“Make sure you ask the right questions at the right time.” That’s one memorable piece of advice from a hbr_130x130leader at a global innovation powerhouse. Unfortunately, it is a piece of advice that is heeded too infrequently inside large companies.

At many companies, the idea evaluation process revolves around detailed Excel spreadsheets, comprehensive PowerPoint documents, and an orchestrated sequence of pre-meetings leading up to a decision meeting. This kind of disciplined approach works very well when companies have knowledge that lets them be precise in their analysis, and executives have the relevant domain experience to make informed decisions.

Applying this same discipline to nascent opportunities in new spaces can be disastrous. People spend days discussing. Excel spreadsheets that are nothing more than mathematical relationships between made-up numbers. Managers working on ideas discover that detailed PowerPoint documents are their biggest enemy, because the details act as bait for nit-picking devil’s advocates. Endless pre-meetings crowd out action-based learning.

The general way around this problem seems simple enough — have a process by which you evaluate ideas in different ways at different stages of development (most call this a “stage-gate process.”). You might have a “front end” process where you rapidly iterate and evaluate lots of ideas and a more detailed “launch” process to optimize the few that make it through the early rounds. This kind of process can help successfully move an idea from a Post-It note to the market.

Read the full article at Harvard Business Review

Scott D. Anthony is managing director, Innosight Asia-Pacific.

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