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How to sniff out the best ideas


Creative people can detect at an early stage the ‘smell’ of a new idea – this motivates them to pursue and develop that idea.
An idea which does not seem very interesting to anyone else can have this special ‘smell’ for a creative person. This seems to be a sort of instinct in the way it operates. It is not, however, an instinct but a judgment built up from a lot of experience.

At the very start of an idea, difference is a point of interest. Something which is different, or even the opposite, of the normal will always be interesting. Whether that interest develops into something practical is another matter.

The purpose of any new idea is to show value and benefits. Any idea which at an early stage suggests large benefits is always worth hearing and pursuing. The benefits must, however, be made very clear.

An idea that has no obvious benefits is not a creative idea. It is not much use delivering an idea and hoping that there may be benefits somewhere.

An idea which immediately seems practical is always attractive. We can see how the idea can easily be put into practice. Practicality covers many aspects. The idea must be practical and feasible from a mechanical and scientific point of view. The idea must be practical from an ‘acceptance’ point of view; the people who are going to be required to implement the idea must accept the idea.

A simple idea is always attractive. The idea may be simple to introduce. The idea may be simple to operate. The idea may replace existing complexity with simplicity. The ‘smell’ of simplicity is always enticing.

There may be good ideas which will only work in very special circumstances. There may be good ideas which will only work for a certain class of people, for example people with little money but big ambitions.

Not every idea has to be universal. There may be niche ideas which serve that particular niche very well. Such ideas may be worth implementing. In terms of the ‘smell of an idea’, however, niche ideas are not very attractive. If the niche is spelled out very clearly, then the idea can be seen to be valuable. It should not, however, be left to the listener to work out the niche where the idea does have value.

Robust ideas are attractive – ideas that will work even when not fully implemented. This means that the ideas will work even outside the best circumstances.

Edward de Bono