So you’ve got an idea... Now what?

You have an ideaThe beginning of the year is a time for optimism, planning new changes, and gearing up for greater impact than the year before. It’s a time of inspiration, but how often have you felt stymied, misunderstood, or rejected when trying to get the rest of the team on board?

There are many challenges in translating ideas into action. First, getting the idea from fuzzy dream to clear concept. Then, getting others to understand your vision for change. If you’ve made it this far (congratulations!), now you need to translate the ideas into actions, not to mention figuring out the implementation and (if you were right) the impact.

Still inspired? Fortunately, even our breakthrough innovations can follow in the footsteps of past brilliance. There are tools, steps, and process that can reduce your risk and guide your direction. Let’s go through the steps.

Who are your stakeholders?

Who are you seeking to benefit? Is it clients, donors, community members, your crazy aunt Sue? Your idea may benefit multiple people in different ways, so be specific. For ease of reference, think about your target stakeholder. Who is your client/team/donor/community member? What’s is his/her story? What are they trying to accomplish? Is there a problem they are seeking to avoid?

Let’s say you are the program manager for a youth literacy organization. You’ve been working there for a year, and you have a new idea for a mentorship program. You’ve identified three key stakeholders: the at-risk youth that participate, the school district that connect you to the youth, and the primary funder for your current activity.

What’s your idea? How does it add value for your stakeholders?

Now let’s talk about your idea. What value does it provide to your target stakeholder? (hint: what does it help your stakeholders accomplish, what goal can they now reach, and/or what problem they can overcome?)

Here’s the opportunity our intrepid program manager saw in the community: Youth in her program often lacked a support system, she saw an opportunity to shift the roles of volunteer tutors into more formal mentors for the youth (a blend of Big Brothers, Big Sisters and your literacy program). She thought the value for each stakeholder could be:

At-risk youth: A tutor-mentor can help make sure you stay on track, help you overcome other challenges that make school work difficult, and have fun once a week with a social event in addition to the tutoring.

School district: Your literacy program has shown demonstrated progress with students currently at-risk of failing classes. Additional support for the students, on-top or instead of tutoring, could make the teacher and administrators jobs easier while improving class performance. All it takes is referrals and occasional check-ins with the tutor-mentor.

Local funder: You already love our current program. Here is a way to reduce barriers and improve community outcomes by leveraging relationships that are already in place. We just need a small amount of funds to pay our volunteer tutors so they can commit the time necessary to take on a bigger role with their students.

Make the pitch

Have four stories ready. The one-minute story of your stakeholder and the value. The two-minute story of what it takes to sustain the idea. The four-minute story for outlining changes necessary. And most importantly, the story for how the change will impact your audience.

Best ways to move from idea to action

Your team is on board! Now, how do we put it all together? The toughest part of implementing new ideas is the massive amount of unknowns, guesses, and assumptions that focus most on risk – what things must happen for your idea to be successful?  Is it finding the clients? Space for programming? Partners? Funding?  Once you identify the key risks, how can you make sure you have the necessary pieces in place? Or, being creative, how could you make it happen without those resources?

Before jumping in, identify your big risks

Often times, traditional strategy or business plans become the cemetery for new ideas. Unfortunately, planning for months does not reduce the risk or uncertainty. If anything, it compounds it. Find ways to test your riskiest assumptions. What can you do to test each assumption in 48 hours or one week, with little to no money?  These tests, even rough sketches and illustrations, can provide you the feedback and insights to make your idea even better.

Still excited about your idea? Good!

Worried about getting those steps above completed? Understandable. (If not, please see your doctor to confirm you have a pulse). We’ve outlined an approach to bringing ideas from a midnight mental light bulb to a dream concept to your team with a set of steps for making sure it will work.

My favorite resources for making ideas a reality are the Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas from Strategyzer. These tools can bring your concepts into a clear, visual story. Lean Startup is a set of principles used first by innovators in Silicon Valley that have now been applied in every sector, from government agencies, to foundations, to social enterprises and nonprofits.

So, what ideas do you have? How will you bring them to life?  What tools have helped you? Share your information by leaving a comment below.

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