Use a Criteria List to Decide Which Ideas to Keep

How to properly evaluate ideas is still one of the biggest brainstorm mysteries. After you’ve generated an abundance of creative ideas, what to do next? What to use and what to ignore? The answer? Use a ‘criteria list’. This simple trick will help you to separate the wheat from the chaff.

How to Decide Which Brainstorm Ideas to Use and Which to Ignore

Evaluating ideas properly requires a clear understanding of your desired outcome. Although this sounds rather obvious, people often don’t have a clue about what kind of ideas they are looking for. Not infrequently, this lack of clarity leads to chaotic sessions without clear results.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you should already have a ‘favourite idea’ in mind. All I’m saying is that you should think upfront about selection criteria. Once defined, these criteria will help you and your team to swiftly recognise great ideas.

As I’ve shown in an earlier article, you can use an ‘evaluation matrix’ to rapidly select the most promising ideas. This is a great tool to quickly judge ideas, but it’s not enough. Your challenge has probably a lot more factors to take into account than just ‘impact’ and ‘effort’.

Criteria list
Before you start your brainstorm, create a list of criteria. These can be any type of requirements that are important factors for your challenge (for instance; safety, time, costs, usability, scalability, originality etc).

Start by creating a long list, and then narrow it down to the most important criteria. Depending on the size of your challenge you can work with a minimum of 2 criteria and a maximum of 6 criteria. If necessary, prioritise the criteria (‘safety’ will usually be more important than criteria such as ‘originality’).

These criteria will come in handy when you have to sort through all your interesting ideas to see which one is a ‘winner’.

There are two types of criteria you can use; specific and generic.

Specific criteria can be answered with a simple yes, no or maybe. E.g. ’It must be possible to execute the idea within 6 months’, ‘The idea should not cost more than 50K’, ‘The idea needs to generate 1 million dollars, within 12 months’ etc. Does the idea meet this criterion? Yes, no or maybe.

Specific criteria help to make outspoken choices. They also can be used as a discussion tool, to clarify the different points of view. (“You said the idea can be realised within 6 months, can you explain why you think this can be achieved?”)

Generic criteria are criteria you can measure on a ‘linear scale’. E.g. On a scale from 1 to 5, how original do you find this idea? 1 = not very original, 2 = not original, 3 = neutral, 5 = original, 6 = very original’

Sometimes it can be helpful to specify your criteria. For example, ‘originality’ by itself doesn’t sound very important. However, if you are a famous brand, a creative solution or remarkable new product can get you ‘positive media attention’. Making originality an interesting criterion to take into account. (Will executing this idea get our organisation positive coverage in the big newspapers?)

Problem owner
For every brainstorm session, it’s advisable to assign a ‘problem owner’. Someone who is responsible for the project, who is able to claim resources and who is authorised to make the important decisions. The ‘problem owner’ can be the person who is leading the project, or the individual who is desperately looking for a solution to this challenge. As long as he or she is able to turn ideas into reality.

There are numerous reasons why it’s important to assign a problem owner. First of all, you make someone accountable for the outcome of the session. Too often we see innovation fail, simply because nobody feels responsible for the ideas. Secondly, the results can be executed right away. Your idea has the right ambassador, who is able to implement the ideas.

The problem owner is responsible for developing the criteria list. He or she also makes all the decisions during the brainstorm and selects the final idea. This is very important. We know that it can be tempting to do this with the entire group. However, that is a bad idea. The problem owner is (and needs to feel) responsible. It’s in nobody’s interest when the outcome is not entirely supported by the problem owner.

Having one decider doesn’t mean everybody else has to be quiet. The criteria list can be used as a tool to discuss the potential of ideas. Participants can use it to explain why they like a certain idea. The problem owner decides, but even a problem owner needs advisers who point out the pros and cons of different approaches.


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Showing 2 comments
  • Mike Allen

    Great article. Thanks.
    In my opinion it’s where most ‘brainstorming’ sessions go wrong – there’s no prioritization or assessment. I always ask people to, at the very least, put a star against their one or two favorite ideas – the ideas they would HATE to disappear before they leave the room

  • Jeroen de Ruijter

    Hey Mike. Thanks for your comment. I agree. ‘Evaluation’ is almost always done in the wrong way and can be done much more efficient.

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