A Simple Hack for Building Ideas

I sometimes think that researching new ideas is like blowing bubbles in the backyard on a sunny, Spring day. It's fun, but too often the bubbles last for only seconds before bursting, often at the hands of giggling grandchildren.

Sometimes it seems like people get a little too much enjoyment from bursting your bubbles. The Germans have a word for that--Schadenfreude. But knowing that doesn't make it any better. Picture credit to Alexander Dummer on Unsplash. Thanks, Alexander. Amazing picture.

It is good to evaluate new ideas--whether for ad campaigns, products, programs, or whatever. Because you do want to know if they will fly and ultimately make money. But how many times have we seen what eventually became great ideas shot down by the experts. We have all heard the stories about how someone turned down the Beatles because guitar bands would never work, or the naysayers who poo-pooed the Wright Brothers. Stories like this abound in the annals of history.

And I totally agree that many a good idea is cut down before it can prove itself. And more times than not, the one doing the cutting down is the researcher with a concept survey or focus groups.

At the heart of this easy ability to burst the bubble on new ideas is that it is so much easier to find something wrong with a new idea than it is to see the merit in an idea. Present a new idea to someone and ask them for their thoughts and they are more than likely to first voice the negatives. The typical question is “what do you dislike about…” (Along with a what do you like question.)

It’s a human thing. To err is human. And to shoot down ideas is human. It’s the way were are built. Most of us anyway.

So here is the hack that can help you cut through the natural negativity and get at the real issues facing an idea and evaluate it more fairly.

Don’t ask people what they dislike about the idea. Ask them what concerns them about the idea.

It’s just semantics, I know, but it is so much more.

Because you can constructively deal with a concern. It’s in our nature to do so.

The way I incorporate this into qualitative research is to start by asking participants, when reviewing a concept, what three things they like about the concept. That gets them distracted from just shooting down the idea and articulating the good things. Because any concept or idea should have some merit to it or it shouldn’t have gotten this far in the process. Then, once that is done, I ask--”What is your biggest concern about this?”

I like to get participants to answer that by starting with the phrase “How to…” but that’s not always possible to do. The key is getting them to express it as a concern. So rather than--”It’s ugly,” when referring to an ad concept, you can get to something that is easier to work with like, “I have a hard time reading it--it hurts my eyes to read the copy.” (That was a real example--where the copy was in white type on a black background.) Good moderating and probing questions can move from the obvious "I don't like" to the concern which is usually at the root of the issue and something that can be worked on.

In a survey, it is as easy as doing the same thing with two questions:

1. What three things do you like about this idea?

2. What is your biggest concern with this idea?

The concept owner can work to resolve concerns much easier than to deal with dislikes. Dislikes have a way of just bursting the bubble. I have seen it over and over in a focus group where the dislikes become red flags that doom the idea to the junk bin.

On the other side, it's easy to accept that there are concerns without entirely dismissing the idea. Concerns can be worked through to actually constructively reshape the idea into a stronger idea.

So there it is. The one thing to do to help evaluate new ideas more fairly and more effectively. Go after concerns, not dislikes. And it really is that easy.

It's so much more fun when the bubbles don't burst, but float around in their rainbow-hued glory. Right? Photo credit goes to Veronica Garcia on Unsplash. Great photo, Veronica.