My article "All Ideas Suck" was first published on Intuit Labs.
The practice of judging ideas — specifically hosting panels made up of senior leaders — is not only unhelpful but it can be an impediment to innovation. Ideas are a dime a dozen and their value evolves through execution and learning. Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author recognized for pioneering the Lean Startup movement, said “all ideas suck.” He explained that only through the discovery journey of lean experimentation can ideas have a chance of blossoming.
Examples of success via lean experimentation are endless. Consider Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who developed a better search algorithm for the web based on their insight from academic papers and citations. They discovered web pages could be ranked based on how many pages were linked to them. Google would eventually become the biggest advertising company of all time.
And there is Mark Zuckerberg, who created Facebook to help Harvard students make connections. Facebook became the world’s No. 1 photo sharing site and online gaming platform.
Intuit Founder Scott Cook also came up with the idea for personal finance software while watching his frustrated wife trying to pay the bills. Intuit eventually built a dominant multi-billion dollar ecosystem of products and services for small businesses.
These examples share one thing in common. They started with relatively narrow ideas but after several iterations and learning from customers, they blossomed into juggernauts no one could have imagined. Several investors passed up on these early opportunities because “the ideas weren’t big enough.” Imagine how foolish they feel now. Let’s not make the same mistake.
Rather than simply judging an idea, encourage innovators to start their lean experimentation journey. Help them identify their leap-of-faith assumptions — what must absolutely be true for the idea to work? Work alongside them to come up with lean experiments to test each assumption. Inspire a team to move quickly and get something into customers’ hands. Teach them to value customer-validated learning over opinions. Remind a team to embrace surprises. If the idea proves to be a bad one, encourage a team to keep up their passion as they pivot.
Maybe, just maybe, an idea you thought was too small will, through a series of iterations and pivots, become the next big growth driver.