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Prove You’re On The Right Track – Validate Your Ideas Early

Posted on November 30th, 2015 by in Chemical R&D

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When you’re working with new ideas, new technology and products on the cutting edge, it can be very easy to get carried away. Innovation is exciting and it’s often tempting to keep pushing ideas further and further, doing a little bit more after a little bit more as you see new opportunities present themselves.

While following your creativity and exploring new things are not bad ways to spend your time, there comes a point when your ideas will have to stand on their own two feet in the real world. At some point, every innovation has to face the scrutiny of cost/benefit analysis, engineering and manufacturing processes, exposure to your customers or intended market and so much more. At the end of the day, everything we create has to exist in the real world. Yet there is a big temptation to keep everything close to your chest until it’s finished. Certainly for me, and most engineers I know, there’s a desire to build something until it’s “ready” before exposing it to the real world.

But keeping your idea, your product or your innovation completely behind closed doors can be a dangerous approach. Without exposing it to the realities of the world it will hopefully one day operate in, there’s a risk of designing or building something that will never stand up. Perhaps we’re afraid of failing. Perhaps we’re afraid that what we’ve come up with so far won’t be good enough. Perhaps we think we need to do a little bit more for it to stand up to the rigors of the real world. Perhaps all of these things are true.

But failure isn’t a problem, as long as it’s quick and cheap. Failure doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a project or an idea. Failing is simply a way of highlighting areas that need more work. The problem comes when those areas are not highlighted until it’s too late, when it’s prohibitively expensive to change them. So really, exposing your ideas to real-world scrutiny as early as possible can be incredibly helpful.

I’m not suggesting you do this for every single idea you have, but validating as soon as is feasible is usually a good option. Quite what validation in this context looks like will vary on a case-y case basis, but here are a few ideas for validating an idea, product or process in the early stages of development:
• Stakeholder feedback – Who is the end user of your idea? Who holds the purse strings? If it’s a product, who will support or maintain it? Run your idea past them, even if vague terms if required. What do they think of it?
• Market analysis – Is there a market for your idea? This might not be a purely financial analysis, but who would benefit from your idea, who else is in this space and is the market big enough to support your expected development costs.
• Business analysis – If your idea would be developed and realized through a business/company/organization, does it fit with their goals? Is this the right context for your idea to be developed? As with the stakeholder feedback, gathering opinions and thoughts could be useful here.

None of this means that every single idea you have needs to be rigorously tested or analyzed right from the get-go. But at the same time, ideas should be validated way before they reach manufacture (or even specification in most cases).

There is most definitely a balance to find here. Going overboard with process and analysis too early can stifle innovation and creativity. Yet ignoring useful processes and real-world constraints for too long can lead you down the path of designing or building something nobody wants. And that can be a very expensive mistake to recover from.

Wherever you can, look to validate your ideas and challenge your assumptions as quickly as possible. Yes, it’ll be disappointing if nobody is interested in your latest creation, but it’s far better to know that up front than months or years down the line.

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