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7 ways to test if your idea is bad

Use these methods to test your ideas to determine if they are good or bad.

7 ways to test if your idea is bad
[Photo: DarioGaona/iStock]

While you might not always be right, it’s easy to judge someone else’s ideas as good or bad. When it comes to your own ideas, however, it’s not always so clear. You may have an idea that you think is a great idea, but what if it’s not?

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Ideas are cheap; it’s the execution that matters, says Lars Sudmann, leadership advisor and former CFO of Procter & Gamble Belgium. “You need to have the willingness and discipline to test your idea in real life,” he says. “Will it work? What are the reactions of others? What is my own experience? Only then can you assess if it is a great idea. Without testing, for me an idea is by default a bad idea as it only lives as a thought construct.”

You can test your ideas in a variety of ways to determine if it’s bad or good.

1. Run it by a confidant

The quickest way to test an idea is to share it, but be careful with whom you consult. When it comes to giving feedback, we all have people who will tell us what they think we want to hear, and we likely know people who will throw a wet blanket on any proposal, says David Hagenbuch, professor of marketing at Messiah College. It’s important to find someone who will be honest.

“We all need someone who will speak [truthfully] to us from an informed and objective perspective,” he says. “Such ‘idea editors’ are invaluable at proofreading our plans, giving us honest feedback, and constructive criticism aimed at helping our ideas succeed.”

2. Consult “weak ties” in your network

Weak ties often will tell you the truth about your ideas because they don’t have as much to lose as friends, says Adele Cehrs, CEO of the crisis communications firm When and How.

“Pose questions about your ideas and ask acquaintances to refute them,” she says. “If you truly have a good idea, you can defend your thinking and have some honest critique.”

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3. Ask existing customers

A sure way to know that your idea is bad is when you have zero feedback after presenting it, says Chuck Sacco, assistant dean of Strategic Initiatives at the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and director of the Laurence A. Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship.

“What may seem like a great idea to the entrepreneur may end up being a terrible idea to the target customer,” he says. “‘Gee, that’s really nice’ isn’t good enough. If they are not really excited, the idea is likely a nonstarter.”

4. Use social psychology

Think about whether other people would want to promote your idea for you, says Cehrs.

“If you can’t think of three good reasons someone would want to spread the word about your product or service, you may have a bad idea,” she says.

If people say they would promote your idea, ask them open-ended questions to gain a better understanding about why they would want to promote it, Cehrs adds. “This will help your promotional strategy and give you a sense of the viability of the idea,” she says.

5. Ask a friend to explain your idea back to you

If your idea is too complex, it is likely a bad one, says Cehrs.

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“One test is to tell your idea to someone, and then ask them to call a friend to explain it,” she says. “If they can’t translate your idea with clarity, you need to go back to the drawing board.”

6. Make sure you’re not repeating an old idea

If you’ve tested the idea before and it didn’t work and nothing has changed since then, it’s probably still a bad idea, says Sudmann.

“Especially if the context hasn’t changed, it’s more likely that you are part of a repeating pattern and that your idea is bad,” he says. “There is a fine line between persistency and trying and just not realizing that your idea is a bad one. If you have tried out something for some three or more times and it didn’t work, it might be time to stop.”

7. Let the market tell you

The market is the only true arbiter of value, whether an idea is bad or not bad, says Vince DiFelice, faculty member for the University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship program.

“Find a customer with money in that market who will serve as your ally,” he says. “Learn how to sell value in that market–value that’s unique. Don’t hire someone else to sell for you yet. This allows you the opportunity to fail and persist while the competition is not looking. You may succeed. You may not. Regardless, you will learn a lot and add to your means, which can only help you in the future.”

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