A fair amount of writing about brainstorming emphasizes not judging ideas too soon. A plethora of criticism about brainstorming argues it isn’t critical enough. No matter how you think-up ideas, eventually they must prove themselves worthy of helping you meet your objectives.
An excellent way to evaluate your ideas is by categorizing them into what Edward de Bono in his book Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas calls “End Categories.”
Classifying the idea into one of the following eight categories:
- Directly Usable,
- Good Ideas, But Not for Us,
- Good Ideas, But Not for Now,
- Needs More Work,
- Powerful, but Not Usable,
- Interesting, but Not Usable,
- Weak Value, or
Understanding and applying these categories will help you to focus, prioritize, take action, or reject ideas. The last portion of your brainstorming agenda should be dedicated to classifying ideas in these categories.
1. Directly Usable
These are your best ideas. You’ve determined they have value and could be used. These babies are worth exploring deeper and finding resources to support.
2. Good Ideas, But Not For Us
These have value and support your objective, but are not a good fit. Maybe you lack skills or resources, but most often your brand filters eliminate these ideas. In a future round of thinking, you could explore these and ask, “How could these be modified to be a good fit?” But more than likely, these ideas should be discarded.
3. Good Ideas, But Not for Now (Backburner)
These have value and are a good fit – but are not right at this time. Current resources, capacity, or priorities may not allow you to act on these. Put them on the back burner. Revisit them in a month or a quarter.
4. Needs More Work
Ideas with potential, but are half-baked. With more work, you can transform these into Directly Usable ideas. Get some folks working on these.
5. Powerful, But Not Usable
These are usually great ideas blocked by some external force. Factors you can’t control that de Bono calls “regulations, environmental concerns, very high-risk factors, cannibalizing existing products and so on.” As if there is a way to re-work these in a way that eliminates the block.
6. Interesting, But Unusable
These are some of the most productive ideas. Not because they become usable, but because they spark other usable ideas. They often offer new ways of thinking of things. These are the ideas that start as “Hmm…?” and spark “A-ha!”
7. Weak Value
These ideas work, and they fit your organization, but they lack value. The return on the effort invested in these may be disappointing. The danger with Weak Value ideas is that sometimes we accept and implement these just to “have something out there.” They support a “something is better than nothing” approach. Don’t fall into this trap. There may be ways to rework these ideas so that way they work, are a fit, and become high contributors.
These are fundamentally impossible. Not even if you worked hard on them. They’re duds—and should be rejected. Period.
Putting This To Use…
Turn these ideas into action by assigning Action Steps to individual owners for each idea. This makes one person accountable for an idea.
- Begin exploring the Directly Usable ideas.
- Take a final look at the Good Idea, Not For Now before putting those into short-term storage.
- Get folks cracking on Needs More Work ideas.
- Tinker with your Interesting, But Unusable to see what other ideas they could spark.
- And make everyone promise not to monkey with the Weak Value or Unworkable ideas.