The Idea Approval Index

Many leaders talk about progress, but overlook simple indicators. One easy measure is the Idea Approval Index (IAI). To get this number simply ask one question:

How many approvals are needed for an employee to deliver on an idea for a customer?

In most organizations it’s a high number.

From committees, to review meetings, to long email threads, most companies inhibit change. There are many people who have to approve an idea before it even gets off the ground. There are always people to convince, cajole, or sneak past, and they should factor in the index. As a rough measure, the higher the number, the harder it is for even a great idea to go anywhere. The lower the number, the better the odds. For example:

A) Marla starts her own company. She does everything herself. Idea Approval Index = 1.

B) Rupert is a middle manager at Bigtech. He has an idea. He runs it past his boss (1 person). They bring it to their monthly senior idea review committee (10 people). The committee suggests they run it by the Innovation task force (8 people), who have  concerns they want addressed. Finally they show it to their VP who loves it, requiring them to present it at the next executive strategy meeting (6 people).  The idea is praised but must wait for funding due to other priorities. Idea Approval Index (IAI) = 24 .

That means there are 24 chances for someone to kill the idea no matter how good it is. 24 chances for someone to feel threatened or scared or to insist on stupid changes which is often the first response established people have to new ideas.

In large organizations there could be different indexes. One could be to measure how many approvals are needed for an employee to spend an hour/day/week prototyping a new idea to share inside the company.

If you want faster exploration of new ideas lower the Idea Approval Index. If you want more status quo, raise the Index. If you want both at the same time, lower the index for getting projects started, and raise it for getting projects out the door.

(If you dig this kind of thinking: you’ll love the new paperback edition of my bestseller, The Myths of Innovation)

[Originally posted 11/07 . Revised 8/10.]

15 Responses to “The Idea Approval Index”

  1. Reader

    I want both at the same time. What’s the catch?

  2. Steve

    I’d also like to know. BTW, for some reason the something is weird with the supply of Art of PM on, it’s saying 5 to 8 weeks to ship.

  3. Scott

    Some easy devil’s advocacy:

    – The wisdom of the approval givers weighs more heavily than the number. If I have 10 people, who are so wise that to earn their approval the idea gets better, then the value of their approval is greater than the risks of the additional hurdle.

    – Some committees are made up of 11 weak sycophants, and one tyrannical egomaniac. The raw # of approvals may not be an accurate assessment of how many hurdles the idea really faces.

  4. Jan

    You’re metric is more about the difficulty of getting something done than the power to innovate (I think).

    Having an original idea and making it a reality is a great achievement, one that few people realize.

    However, innovating is realizing an original idea that *matters*.

    All painters have an innovation metric of 1. But few are Picasso.

  5. Fábio

    I’d like to know too. I live this situation on a daily basis, and will sure use any advice :).

  6. butzi

    Scott — I think you covered the concept well in Chapter 4, in The Myths of Innovation. What I got out of this chapter was that size and agility (ie. the ability to innovate) work in opposition to each other.

    As a general rule, the larger a company gets, the more there is to lose, the more conservative it becomes as a result, which leads to less desire to innovate, because innovation and risk are inseparable. The objective seems to be to try and manage the risk completely out of the equation.

    I just got out of a meeting where we managed to talk ourselves out of an upgrade to the *previous* version of our database software, let alone the version that’s about to come out. This is because of the ‘risks’ involved. This hardly qualifies as innovation except using the broadest possible definition. Yet we were able to go around the table enough times to find at least one veto. In a larger company, there are simply more people to say no, and therefore innovation doesn’t happen to the same degree.

    There are obviously some great exceptions, but that’s the general rule, I’m afraid.

  7. Bob Balaban

    So, is there an index number at which one is clearly in Dilbertland?

    Should the complexity of the idea and/or the implementation affect some determination of the “appropriate” index value?

    Should some “approvals” be worth more than others? For example, I tend to weigh the opinions of the team that has to implement the code more highly than that of the guy who runs the build lab.

  8. Daniel H. (Germany)

    I like the concept from Google (at least i think they do it this way) to keep the IAI low: to give each employee 20% of his/her worktime at his own disposal. If you can implement your idea on this basis (basically that’s what Rupert in example A is doing, he just uses a bit of his spare time to implement it) the idea has already had a good start. Still, it hasn’t been shown to customers yet so the IAI is still above one, but at least instead of getting the permission and resources to build a concept example the IAI starts directly at the validation of a prototype design.
    It’s basically what people are doing at my employer (and I believe in many other companies too): If you have an idea not directly ask for approval but first invest some time in it before presenting it to supervisors.



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