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Brainstorming: Red Flags and Light Bulbs

At Future Delivery, we often come up with a lot of innovative and creative ideas. But sometimes there are just too many “good” and “cool” ideas, and it is hard to find the best one that we should do. After all, our resources are limited, and ideas are always the sweetest and most brilliant at the beginning. How do you find the idea that not just sounds cool at the beginning but is resource efficient and has the most sustaining value. To maneuver through all the cool and creative ideas, here’s a systematic approach on picking out the most valuable ideas.

Have the Calm Before the Brainstorm

A good brainstorming session must start with the right mentality and attitude. If you go into a discussion with a large bias or some personal issues with your teammates, it won’t be very fruitful. The first step is to really make sure the whole team has the same goal: to find the best solution. With that in mind, no one should take anything in this brainstorming session personal. Make sure you are thinking as objectively as possible, and that you are in good terms with all your teammates. That’s when you can really play the game well.

Don’t fall in love with your Ideas. Fall in love with your Teammates

I cannot stress this enough. When you are brainstorming, you should throw out every idea that you have, but you must be willing to have all of them overthrown. The fact is that for everything you come up with, you might be right, or you might be wrong. No one knows. If more than one person you truly trust thinks you are wrong, then the odds of you being right decreases dramatically. Yes, you might think that you are the only genius among a bunch of idiots, but that’s why working with people you can respect and trust is so essential. Always surround yourself with people you can respect or you will never be happy in life.

My co-founder Jun and I are very good at trying to destroy each other’s ideas, but we’re even more accepting to becoming convinced that our own ideas are trash. Being open to be proven wrong is EXTREMELY important because it makes people feel that disagreeing with you is fun. When I point out the flaws in Jun’s thinking, he fights back with more arguments, and once I nail him down by proving his comeback futile, he just says “meh…..:(” and gets over it. However, I’ve worked with people who start to feel that they are personally attacked and their ideas are not taken seriously. Come on, if I don’t take your ideas seriously, I wouldn’t even bother arguing with it.

The correct way to deal with someone proving you wrong is to actually thank them, since its almost like they helped you fixed a bug in your thinking. If you manage to correct someone else, you really gained nothing besides opposing bitterness. It is the person who get convinced that derives the most out of the conversation. A ridiculous phenomenon that happens when Jun and I argue is that we would be arguing stubbornly for ten minutes without resolve. A few hours of quiet time later, we would come back and find that our positions swapped. Jun has convinced me that he is right and I have convinced him I am right. Then we have to argue all over again with the opposite position. That’s what happens when both sides respect each other and focus on filtering out ideas instead of the ownership of them.

If you become defensive of your own ideas and take crushing logic like a sore loser, no one will want to disagree with you anymore because its painful, and you have just guaranteed politics in your team and converted future brain storms into brain drops.

Maneuvering through ideas by locating Light Bulbs and Red Flags.

When you are going through lots of ideas, every idea sounds brilliant and would bring your team to the promise land. But resources are limited and you can only commit to one. What do you do? One really effective solution is to identify Light Bulbs and Red Flags in each idea. A Light Bulb is one of those things that make you say “Aha!” or “Genius!” There are lots of good ideas that make people smile and think you are really smart, but there are very few of them that seems to power up a light bulb on their heads. This means that your idea it not only creative and innovative, it is also compelling. On the flip side, a Red Flag is something that makes people feel concerned. The idea might seem good, but there are a lot of “what if….”s, and the conditions must be perfect for the idea to work. Most of the time when people are keen about their ideas and it hits one of these concerns, instead of Red Flagging them they usually just say “well….we’ll figure it out later. The point is that this could really work out!” However, by putting a mental Red Flag on that issue allows you to see it in the big picture and also go back and explore it often.

After you have exhausted your brains and have went through all your ideas, you should start to count all the Light Bulbs and Red Flags to find out what is the best idea. Keep in mind that it sometimes takes many Light Bulbs to make a team successful, but it may take only one Red Flag to ruin everything. You therefore want to really focus on the ideas that have a few Light Bulbs but no Red Flags. These are ideas that are most compelling while having the least risks.

Fall back to KISS

I like positive terms, so I’m going to say KISS stands for Keep It Simple Smarty! The whole concept about using Light Bulbs and Red Flags is to cut through all the distracting information and immediately evaluate the value of your ideas. In essence, it’s to help you make things simple. Red Flags could be concerns like “we may suddenly go into a lot of regulation trouble”, “we would be always dependent on this one customer”, “if we don’t get it 100% right on timing, we’ll die.” The fewer Red Flags you have, the simpler your model becomes and the stronger you are at avoiding potential problems in the future. Going for the most simple things allows you to stay adaptable and becoming more complex when your ideas are validated and proven by the market. That’s why startups should start small and core with features and add more once it gains traction.

Identify your Guts and Hopes

There’s no hard rule saying how many Light Bulbs you must have, or if you shouldn’t exceed a certain amount of Red Flags. It depends on your collective personality and the payoffs. Some people who are very conservative will choose the one Light Bulb with no Red Flags to keep life simple. Others might choose the ideas with ten Light Bulbs and five Red Flags. Different fields and professionals definitely have different styles. In fact, some people like Accountants, Lawyers and Risk Managers are hired to help you identify more Red Flags, whereas many Consultants and Entrepreneurs are there to help you identify the Light Bulbs. However, if the payoff is the same, I thinking taking a less innovative but more compelling and risk-free route is the better one. I wouldn’t try to come up with the most innovative backflip maneuvering technique that likely gets me to open the door knob faster when people knock just because the payoff isn’t worth risking hurting myself. If I can do it to impress readers…maybe.

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