Ronald Ashri


How not to kill good ideas

Product development is an adventure — take risks!

Ideas are viruses. They infect our brain and attempt to occupy as much space as possible. They want to get us excited and, often, need to make us act irrationally. They do this to survive. Like any virus, they need a host to develop in.

Because ideas can get us acting irrationally and lead us on wild goose chases, there is an entire arsenal of techniques to devalue and eliminate them. To rank, sort and eventually get rid of most of them. We’ve become too good at discounting innovation, constraining it and taming it. In the process, we kill good ideas.

“Is it the top user request?” — i.e. has anyone stated they care about this? If users haven’t asked for it, we are not listening.

“Ideas are ten a penny — it’s all about execution” — i.e. unless your idea comes with a comprehensive plan describing in detail execution and potential impact across the company, we are not listening.

“What is the ROI on this?” — i.e. put your head on the line and tell us exactly how much money we will make otherwise we are not listening.

The problem with each one of these questions is that they are not always the right ones to ask. They are excellent questions, just not invariably appropriate. We need more nuance in the process and a bit of chaos.

We need to be willing to chase a few wild gooses. Innovation without adventure is not possible.

Is it the top user request?

Well, no it is not. However, users have not spent as much time as I have thinking about this product and analysing a bunch of use cases across different markets and environments. It is not what users are asking for, but it is what users need.

Listening to user requests is invaluable. That said, do not allow users alone to dictate your product development roadmap. A lot of great ideas will never see the light of day if you do.

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” — Steve Jobs

Ideas are ten a penny — it is all about execution.

Yeah, actually no — I do not have a clear plan of how this idea is going to play out through every single area of the company.

However, I do know that we can implement it in a single day, and release it next week. That is faster than coming up with 20 slides of impact analysis, having three meetings to present it and then taking another two weeks to evaluate before we have a final huddle to decide.

Not all ideas have the same implementation costs; they should not have the same evaluation costs either.

The best data is real data. The simpler the idea is to execute the less time you should be spending evaluating potential impact.

What is the ROI on this?

The reasons people sign-up to use a product are multi-faceted. It can have nothing to do with actual features. We don’t know and can’t control every aspect of that.

Some ideas are just amazingly hard to evaluate realistically. Should they be abandoned?

What is the value of a name change for a feature? What is the benefit of entertaining copy to describe new product releases? What happens when you move something to the left for no apparent reason?

How do we choose ideas then?

Ok. Fine. Product development is a bit of an adventure. We still have to choose what to do next. How do we do it?

All the available tools have their place. Use them. Size, rank, sort, evaluate and ultimately eliminate.

After you are done eliminating go back and pick one “crazy” idea. One wild card alongside all the other reasonable ones. The one that is just a “gut feeling”, a “there is something about this one…” type of idea. And chase that goose.

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