Using the PMI technique to quickly and thoroughly evaluate ideas
Hurray! Your latest brainstorm gave your team loads of ideas. That’s great. However, without the tools to select the best ones, too many options can prevent implementation.
Generally, you should focus on jotting down as many ideas as possible. The more ideas the better, as in creative thinking quantity leads to quality.
There comes a moment, however, when you are faced with a mountain of possible approaches. When using thinking techniques, it is not uncommon to end up with hundreds of ideas to tackle one single challenge. While this is encouraging, it can easily lead to being overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of ideas. Ending up with so many ideas is all well and good, but you can’t implement them all. You need a way to select only the most promising ones from the stack.
After having selected the most promising ones, you probably want to compare these winners. They all look promising, but which ones suit your goals best? Often, this isn’t immediately clear. What you need is a trick to quickly and thoroughly evaluate different ideas.
The quickest and easiest way to evaluate an idea is by using ‘PMI’. This remarkably simple tool has been developed by the legendary Maltese psychologist Edward de Bono. PMI stands for Plus-Minus-Interesting and is used to quickly reach a decision while taking all factors into account.
When people are faced with a certain approach to tackle a challenge, two things often happen. They almost immediately are either very much in favour of the idea, or they are fiercely against it. When your first reaction is to favour the idea, you’re likely to ignore all possible disadvantages. Similarly, if your initial response is to reject the idea, chances are you will not pay much attention to possible advantages of the approach. This isn’t unwillingness. It is simply how the brain works. To function well, evolution favoured individuals who were quick to make a decision and stuck with it. Tunnel vision prevailed over considering all possibilities. While tunnel vision enables you to be very decisive, it also weakens your judgement. PMI is the solution. It lets you evaluate your ideas quickly, yet incredibly thorough!
Using PMI, you make sure you view the idea from all possible angles. Here’s how it works:
First, you note all possible advantages of the idea. What benefits has this approach? Does it save costs or time? Will it generate lots of media coverage? Will it give your company a positive image in the eye of the public? Focus only on advantages, however small. Ignore all thoughts that are negative, we’ll get to that in a bit. Keep writing down possible positive effects for a set amount of time (3 minutes usually will do just fine). Stretch your imagination, what other benefits can you think of?
Now that you have given the plus-side of the idea some consideration, focus on the negative. Do this for exactly the same amount of time. What possible downsides does the idea contain? Maybe implementing the idea will lead to more costs. Perhaps the chance of it succeeding is very small. Implementing daring ideas can even be dangerous or illegal. Most people will find that mentioning all the disadvantages of an idea is a whole lot easier than finding the potential benefits.
Finally, focus on the elements of the idea that are not particularly positive or negative. What questions does the idea raise? Who will execute the idea? How much will it cost? What legislation do we need to keep in mind? What material do we use? Most ideas will raise quite some questions. Often the ‘Interesting’-phase focusses on the details. These are the questions that must be answered if you take the idea to the next level.
After conducting a PMI on an idea, you will usually have a good indication of its viability. Some ideas you thought were pretty swell, turn out to have lots of potential drawbacks. At the same time, the ‘stupid’ idea that the entire room was laughing about might prove to have lots of advantages that initially nobody was aware of.
Don’t let the first thought that comes to mind cloud your judgement. Consider all factors and keep looking back at your ideas smiling.
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