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Finding Consensus Without Sacrificing Innovation

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by Min Basadur, Michael Goldsby and Rob Mathews, authors of “Design-Centered Entrepreneurship, Second Edition

Just as it takes an open mind to effectively develop new ideas, so it takes an open mind to effectively evaluate new ideas. The process of evaluating the potential for taking a useful solution around which you can develop a practical business can be relatively simple or relatively complex.

For example, determining which of three franchises to open requires nothing more complicated than talking to existing franchisees and doing some background market research. A more challenging task is to evaluate, say, a new form of healthcare.

It’s more difficult to make these decisions when you lack a single, simple yardstick or scale to measure the relative worth of the choices. Franchises have proven track records that can be compared relatively easily, whereas a new healthcare business will have to address numerous legal, technical, and economic factors.

Usually the more innovative the business idea, the more thought that will be needed in determining how to evaluate its potential. You have to use more than a single criterion in choosing. Selecting the appropriate “yardsticks” or criteria themselves is an important and often tough job.

Think about buying the right car from among a few models. You wouldn’t base your decision on only one criterion. While price may or may not be important to you, so might gas mileage, roominess, style, and array of features available. Your final choice will be based on several of these yardsticks. Similarly, you can’t often evaluate possible solutions to a customer problem by using only one criterion.

When you belong to a team making the evaluation, it can be difficult to agree on which criteria to use. What’s important to one person might be less important to another. Your first step in evaluation is to create a list of potential criteria for measuring your selected ideas. As you do so, suspend judgment and logic. You’ll find some of the best criteria will come to you further down your list. Only after creating this list should you exercise judgment to select the most important few criteria — perhaps through discussions with other people, such as potential customers, subject matter experts, the founding team, and other company stakeholders. In any case, taking the time to develop and select useful, comprehensive criteria is a must.

An entrepreneur must give great thought to what will really determine the future success of the new product or service, and then make business decisions based on those criteria. No matter the number of criteria you use, the idea is to carefully and open-mindedly examine each of your selected customer solutions.

Consensus is vital when it comes to evaluation in a team. Without it, implementation is in jeopardy because there will be a drop-in commitment. Some members will begin to feel like outsiders.

To arrive at the most thoughtful innovative solutions, keep these consensus-finding tips in mind:

1. View differences in perception as constructive.

Differences in perception are a good thing — not a bad thing. If five different people have expressed five different facts about the same issue (some even apparently conflicting), this is not an obstacle to slow us down, but an opportunity to get smarter. Let’s clarify what we know and what we don’t know and move on. Don’t worry about small differences, just build on the big things on which you agree.

2. Listen carefully to what others say about an option.

Listening carefully to other people not only builds clarity and understanding but also builds trust. Remember, we are here to solve a problem — not to debate.

3. Give unusual options a good hearing.

It’s important to not shy away from unusual options. Try to avoid playing it safe. Someone needs to step up and say, “Why aren’t we considering this option over here? Let’s talk about it to see if we might take the riskiness out.”

4. Focus on making good selections — not protecting turf.

Good consensus skills in a team means its members are able get beyond protecting their own personal interests and work for the overall organization’s benefit.

5. Work toward full group participation.

Teams must work at getting everyone involved and saying what’s on their mind. Unfortunately, some people will shrink into the woodwork when it’s time to start choosing.

6. Say what you think.

What if there are seven people in the room and you have something to say, but the other people are going in a very different direction? What you must avoid thinking is, “Well, there’s something obviously wrong with me, I’ll go along with them and not say anything.” You might as well not be on the team because you may be the only one with an insight that is a game changer. Do not contribute to what is known as “groupthink.”

7. Don’t let higher status or more vocal people sway the group.

The team must also work hard at not letting higher status people sway the group. If you happen to be the boss, your special skill is not to act like one. You must be extra skilled at just being one of the team members.

Sometimes the evaluation process doesn’t lead directly to the implementation phase. Instead, it can actually point teams in new directions. This spontaneous surge of idea building can lead to a much different and better business opportunity. You can encourage these results by deferring judgment as you evaluate — just remember to keep an open mind.

 

Min Basadur is Professor Emeritus of Innovation at McMaster University, Canada, and founder of Basadur Applied Creativity. Michael Goldsby is Stoops Distinguished Professor of  Entrepreneurship and Chief Entrepreneurship Officer at Ball State University. Rob Mathews is Executive Director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at Ball University. Their new book, “Design-Centered Entrepreneurship, Second Edition” (Routledge, 2022), provides a research-driven, step-by-step approach to creative problem-solving. Learn more at https://elprofile.com/