How many times have you had a great idea?
Let me be more specific: how many times have you had a GREAT idea? You know – the type of idea that, in a single instant, seems to slay a number of problems on the spot? The sort of idea that causes an endorphin rush? The sort of idea that might cause you to look into the bathroom mirror say: “you, my friend, are a genius”.
Now, let me ask you this: how many times has your great idea actually been fully implemented? My guess is “hardly ever”, and while there are many reasons for this, I’d like to focus on one.
Many in the technology industry are familiar with the Hype Cycle, a model that Gartner uses to track the evolution of new technology introductions from over-hyped panaceas to common tools of productivity.
It struck me recently that there should be some sort of corollary to the Hype Cycle pertaining to ideas – an “Idea Hype Cycle”, if you will.
The moment when the idea strikes, and the pulse is racing, would correspond to the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”. The idea strikes you as elegant in its design. The path to implementation will be short and easy. Barriers to it’s full incarnation are there, but minor. The inherent power of the idea is so self-evident that when you tell others about it, they will immediately grasp both its subtlety and power. They will compliment you.
But then, disaster strikes. You tell a few people about your idea, and while they are encouraging, they aren’t quite as excited as you. The barriers seem more real and difficult to them. They may even speak the dreaded words that can freeze innovation on the spot: “yes, we’ve thought of that before”.
You can see how the Idea Hype Cycle follows along the path without me taking you through each step. Here are a few takeaways.
“The Dip” Kills Ideas. Seth Godin popularized the idea of “The Dip” – the low point that people and companies have to go through. It’s the point of time when the fun idea isn’t fun anymore. Many ideas do not survive the dip and permanently reside in your mental museum of brilliant, but unimplemented, ideas.
Embrace the Idea Hype Cycle. If you know it exists, then you’re better prepared to overcome the trough of disillusionment that inevitably follows.
Accelerate the Idea Hype Cycle. Since you know it’s coming, and since good ideas in fast-moving companies have a shelf life similar to fresh fish, your job is to get to – and through – the trough of disillusionment as quickly as possible. Here’s what I do:
- As quickly as possible, I circulate my idea to a cross-section of people who will have the domain expertise to comment on it rationally. I specifically invite them to find its flaws.
- I strip emotional language from my explanation of the idea. I try to avoid outlining why it’s a brilliant idea (which is difficult because, you know, it’s brilliant). This relieves my colleagues of feeling compelled to be more complimentary of the idea than it deserves. Don’t make it personal, otherwise people will tell you what you want to hear.
The payoff happens when you make it through both the hype and the dip and change other people’s world for the better.