Business owners rarely have a problem generating innovative ideas. The problem instead is deciding on the best few ideas and then saying no, at least for awhile, to the others.

I have found that the following process and model can help a business team quickly get to these best few growth initiatives:

1) Assemble your idea team. This should include the owner, other business leaders, at least one customer facing employee, and possibly an outside advisor who can bring in fresh ideas.

2) Brainstorm all ideas for business growth. Give each person their own color postettes and allow 15 minutes for each person to write down all their ideas, with one postette per idea. The only rules are that nothing is too nit-picky or too outrageous. Also keep talking to a minimum to foster focus and natural creativity.

3) Consolidate. Post all ideas on the wall and take a few minutes to group those that naturally clump together.

4) Map your ideas. Each “author” should place each idea somewhere on the following matrix. (This matrix was modified from Hartman, A. and Sifonis, J., Net Ready – Strategies for Success in the E-conomy, McGraw-Hill, 2000.) The team can then debate whether the position should be changed.

Is the potential impact on the business high or low? Will it bring in revenue, cut costs, reduce risks or create competitive differentiation?

Will the ease of execution be high or low? What is the rough relative cost in terms or time and money? For example, say a person on your team is great with PR or a whiz at creating videos – these ideas would be relatively easy and less expensive for your business to execute.

5) Decide on your best few. I find most businesses can only focus on 3-5 projects at any given time.

  • Money Pits. These ideas are expensive and of little value. They clearly belong on your “no” list.
  • Fool’s Gold. These projects may be easy to do but will they distract you from more important business building activities?
  • Quick Wins. Here you see real impact with not too much cost to the business. Most of your final best initiatives will come from here.
  • Strategic Reserves. While these initiatives may be expensive and difficult, they can also be the really big ideas that set your business apart making it difficult for competitors to copy.

You now have the best few growth projects for your business without losing all your great ideas. In three months you can review your progress and adjust.

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