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"Lord, grant that we may always be right, for thou knowest we will never change our minds."
Old Scottish Prayer

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Last week we explored how to spot a good idea, and as promised, here are some thoughts about the difference between a great idea and a good idea and how to spot a great idea.

First, we’ll define a great idea as a business idea that yeilds material or substantial success by however your company measures success. Or put another way, a great idea, makes a big positive difference for your customers, your employees, and your shareholders/members.

How do we spot a great idea, as opposed to a merely good idea? Well as considered last week, there will be a physical response around the table as people move closer in with anticipation, there will be a shift in volume as people get excited, and there will be action commitments from people around the idea. If it is a great idea, you’ll also likely see/hear:

1. Simplicity, so much so, that you may well think, ‘why didn’t we think of this before?’ For example, a colleague of mine at CUSource has introduced a Virtual Conference for Member Service Reps and Tellers. The very people who we all know are closest to the action, and yet are the least likely in a financial institution to be jetting off to conferences, are suddenly signing up in droves to participate on-line in break out sessions lead by experts from across the country. Why didn’t we think of that before?!
2. Utility (see also “Knowing a Winning Business Idea When You See One” from HBR, September/October 2000), that is, the idea will change the lives of your customers. There are big examples of such great ideas, iPhones, various surgical instruments, and sliced bread, to be only slightly facetious. The test might well be, once launched, will our customers be lost without this product/service if it went away? If the answer is yes, you’ve got a great idea. (Other such tests could be; is it fun?, does it enhance the customer’s image? Does it make life more convenient, simple, or productive?) A ‘yes’ to any of those questions may well mean a great idea.
3. Often vociferous resistance, from people who perceive the idea to be a threat.  Most new ideas will be resisted, but a great idea likely will threaten the status quo, and as the adage goes, ‘the only people who like change are wet babies,’ The initiation or launch of great ideas will result in loud wailing and ganshing of teeth most especially from entrenched leaders and silos within the organization. They may well nod politely in the meetings, but will speak privately with you, cautioning you about the direction. If it is a great idea, you’ll more than likely be having ‘quiet word’ meetings initiated by some of your most senior people, from all levels in the organization. Pay attention to their thinking, but be reminded, the status quo is what gives them power and authority, a great idea, may well be threatening that.

The great ideas in your organization are present right now, the key is to create an environment of trust, innovation and bold steps, and then pay attention to your people. How are they sitting and speaking in meetings? Are they committing to ideas? Are the ideas simple and useful? And is the resistance loud and passionate from the status quo? That is where the great ideas are most likely being nurtured.