How to let the best ideas win

Every organization needs to create an environment where the best ideas win.

Unfortunately, there are countless reasons why the best ideas don’t win. One of the most difficult to overcome is when the boss proposes an idea, others are unlikely to go against his or her opinion.

In a typical brainstorm, each person is linked to an idea they’ve proposed by their reasons as to why it’s a good idea. To dislike an idea goes against the reasons for it and the person supporting those reasons. This makes things personal. As much as we can try to separate business from personal relationships, it’s nearly impossible to stay completely unbiased.

A simple illustration of this concept

The way we get over this problem is by detaching the people and reasons from ideas. The most practical way to do this is with post-it notes. Each person only has room to write the essential information about their concept. There is no room for reasons and no need for a signature.

Next, try something that IDEO calls the “Butterfly Test.” Once all the ideas are up in one place, each team member is given an allotment of post-it notes to put on their favorite idea. In this silent voting process there are no people arguing for their idea to win.

What the butterfly test looks like

The idea in the top right wins because it accumulated three stickies! The important thing is that the idea wins. A person did not win. In this format, it’s not important who owns each idea. Even if you do remember who proposed the idea, this information isn’t top of mind. Now you’re voting on an idea. In an oral debate, you’re voting for the person, the reasons and the idea.

This helps to protect ideas held by lower status team members and to put everyone on an equal playing field.

Now you’re one step closer to letting the best idea win!

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