Shaping Your Idea

You have a business idea in your head, but how will it work in reality? In practice?

In the early stage, it’s hard to know whether an idea will turn out as good as you pictured it, or look completely different one people start, you know, actually trying to use it.

Our meetup, Ideas-into-Action, is aimed at people who already have an idea, but need help realising it. In a recent meetup, we discussed the usual gambit of challenges facing self-employed entrepreneurs and business-starters. Shaping that idea in the early stage is one that comes up time and time again.

Putting something into practice, whether a software prototype or business model, can reveal a lot of unknown factors. Some simply help you refine the idea as you go, others could reveal unseen obstacles that call the whole thing into question. Usually, though, it’s somewhere in the middle.

It is desirable to try and catch as many of these as possible early, before investing further into an idea.

Putting it down on paper

At this stage, a lot of people still have the idea almost exclusively in their head. The easiest step is to simply write/draw the idea down, whether in words, hand-drawn sketches, wire-frame images, mind maps, tables, and so on.

Tips and guidelines for each of these methods merit further exploration, but for now, the focus is to simply get something down as a starting point. If you’re looking for a quick solution, Moqups is one relatively easy-to-use online tool with a free option. It’s good for flowcharts and UI wireframes, though there are plenty of other options out there, too.

You now have a bunch of notes and pictures to start formally visualising the idea. This is useful for testing at least some aspects of the idea.

Acting out the idea

One of the early steps in traditional systems analysis and design is drawing a “flowchart” of each step in detail, including inputs and outputs.

Whether a physical product, service, or application, acting out the overall process (with a willing volunteer) can help to crystalise how things work in practice. Even if you don’t have working components, you can use props.

Of course, imagination is not as good as a functioning prototype, but a walk through the imaginary process is still valuable. For example, simply observing someone’s behaviour, how they react and whether it aligns with your own expectations can be enlightening.

Getting feedback

You can and should ask people to provide explicit feedback at the end, and again, there are multiple ways of going about this.

An open-ended “so what do you think?” is, of course, an option, but one of varying usefulness. Unless your friend is a professional designer with experience in your particular field, open-ended feedback can be of marginal value. People may think they are providing valuable feedback, but may overstate and understate things according to their own biases.

Thus, shaping feedback is much better. Giving volunteers structured questions and structured answers (such as numerical 1–10 scales, yes/no, etc) are two ways to do this. This has the benefit of focusing feedback on areas you need input on and in a more consistent and structured format.

Asking the right questions

How to shape feedback is, of course, a whole a topic in itself, and one we are sure to explore deeper in future.

In our meetup, a book called “Mom’s test” was suggested as a good guide to getting good feedback when testing ideas. The book talks about avoiding so-called “Mom answers” that are always positive. Instead, it helps you find “the right questions to ask to get real answers.”

Fogg’s behaviour model was another interesting suggested resource. This is a model to understand user’s behaviours, and when they are triggered, using the formula b=mat (behaviour=motivation+ability+trigger). This can help you identify factors that need to be fulfilled to trigger the right behaviours.

Visualising and shaping an idea is a critical prerequisite to enabling one of the most important resources to an entrepreneur — feedback. To be precise, not just feedback but valuable feedback.

If you want to discuss your ideas and how to put them into action into more detail, feel free to join one of our regular meetups.