Business Ideas

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How to select your best business ideas

By Chris Thomason, Author of ‘Freaky Thinking; Thinking that delivers a dazzling difference’

When a business has a big issue to deal with, it’s great to have lots of creative ideas you believe can help. But how many of those ideas are going to make it through to execution, and which ones? Here are five tips to help you take the best ideas forward:

1. Target your Win Quicklies

Quick-wins and Win Quicklies are very different. A quick-win is something small and obvious to do that is a no-regrets action, whereas Win Quicklies are ideas that can be implemented rapidly and that will test, or prove, an interesting aspect of something with greater potential.

These small Win Quicklies can often be of more value than bigger ideas, for they help minimise risk for the team implementing it. And they also help you (as the conceiver of the idea) to see your results sooner. You probably want to see several Win Quicklies going live rather than one bigger, slower-moving project. Most organisations like to see how a Win Quickly proves that something much larger has the potential for success and value.

When you’re considering each individual idea, you may find some of them convey a theme or a principle, rather than some definitive action that can be taken. Don’t disregard these more-expansive ideas. Instead, look how you might convert each of them, even if only partially, into a Win Quickly.

2. Prioritise your Win Quicklies

To help you compare these ideas in order to identify the best ones to progress, use a Win Quickly matrix. This two-by-two matrix measures how easy an idea is to deliver on the horizontal axis and how well the idea will prove somethingon the vertical axis. Ideas that are hard to do and have a low ability as proof points will be in the lower-left quadrant, while those that are easy to implement and will readily prove something are in the top-right quadrant.

Simply place one of your ideas at the centre of the matrix, and then compare the position of the others as you add them relative to this first idea. Add around ten ideas onto the matrix, all of which should be relatively quick to deliver.

Ideas in the top-right quadrant that have a high impact and are easy to do are the ones that will be most appealing. However, ideas that have high impact and are hard to do (the top-left quadrant) may also be worth considering. Ideas in the lower half of the matrix will have lower impact, so you may not want to consider these at all.

3. Combined concepts

The ideas you’ve come up with that aren’t good enough to be on your Win Quickly matrix, or that are on the lower half of the matrix, may still have value for you though. Clearly, these ideas must be novel or interesting in some way, yet they aren’t strong enough to stand on their own in their current form. However, if you combine several of your ideas together and shape them differently, then there may be hidden value in them you haven’t yet noticed.

Perhaps two or three different ideas merge and integrate to become something that’s more interesting? Or maybe two ideas come together to spark a completely new idea, which is much better than either of the original ideas individually. Or when one idea is linked with several of your other ideas, they may combine and integrate to form a spectacular concept that addresses an aspect of your issue you hadn’t considered previously.

You don’t know what may arise until you force some of your great ideas together to spark even more creative thinking in your head. Sometimes it’s difficult to carry several things in your mind at the same time.

A useful exercise to help you to integrate ideas is to write each one on a sticky-note and then pair them up in different ways to see what new thoughts are triggered by each distinct combination of stickies. If you feel the need to write extra stickies to bring into the mix, then do whatever helps you with your thinking. It’s never too late for more new ideas that add value to address your big issue.

4. Boost your ideas on a test drive

You’ll now have several ideas you believe will either completely, or at least partially, address your big issue. However, you’ve only addressed it from one viewpoint – yours. Other people’s viewpoints may differ from yours, and you need to consider whether your proposed solution should incorporate these differing perspectives. So, take your ideas for a test drive to see what other people think of them – they may have experience and knowledge to help you build on your ideas.

Your intention is to compile your ideas into elegant and pragmatic solutions, and as such, you must allow for your suggestions to be shaped by others as your thinking progresses. Therefore, it’s important to consider your potential solutions individually, each as a work-in-progress at this stage, and not as a take-it-or-leave-it idea.

Think like an artist with a canvas, where you paint your concept in the centre, and allow room for other people’s perspectives in the foreground, background and at the sides, to complete the painting and add value to your work. Be open to them telling you why it may be difficult to achieve. If they do this, ask them for ways to overcome that problem, and then add those onto your canvas to complete your overall story.

A practical version of doing this is to write each of your final ideas on a single sheet of A4 paper. Then, around the edges, you can develop your idea to include what leads into it, and where it might go from there. You can also add comments from others onto this sheet to ensure you’ve captured all the elements of a compelling story to share with your stakeholders.

5. Selling your solutions

You may think that offering a complete and packaged solution to the big issue will see you being hailed as a hero by the key stakeholder you’re sharing it with. But that’s rarely the case.

A senior person is likely to have more knowledge than you of activities underway in your organisation that your proposal needs to align with. So be flexible. Sell your proposal as an adaptable solution they can support, shape, and benefit from. Explain how you’ve engaged others in your thinking, as this helps show you as a team player and how your thinking has been validated by relevant people.

Leave some things open to change and interpretation as you sell the idea. Re-use the story canvas approach with your concept in the centre, and the surrounding areas to be shaped by the stakeholder to suit their needs. They may have to get other stakeholders involved to make your suggestions happen, and they can use this flexibility with their stakeholders too.

Leaving your concept in a position that it can be directed and shaped is your route to success. How it gets amended as it progresses is immaterial. You can’t know or control these elements, however, it’s still your idea being discussed – and ultimately implemented.

Using visuals and words that encourage different interpretations through ambiguity can be helpful. Similarly, you can offer a range of options for any solution to encourage alternate thinking about how your concept might ultimately look. Allowing stakeholders to suggest changes, or ways to implement it, shows interest from them, and helps you gain buy-in for your proposal.


Chris Thomason is founder of Ingenious Growth which helps organisations change their thinking to boost innovation, productivity, profits and most importantly, staff satisfaction. After buying a failing manufacturing company and turning it into one of the largest in its sector, Chris now teaches the innovative ways of thinking that lead to his business success. Chris is author of eight business books including The Idea GeneratorFreaky Thinking, and Excellence in Freaky Thinking. Chris’s clients include UPS, Canon, O2, Vodafone, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Touchnote, Lloyds Bank, Toyota, HSBC, Scottish Widows, South African Airways, American Express, and many more.


Written by: Paul Andrews

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