The Best Way to Know if Your ‘Brilliant’ Idea Is Actually Pretty Terrible

Of course you think your idea is a winner. This is the problem.

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BY Stephen Shapiro - 06 Mar 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

"Yeah, but."

That's the enemy of innovation. Right? We've all be told that we need to stop uttering those words and replace them with "Yes, and."

But what if "yeah, but" is not the problem. What if there is something more insidious--and less obvious?

A bigger enemy of innovation is, "Wow, this is a great idea."

You read that correctly. Loving your ideas is the fastest way to for them to fail.

The main reason is something called "confirmation bias." This is where the brain filters information, only providing you with the data that supports your beliefs, rejecting everything else.

We see confirmation bias in all areas of life. Our view of politicians and politics is driven by it. Your purchasing decisions are influenced by it. If you really want a particular car, for example, no amount of bad reviews will change your mind. You will look at the positive ones and justify why the negative ones are wrong.

This happens in innovation too.

When conducting experiments, if you believe your idea is great, you will only find evidence that supports that belief. You will either reject anything that is inconsistent with what you know to be true, or you will justify why the conflicting evidence is wrong.

Loving your ideas creates confirmation bias. It also leads to another fatal error: positive test strategy. This is where you only run experiments designed to prove your ideas are good, forgetting to conduct experiments specifically designed to show that they might in fact be stinkers.

When you combine these two together, you end up with a recipe for disaster. It causes you to continue investing in ideas that should have been killed.

How do you prevent this?

The first step is to recognize that this is the way we are wired as human beings. Studies show that simply being aware of confirmation bias can reduce its impact. But aware is not enough to eliminate it. Therefore, you need to make sure that the individuals testing an idea are not the same as those who developed the idea in the first place. This will eliminate the confirmation bias. Testing your own idea can lead to faulty results.

In addition, I find it helpful to have a "devil's advocate" team. Their job is to uncover all of the reasons that an innovation should be killed. This neutralizes the positive test strategy issue.

Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, once said, "For each of our failures we had spreadsheets that looked awesome." This is brilliant! We can make any idea seem like a great idea. But the key to winning with innovation is knowing which bets to place. Or as Kenny Rogers sang in The Gambler, "You have to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em."

Killing innovation is a normal part of the innovation process. Knowing where to invest and where not to invest is critical.

Of course, having passion for your ideas is critical. Without it, you will never invest the energy to see it through to fruition. But being overly wed to your idea may lead you down a faulty path. Therefore, the next time you think, "This is a great idea," think again.