Before digital printing the big brands would spend $10,000 or $40,000 or even $100,000 for a prototype on a single new product idea. Once they spent that pile of money on a slick new prototype gets awfully hard to walk away from the idea.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO in his latest book Change by Design says one of the things they learned about early prototyping and idea testing is to not invest much. IDEO team members have become accustomed to making prototypes with what they have laying around the office. In this way they have a tangible way to demonstrate the idea and talk about it but they have not spent so much time and money that they are emotionally invested it in. The good ideas will move forward quickly while the bad ideas die painlessly.
The process Tim outlines doesn’t just apply to physical goods. You can use the same kind of process with any idea. You just need to figure out your idea funnel. Most associations have a natural advantage here because they release a tremendous amount of content. In this way social media and editorial can become a testing ground for new ideas.
Here is a method for starting small to test big ideas:
Your Idea Funnel
1. Member input – keep a running list of new topics to cover generated by members during conversations, member research, events, member services and in online communities.
2. Determine interest – test a topic in social media. What gets the most interest? Which topics get the most comments or shares? If a topic doesn’t get the interest you expect shelve it for now and try again at another time.
3. Refine the story angle – once you’ve got a topic that generates significant interest write an assortment of articles or posts exploring the topic from different angles. You will find that some of these will resonate more than others. Recheck metrics to see if the idea appeals to members.
4. Get feedback – take the best ideas on the road and engage in a two way dialogue. Present, conduct workshops or qualitative research. Get more context about why the idea matters. What is the problem members have?
5. Product development – In what form will this idea do the most good? Is it a new book, professional development offering or service? How can members easily and effectively put the idea to good use?
Are you excited about a great idea but worried about the risk to invest in it? Use the idea funnel to make sure the idea is big. Start small to get the quickest and most accurate results.
Organizations that innovate succeed but innovating is risky. Small testing of big ideas is just one way to minimize the risk of innovation. Find out more about association innovation from Amanda Kaiser on her blog SmoothThePath and follow her on Twitter @SmoothThePath.