According to popular folklore, Thomas Edison took 1,000 tries before he developed a successful working model of the electric lightbulb. A reporter once asked him, "How does it feel to fail 1,000 times?"
Edison replied, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."
We can imagine that Thomas Edison's journey with the light bulb involved many repetitions of the Preparation, Immersion, Incubation and Illumination stage. Many times he had break-throughs and inspirations that progressed the development forward.
Yet, at least 1,000 times he would proceed to the fourth stage of the Creative Process - Evaluation - and decide to begin the process again.
He is not alone in his journey here, with most innovators having countless "A-Ha!" moments that progressed them forward, yet not the whole way.
Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 prototypes of his innovative vacuum cleaner before his creative process was totally finished - and this led to the Dyson brand being the best selling vacuum cleaner in the United States.
The Evaluation stage is surprisingly simple in its practical application, yet difficult to divorce the emotions and excitement you may feel about your idea from the decision making process. For your innovation to be improved to the highest degree, however, this stage is essential to undertake well.
Also, this is a stage that is best done in a small group, as others are able to apply their more objective thoughts to the proposed idea. Although this can be difficult - akin to placing your baby on display to be critiqued - this will improve the Evaluation stage and provide much richer feedback.
There are two main approaches to conscious Evaluation, and I prefer the Appreciative Inquiry model. This model seeks to affirm what is valuable in the idea so far, and positively explore the future for how this idea could grow.
Simply put, ask these two questions of your idea:
- What is good about this idea? Do not allow only a few ideas to come out - really exhaust yourself in stressing the good attributes of your innovation. Each of these good attributes may trigger a new connection between other ideas, which can be valuable in the next round of Incubation and Illumination.
- What could be improved with this idea? Notice - we are not asking "What is bad with this idea?". We are seeking ways that this idea could be improved, either by making the good elements better, or adding new value to the idea. A range of voices, from different backgrounds, will help reveal new possibilities for your idea.
Alternatively, your organisation can create a Criteria for Innovative Evaluation, to help streamline the Evaluation process. A pre-arranged list of criteria can help direct your thinking and guide future iterations of the idea to be more appropriate for your company. For example, these criteria could be:
- This idea would be effective in solving the problem/issue our organisation is facing.
- We currently have the ability within our staff and knowledge to actualise the idea.
- This idea is likely to be supported by the organisation.
Regardless of the approach you take, consciously evaluating your idea and re-entering the Creative Process will produce creative ideas of a higher quality, with more possibility of generating profit and bringing change to your environment.