Filtering Ideas to Find the Very Best Ones

The SIT Method is designed to help you generate lots of ideas in a systematic way. But how do you select which ideas to pursue? Filtering ideas is an essential part of the creativity process. You want to make sure you spend your time only on those with the most potential.

First, put all your ideas in a standard format. That’ll make it a lot easier to evaluate them. I like to use a template like this:

  • Name of Idea:
  • Description of Idea:
  • Benefits:
  • Target Audience:
  • Challenges:

Every idea should have its own name, not just a number. Give it a name that will help people see what the idea is about. Use literal names, not vague or confusing ones.

Next, put every idea into one of three categories. The first category is for those ideas that are a bit far out, perhaps borderline crazy. They’re novel, but they may not be feasible.

The second category is for those ideas that are just the opposite. They’re not wild at all. They’re incremental improvements.

The third category is for ideas in the middle – not too far out and not too near in. They’re in a special zone we call the sweet spot. They’re viable and creative. It’s these ideas that people get excited about.

But we’re not done yet. Once you put the ideas in these categories, look at ways to get more of them into the sweet spot. Here is what I suggest you do. Start with the far out ideas. Is there a way to pull them back in, take out some of the weirdness of the idea to make it more feasible? What if you eliminated an exotic feature of the idea but still retained the essence of what the concept is trying to do? That might eliminate some of the riskiness of the idea.

For those incremental ideas, find a way to push them out and add some novelty. For example, what if you used Task Unification to have one of the components doing an additional task? Or what if you applied Attribute Dependency to the concept to make it smart and adaptive? That would certainly add some novelty and push it closer to the sweet spot.

After this exercise, you’re ready to start evaluating your list of ideas. There are two ways to do this. One is very simple and informal. You ask a group of people to vote on the ideas. You have probably seen the so-called dot method. Here’s how it works.

First, let the group read the entire list of ideas with all the benefits and challenges. Then, each participant is given a number of small, sticky colored dots. They’re instructed to place these dots on the ideas they think are best. I usually have participants place these right onto the paper with the list of ideas. This keeps the voting anonymous and makes it more objective. Then, collect all the votes and tally them up. While it may sound overly simple, the dot method of voting has a lot of benefits. Each individual has their own biases of what makes a great idea, and they vote accordingly. But voting as a group tends to neutralize those individual biases. Many times, the group vote will tell you which ideas the company will prefer.

The other method is more formal and quantitative. First, create a scorecard by listing the four or five most important criteria for judging good ideas. Criteria might include how novel the idea is, how useful it is for your customer, how viable the idea is to implement, and perhaps how risky the idea is. For each criterion, use a rating scale of 1 to 4 where a 4 is highest and 1 is lowest. Don’t use odd number scales like 1 to 5 because people may have a tendency to overuse the middle of the scale and rate too many ideas a 3. You want to force their ratings to be on one side or the other.

Ask people to use the scorecard and rate each idea. Then, using a tool like Excel, put the data in a spreadsheet so you can calculate the averages of all raters. Add up the final score for each idea.

  • Novelty 4
  • Usefulness 3
  • Viability 3
  • Risk 2
  • Final Score 12

The ideas with the highest scores are your best ideas assuming you selected the right criteria. This approach takes more time, but it gives you more precision especially when evaluating a large pool of ideas.

True innovators generate great ideas, but they also use the wisdom of others to help evaluate them.