Ways to Kill an Idea – #4. It is too expensive

Here is part 4 on my blog series of how to kill an idea. I’ll quickly recap three ideas from a recent conference that motivated me to write these posts:

1. Fail fast, fail forward.
2. Do not be afraid to think big.
3. Do not automatically say no.

We love to say no, even when it shouldn’t be our first response. We do need to be cautious, but a quick “No” is a great way to stifle innovation and kill ideas. Whether we are scared, unsure, or uncertain, we quickly come up with some great (and not so great) excuses, which often are just ways to kill ideas. While the entries in this series are independent, I do encourage you to go back and read the previous ones. For those that have been following along, here goes #4: It is too expensive.

To me, too expensive isn’t something that should be thrown out immediately or thrown around lightly. While a luxury car may be deemed too expensive, so might a heart transplant. Before writing off something as too expensive, I like to follow these golden rules:

1. Do you know the actual cost, or are you just guessing?
2. Have you measured the benefits or returns? (Remember, gains need not be solely financial!)
3. Expensive usually implies something big – is this project/undertaking/thing as big as you think, and if so do alternatives exist?

While these may be oversimplified criteria, I do believe that they can be used to narrow down if something is truly expensive, or if we are just being truly lazy or truly un-creative. Either way, a bit of analysis can’t hurt, especially if we are being presented with something completely absurd. Of course, if I present to my team that I’d like to fly to Mars, that isn’t quite the same as asking to launch a new campaign. Yet, our knee-jerk reaction may be to treat these as the same thing and quickly dole out a “It’s too expensive”. In order to clarify, I’ll talk a bit more about the rules mentioned above.

1. Do you know the actual cost, or are you just guessing?

I know that a Porsche is expensive. But I don’t know exactly how expensive. I also know that a consultant may sound expensive, or that a marketing campaign may sound expensive, but do I really know? You may be surprised how little something actually costs. Alternatively, consider that this can go both ways: don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions to make sure that you have ALL of the costs before green-lighting something. Costs are more then just dollars and cents – consider lost time, impact on your operations, your team and maybe even your image. A lot of the little details and extras can add up – and quick.

2. Have you measured the benefits or returns?

Again, this can often be more then dollars and cents! Some initiatives can have a strong positive impact on your organization’s image, and sometimes if just feels nice to do some social good. Don’t be afraid to start adopting triple-bottom line metrics, and of course, there’s the classic ROI. Sure, something might sound like a lot of money, but if it gives massive returns, then why not invest?

3. Is this too big or are their alternatives?

Sometimes, things DO cost too much, regardless of potential returns. However, we can often make things more complicated or bigger than they should be. If you like an idea but don’t like the cost, consider evaluating both the scope and scale, and how they may relate to your strategic goals. Maybe you can roll something out in phases, or maybe you only need a piece. And even if you do need the whole thing, are their alternatives?

This may sound silly (and overly obvious), but google is your friend. It really is. You would be amazed at what you can find, and the alternatives that it may present. It is entirely possible to build your own social network, fund a venture without the use of traditional lenders, outsource part of your business, and even build your own mobile apps. This is just a short list of some of the great initiatives that the Internet has made accessible to us. The average cost of these? Less than $500.00.

I do want to reiterate that costs are important and must be monitored. Money is too important to throw away, but we need to carefully evaluate opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, explore alternatives and do some real thinking before saying “No”.

Don’t let the “too expensive” mindset kill a good idea.

– Rodolfo Martinez

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