Whether you come up with an idea on your own or a colleague shares it with you, you will invariably find yourself at a fork in your career road. Is this an idea worth pursuing?
The risk of pursuing a bad idea may range from wasting a sleepless night to derailing your career. So it is easier to say “no.”
And passing over a great idea that you’ve incorrectly deemed as flawed primarily hurts your company, not your career, which makes saying “no” even easier. For example, the executives who prevented Xerox from commercializing the mouse and graphical interface felt far less pain than Apple’s Steve Jobs felt glory.
And therein lies the dilemma of the “intrapreneur.” If you care about your company’s future glory you will want to pursue great ideas. But if your colleagues care more about their careers, they will avoid supporting you.
As Machiavelli wrote in The Prince:
“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than an attempt to introduce innovations. For the leader in the introduction of changes will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.”
How can you extract yourself from this dilemma?
You can start by getting better at accurately assessing the potential of a business idea.
Over the holidays, I got a chance to speak in some depth with a man who knows far more about this challenge than most. Gordon Bell helped found Microsoft’s research division (Microsoft Research), which now, with over 1,000 scientists performing primary research across the globe, rivals the research power of most universities. He started his career at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) where he worked on many of the most critical innovations that would shape computing. Along the way he spent years as an active entrepreneur and VC investor.
Few people in the world have assessed more technology ideas for their business potential than Bell.
I won’t share some of the more confidential thoughts he had on the topic, but I can point you to an amazingly succinct and complete framework he designed to systematically assess whether the business idea you are considering is worth betting your time, career, and resources on.
Buy a copy of his book High Tech Ventures for all the details, and while you are waiting for the UPS truck or Amazon drone to reach you, here is a quick summary of his “Bell-Mason Diagnostic.” Assess the idea across 12 dimensions that fall into four categories:
- Technology: Does the company have a measurable and defensible technological advantage?
- Product: Does the product have well-defined and superior features/benefits?
- Manufacturing: Is there a process or at least a plan in place to manufacture at a competitive price (outsourcing and self-manufacturing the right things)?
- Business Plan: Does the company have a good five-year plan in place with the first two years written in detail?
- Marketing: Does the company have a well-thought-through marketing plan (strategic and tactical) in place with the team to execute it?
- Sales: Does the company have a sales plan in place that makes sense and a sales leader with a proven track record and understanding of the space?
CEO/Top Management/Board of Directors
- CEO: Does the CEO have the character, energy, and intelligence to make it happen?
- Top Management: Is the top team composed of high-quality people with the right experience and expertise?
- Board of Directors: Does the board of directors bring the right experience and expertise and are they playing the right role (i.e., acting like advocates and not corporate decision-makers)?
- Cash: Does the company have the cash to complete the current planned stage and begin the next stage while it looks for its next round of funding?
- Financeability: Based on the market space, stage of company, product, etc., are there multiple investors who would be ready to invest in the next round of funding?
- Control: Does the company have adequate control over execution (e.g., clear schedules, objectives, reviews)?
Give yourself a yes or no for each of these. Add up your yeses and you will get a sense if its makes sense to move forward. Figure out what you need to do to turn your nos into yeses.
I ran my firm, Outthinker, through this and it shed light on clear areas that we need to work on and areas of strength we should better leverage. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a worksheet I created to help apply the framework, and read Bell’s book to learn how the master does it.
Sign up to get free workbook