The Dumb-Ass Idea Filter

The Dumb Ass Idea FilterCompanies pursue lots of ideas; some turn out well and some badly. Since we can’t tell with 100% certainty if an idea will work, bad ones are a cost of doing business. And it makes sense to tolerate them. The cost of a few bad ones is well worth the upside of a game-changer. It’s like the VC model.

However, there’s a class that must be avoided at all costs: the dumb-ass idea – an idea we should know will not work before we try it. It’s not a bad idea, it’s beyond stupid, it’s deadly.

A dumb-ass idea violates fundamentals.

What’s so scary is today’s ready, fire, aim pace makes us more susceptible than ever. Our dumb-ass antibodies need strengthening. We need an immunization, a filter to discern if we’re respecting the fundamentals. We need a dumb-ass idea filter.

To immunize ourselves it’s helpful to understand how these ideas come to be. Here are some mutant strains:

  • Local optimization – We improve part of the system at the expense of the overall system. Chasing low cost labor is a good example where labor savings are dwarfed by increased costs of logistics, training, quality, and support.
  • A cloudy lens – We come up with an idea based on incomplete, biased, or inappropriate data. A good example is financial data which captures cost in a most artificial way. Overhead calculation is the poster child.
  • Cause and effect – We don’t know which is which; we confuse symptom with root cause and correlation with causation. Expect the unexpected with this mix up.
  • Scaling – We assume success in the lab is scalable to success across the globe. Everything does not scale, and less scales cost effectively.
  • Fear – We want to go fast because our competition is already there; we want to go slow because were afraid to fail.

What’s the best dumb-ass filter? It’s a formal and simple definition of the fundamentals. Use one page thinking – fundamentals one page, lots of pictures and few words. There’s no escape.

How to go about it? Settle yourself. Catch your breath. Let your pulse slow. Then, create a one pager (pictures, pictures, pictures) that defines the fundamentals and run it by someone you trust, someone without a vested interest, someone who has learned from their own dumb-ass thinking. (Those folks can spot it at twenty paces.) Defend it to them. Defend it to yourself. Run yourself through the gauntlet.

What are the fundamentals? Do they apply in this situation? How do you know? Answer these and you’re on your way to self-inoculation.

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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributer of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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