Vetting Ideas

At my work recently we had a staff competition to design creative new features for digital cameras. I briefly thought of entering, but didn’t in the end. This resulted in me being approached to act as one of the judges (of five).

The judging process was interesting. One overriding criterion was that the ideas had to be novel. We work for Canon, an electronic imaging company, so the competition was strongly aligned to our corporate strength, and the goal was to encourage new ideas that could potentially be converted into real, new products. So the novelty criterion was primary. Anything that other camera companies had done was out. Anything that someone had patented already was out. Anything that had been described in a scientific paper, or advertising, or even on someone’s blog, was out. The ideas had to be something that, as far as we could discover, nobody had ever presented before.

Once we’d eliminated anything that we could find prior presentations for, we had to decide the ranking of ideas in order of various creativity and practicality criteria. And this is where the arguments started. (Well, there was no shouting or anything, it was more like spirited discussion. The whole judging process was handled well by all involved.) The disagreements centred on whether people thought certain ideas were “cool” or “I’d never use that feature” or “this would actually be annoying if my camera did this”.

There were a couple of ideas that two of the judges thought were really creative and clever and that people would love, but which other judges just thought were ridiculous and that nobody would ever want such a feature on a camera. The point here, as we more or less agreed after some discussion, was that the market for cameras is huge, and is extremely diverse. What a serious amateur wants on a camera to take artistic photos is very different from what a teenager wants on a camera to take snapshots to post on Facebook. One idea in particular, a couple of judges were naysaying, claiming that such a feature would just annoy the user and nobody would ever buy a camera with that on it. I and another judge countered that teenagers and kids would positively love it, and would actively seek such cameras.

Bringing this back to my topic, in general ideas aren’t universally good or bad. Just because someone doesn’t like your idea doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. People like finding faults in things, they like deconstructing them and picking all the bits that don’t appeal to them. This is not to say that your idea is brilliant – it might actually be a bad idea – but just that you shouldn’t dismiss it on the opinion of one person. There may well be an audience out there for it somewhere. If you think it’s worth pursuing, then that’s one person who appreciates it. And where there’s one, there can be more.


2 Responses to “Vetting Ideas”

  1. Robert Prior says:

    I remember when I worked at BNR, one of the executives pooh-poohed an idea that people would every use high-bandwidth data pipes to their homes (as in fibre-optic connections). Why would they need 1 Mbps anyway? What could they possibly transfer at that speed?

    The project was canned.

    It would be nice to think that the executive’s bonus was clawed back when that proved to be a bad decision, but sadly that’s not the way the world works (just as we didn’t get our jobs back when they decided to develop our idea after all).

    Back on topic, I’ve got a small feature list that would persuade this serious amateur to ditch $10k of Nikon gear for Canon, if implemented. Should I send it to you?

  2. Sure! I might actually have some chance of turning it into real product. Not a lot, but at least better than zero.

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