How do you pick Innovation Ideas?

The fundamental part of the ideation process is the selection of ideas. Too many people see innovation programs as idea blockers killing ideas by applying “Toll Gates” at various stages of the process. We look at how you can change that view and provide a balanced approach to idea selection.

I liked the description provided by a colleague (whose name escapes me at the moment) who described the process and Idea Farming. I evaluated each idea you are looking for the best you have to take to market at that time, other ideas need more time to grow.

Ideation is the process of Idea Farming that gets the best ideas at this time to market

However, regardless of the approach, the main question is “What are the criteria you use to select your ideas?”. The problem is that the criteria that you use if very tightly coupled to the type of innovation that you are trying to encourage or find. So there is no single generic set of criteria for all programs, and you must align the criteria with the strategy of the company and the outcome of the innovation program. With that in mind I wanted to share criteria that I used for an innovation program to help you think of criteria that might be useful for :

1. Is it Novel?

This might seem like a dumb question however with billions of people on the planet having a new idea is harder than you might think. I should know as I have gone through hundreds of ideas as part of challenges and many of them existed. You also need to be careful not to write off an idea because on the surface it seems the same as an existing product or service. Check on how something works as well as what it does. Searching for existing similar products can help this process, however, searching patent databases can cause you more problems as knowingly infringing a patent with your new idea is never good.

2. Is it Feasible?

Again if you are dealing with breakthrough new science you may not know if it is feasible, however, most organizations are looking to provide new services or goods within the realms of current science.  Again care must be taken to ensure that you understand the How by checking regulator limitations, and other simple barriers if the idea is in an industry segment that you don’t know very well (like Banking).

3. What special skills/resources can we bring?

As much as we all would like to think that a company can do anything, it has a better level of success if the new offer uses some existing skills or resources that the existing organization has access to. I would rule out access to development funding nowadays as Kickstarter websites and services have generally removed the investment barrier for most people. Instead, think of access to the customers of the new offer, would your existing customers be buyers, does that reduce the cost of sale? Then look for competitive advantages that are costly for another company to quickly create. A great example would be the cost to replicate the logistics capabilities of Amazon if you started today. Again software and the internet has removed many barriers but not all. If you are not set up to exploit the idea there is no shame in selling or licensing the idea to somebody else.

4. Does it fit our strategy?

This, of course, relies on having a well-formed strategy for both your company and the innovation program. We can look at innovation strategies in another post, there has to be some expectation that idea is moving your organization forward, either in increasing revenue and sales or increasing profitability. The challenge comes with disruptive innovation as they typically cannibalize existing revenue streams or business models. So in those cases, you need to look at the total net gain over a longer period to be able to understand if the shorter term lost will be balanced out.


There are no single set of criteria for all innovation programs, above are some practical examples that have helped me in the past. Whatever you use it is a balance of practical questions that can be asked quickly against a large number of ideas and business measures that increase the probability of success. I would love to hear from you about your criteria that you have used.

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© Peter Briscoe 2018

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