It’s all about judgement.

It’s high tide for innovation – innovate, innovate, innovate. Do it now; bring together the experts; hold an off-site brainstorm session; generate 106 ideas. Fast and easy; anyone can do that. Now the hard part: choose the projects to work on. Say no to most and yes to a few. Choose and execute.

To choose we use processes to rank and prioritize; we assign scores 1-5 on multiple dimensions and multiply. Highest is best, pull the trigger, and go. Right? (Only if it was that easy.) Not how it goes.

After the first round of scoring we hold a never-ending series of debates over the rankings; we replace 5s with 3s and re-run the numbers; we replace 1s with 5s and re-re-run. We crank on Excel like the numbers are real, like 5 is really 5. Face it – the scores are arbitrary, dimensionless numbers, quasi-variables data based on judgment. Face it – we manipulate the numbers until the prioritization fits our judgment.

Clearly this is a game of judgment. There’s no data for new products, new technologies, and new markets (because they don’t exist), and the data you have doesn’t fit. (That’s why they call it new.) No market – the objective is to create it; no technology – same objective, yet we cloak our judgment in self-invented, quasi-variables data, and the masquerade doesn’t feel good. It would be a whole lot better if we openly acknowledged it’s judgment-based – smoother, faster, and more fun.

Instead of the 1-3-5 shuffle, try a story-based approach. Place the idea in the context of past, present, and future; tell a tale of evolution: the market used to be like this with a fundamental of that; it moved this way because of the other, I think. By natural extension (or better yet, unnatural), my judgment is the new market could be like this… (If you say will, that’s closeted 1-3-5 behavior.) While it’s the most probable market in my judgment, there is range of possible markets…

Tell a story through analogy: a similar technology started this way, which was based on a fundamental of that, and evolved to something like the other. By natural evolution (use TRIZ) my technical judgment is the technology could follow a similar line of evolution like this…. However, there are a range of possible evolutionary directions that it could follow, kind of like this or that.

And what’s the market size? As you know, we don’t sell any now. (No kidding we don’t sell any, we haven’t created the technology and the market does not exist. That’s what the project is about.) Some better questions: what could the market be? Judgment required. What could the technology be? Judgment. If the technology works, is the market sitting there under the dirt just waiting to be discovered? Judgment.

Like the archeologist, we must translate the hieroglyphs, analyze the old maps, and interpret the dead scrolls. We must use our instinct, experience, and judgment to choose where to dig.

Like it or not, it’s a judgment game, so make your best judgment, and dig like hell.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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