African, and more especially within small business circles, people tend to think that 100% is always greater that 10%. In reality, many a 5% are far greater than 100%. It’s time to deep-think the collaborative side of that idea before you discard it.
  6. Is today the right time for this idea? Could it possibly be the idea for the future? And how soon or how far into the future can this idea become the in-thing? Are there other places where these ideas are needed now? Timing makes a lot of difference to the viability of an idea. If timing was not important, speed, artificial scarcity and deliberate launch hold-offs would not be considered to bring strategic advantages in marketing. What does not fly now can be kept in the cooler till a more appropriate time in the future. In other cases, the developmental stages can commence and roll gradually until the right timing clicks.
  7. Can it be done or what are the possibilities of this being done? Statements have a tune of finality while questions open doors for possibilities not previously imagined.’ It cannot be done’ means everyone can go home now. On the other hand, ‘how possibly can this be done’ opens the meeting and invites contributive ideas by probing and searching for the ‘HOWs’ of the situation. Nothing excites the mind like an invitation to ponder collectively.
  8. Does this idea agree with our mission? To ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction, some organization have a standing rule to only consider ideas that are in tandem with the overall defined purpose of existence of the organization. Others just about invest in anything so long as it is proven profitable. Whatever the case with your business, it will help to pre-define criteria for what represents Yes-Ideas and No-Ideas so that every employee can independently measure their ideas against the approved standards to know whether or not it merit being brought forward for further consideration.
  9. Is this idea necessary? Except you package and sell a product brand known as ‘Personal Vendetta’, never respond to an idea suggestion by saying “we’ve done well without it.” There is an uncomfortable ring of sarcasm in that sing-song. Instead, you might profit by asking ‘is this idea necessary in any way?’ By so doing, and if for no other reason, you keep the door open for more ideas.
  10. Does the profit exceed the cost? For most CEO and Head of Department, cost and budgets are of major concern. You could be short charging yourself if you’re always responding to every idea with ‘we cannot afford that’ or ‘that is too expensive.’ The preceding questions blocks the thinking flow and stifles creativity. The best questions may be ‘how can we afford this? Or does the return exceed the expenses.’ If you’re always looking for a bargain, you may be missing out on lots of opportunities.
  11. Can we explore other ways this could work? Instead of just brushing over it, consider putting that idea in the agenda for next meeting so it could receive maximum time for deliberation. An idea is just a thing. By looking beside it, behind it, underneath it and above it, you may surprise yourself by finding you’re sitting on the King’s Treasure Island.

Even if you’re not using an idea now, you can store it in your idea-box in similar way Banks store money in a box. Another idea in the future may just be the right bride to its groom already waiting in your box.


If you’re in need of marketing ideas or have any questions, you are encouraged to write the author at kelechi.kalu@activationplusng.com

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