The weight of ideas and the just-in-time validator

Minimal Time To Validation

Two strategists at Made by Many have written about ideas today – and without any coordination, seem to have postulated very similar views, albeit using slightly different language.

Andy distinguishes between nice ideas and good ideas, describing them as the ‘currency of creative industries’. Mike seemingly adopts a counterposition – ideas are inventory – but goes on to say:

Ideas should be handled like a vital commodity. They are critically important but if we’re consuming any form of human resource such as creativity and ingenuity in order to create and validate those ideas and consider a spectrum of alternatives, then we’re creating more work than we need to create and that’s wasteful.

The literal interpretation suggests that we should constrict the flow of ideas in order to relieve the demands on our time and energy; there’s a more subtle reading which Andy captures in the segregation of nice from good:

We confuse good ideas with what are just ‘nice’ ideas. Nice ideas are things we like in that low-commitment, fuzzy kind of way, as they whizz past us and onto the pages of trend blogs.

Which brings us back to validation – the challenge isn’t that we have too many ideas, or that ideas are a burden from the moment of conception. Just that ideas which hang around too long attract ‘disproportionate value’, as Andy puts it. And when Mike says that ‘one person’s idea can often be just another thing the rest of the team is forced to deal with’, he’s absolutely right. An idea in this context is essentially a hypothesis, and this is the sort of thing Eric Ries talks about in The Lean Startup when he argues that we should be asking should it be built? rather than can it be built?

Is the answer to this simply to speed up the validation process? To eliminate the possibility that an idea or hypothesis will stay around long enough to become inventory? Potentially, yes – particularly at the early stages of client work at Made by Many, we typically generate hundreds of ideas, but rapidly shred them down to a handful of realistic candidates for customer development.

But even this process isn’t insulated from new input – and for good reason. And, in a world where a live customer development process is trivially easy to set up, it’s impossible to free ourselves entirely from continual new input; new ideas emerge from customer communities through the social web, for example, as well as from product owners (in the broad sense), and both in incredible volumes.

Still, this notion of the lingering hypothesis is an interesting one, and merits more thought. If we can match the pace of validation to the velocity of idea generation or input, can we eliminate inventory? A just-in-time validator, perhaps? Minimal time to validation feels like a good thing.

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