The Evolution of a Great Idea

The following is a guest post by Peter Sheahan. Peter is founder and CEO of ChangeLabs, a global consultancy delivering large-scale behavioral change projects for clients such as Apple and IBM, Peter Sheahan has worked with some of the world’s leading brands in the area of innovation and change. The author of 6 books, including the international bestsellers Fl!p and Generation Y, Peter focuses on teaching leaders and companies how to flip their thinking, make money in the cracks and find opportunity where others cannot. His newest book Making It Happen unpacks his insights on how the best leaders and entrepreneurs execute on their good ideas, and turn them into profitable results.

Despite what you may have been led to believe, it is very rare that a brilliant idea just comes to you whilst in the shower or walking down the street. It is a sexy notion that in the vast majority of cases just isn’t true. In reality, every idea goes through a process. That process is basically an evolution from expressing your Aspiration to firming up the Concept to creating a salable Offer – something someone can actually buy. This is where many aspiring entrepreneurs get stuck.

One of the reasons many people never engage with this process is that it makes them more vulnerable. Pushing an idea beyond the area of safe and comfortable abstraction into a more detailed offer exposes it to criticism and rebuke. This is a necessary element of the process and must be overcome. Though not everyone is going to accept it, you have to actually make the offer to even have a chance.

If you really want to make it happen, you need to get buyers to part with time, money and energy. Put differently, you need to reject acceptance.

I'm going to be blunt here: there is no point getting excited when your friends tell you that your business idea is a good one. Or even when potential clients tell you that “engaging their people” is a very important issue. That is not the same as getting someone to write a check with your name on it and a few zeros following the first digit. Try this experiment: go talk to the most senior manager you know and say, “I have an idea. I want to work with you on making your business more connected to the community.” Then ask him or her if your idea is of interest. He or she will say yes. Now ask, “Can I have $250,000 for my outreach campaign?” and see if you get an answer you like.

The key to getting your idea from aspiration through concept to offer is to engage in a form of Socratic questioning. Put simply, ask 'how' over and over again.

"I want to start making money working for myself."


"By starting my own business."


"Consulting to retailers."


"Advising them on how to maximize average dollar sales in stores."


"By developing database solutions."


"By extracting information about customers that allows me to tailor their store experience in such a compelling way that they stay longer and therefore buy more each time they visit.'

What I have just said might not make entire sense to you as the reader because you are likely not a retailer and therefore are not the target buyer. Your idea does not have to be clear and compelling to everyone. But it definitely needs to be this to the buyer whom you wish to engage, and that often means understanding the 'code' of different industries and using their jargon to communicate your value.

Bottom line: if you want to create a compelling offer, resist the urge to dwell in the abstract where no one can pick apart your ideas and look for ways to crisply express value to the buyer instead. As you will quickly realize, this takes a lot more work. You will need to truly invest your time and energy into the development of your offer.


Further questions to ask yourself in the process of sharpening your positioning:

  • What is the likely market you will be playing in?
  • Who are the likely buyers?
  • Who else is selling to these buyers?
  • What metrics do they use to judge value?
  • What value will your offer bring?
  • Who else is making similar promises?
  • How can you guarantee the result?
  • What are the biggest problems your buyer is currently facing?
  • What are their objections likely to be?
  • What will your responses to these objections be?
  • How will your offer integrate into the business or life of the buyer?

Once you have the answer to these questions, apply your idea somewhere and if possible, put it to the test in real market conditions. Start trying to sell it, then review and refine it. There is no better feedback than that of an actual buyer. Capture/record the experience and learn from it. Rinse, repeat!