“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”  John Steinbeck

One of the great things about being human is that we generate ideas. The ability to imagine and create is core to our being.

Ideas power advancements.

Ideas propel our society forward.

Ideas inspire.

Ideas may be pure in intent yet frustrating in achievement. But, great ideas outlive the human generators of them. Nothing can be more satisfying than having your idea live on.

All this sounds lofty, but the core question remains:  How do you know when one idea is worth pursuing over another?

Idea Worthiness

To answer the core question, another needs to be answered first:

Who determines the worthiness of an idea?

For an idea to gain momentum, more than one person will need to see the worthiness of it. This is reality. Having said this, when an idea is in its early stages, there may be naysayers and barrier-builders. The soul of the person or the team behind it will be tested and, ultimately, may decide whether or not the idea is worthy to continue forward.

There are two tests then to idea worthiness:

  1. Idea Creator Test: Do the idea creators really believe in the idea? Are you willing to continue forward with the idea in the early stages, even in the face of critics?
  2. Idea Crowd Test: Does the idea take hold and add supporters? Does it gain momentum in acceptance and implementation?

Eventually, idea worthiness comes down to people and their acceptance and belief in the concept.

Selecting & Pursuing an Idea

If many ideas pass the worthiness test, then the question becomes:

How do you know when one idea is worth pursuing over another?

To answer this question, a framework may help to sort through the choice of which one to pursue. It is a way to think through the ideas and make a solid choice in which one to center your efforts on.

Highlighted below is the Idea Pursuit Choice Matrix.

Idea Pursuit Choice Matrix

Let’s explore the two dimensions of the matrix.

Impact: What impact will the idea have?

A full impact idea translates into one that will make people stand up and say “Wow!” It inspires. It drives positive change. The idea can move something (e.g., people, art, technology, organizations, medicine, etc.) forward progressively and meaningfully.

Limited impact ideas can still be good, yet they are, well, limiting in progression, inspiration, and/or recognition.

If your energy needs to be centered behind an idea, a more robust impact may be where you want to place your time and efforts.

Probability: What is the idea’s chance for success?

If the probability of realizing the idea is unlikely, spinning your wheels will frustrate and discourage, possibly wounding your future generation of ideas. Selecting an idea with a greater chance of success will energize your efforts and on-going creativity.

A point to remember: Sometimes an idea will meet early resistance, so do a soul check before moving on. Some ideas may take added persuasion and time, so don’t ditch them too early. (Reflect on the Idea Creator Test.)

Think through your ideas using this matrix and then place them in the appropriate quadrant. Look at each idea and where it landed:

  • Re-think: With an unlikely probability of success and a limited impact, you may want to re-think your idea. If there is a way to enhance it, then do it. If there isn’t, then move on to the next.
  • Revamp: With an unlikely probability of success but a full impact when achieved, you may want to revamp your idea to gain an increased chance of success in its acceptance and realization.
  • Tinker: With a likely probability of success but a more limited impact of the idea’s power, you may need to tinker with the idea to determine if it can be pumped up in its impact.
  • Go: With a likely probability of success and a full impact once achieved, move forward quickly – go!

When sorting through ideas to determine the one to pursue, it comes down to your belief in the idea and then determining where it falls in the matrix. Some ideas can be re-thought, tinkered with, or revamped.

If you have the luxury of choice between multiple ideas, it may be best to select the one that is worthy and ready to go. If none of the ideas fall into the Go category, then it may be an opportunity to continue to work with the existing ideas to take them up a notch or two.

Ideas need to be brought to life in order to deliver meaning. What this means is that ideas need to have an impact of some type while having a likely chance of being realized. When this happens, just remember:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo