Are All Ideas, Plans, and Visions Useless?


"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." Lewis Carroll


A small but vocal group of consultants are spreading the idea that "ideas and plans are worthless." At best, these people are misguided.

To paraphrase, George Orwell in his classic book, "Animal Farm," I'd say: "All ideas are created equal but some are more equal than others." In short, all ideas do not have the same intrinsic value. Some ideas may be brilliant (little or no trade-off) while other ideas may be stupid (high or unacceptable trade-off). Some ideas may take a long time to be realized, other ideas may take a shorter time. Some ideas may be prematurely invalidated or rejected, other ideas may be prematurely validated or accepted. Ideas are relative. Ideas are like raw materials or inputs: there are good raw materials and there are bad raw materials.

"Ideas-Are-Worthless (IAW)" promoters put emphasis on using experiments to test ideas or hypotheses. IAW promoters are action-oriented. IAW promoters are using a zero-sum paradigm of "ideas (hypothesis) vs experiments (testing)." However, what the "Ideas-Are-Worthless (IAW)" promoters fail to note is that ideas (hypotheses) and experiments (testing) are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. One cannot conduct an experiment without ideas or hypotheses. Also, the nature of ideas or hypotheses strongly influences the design and type of experiment that is conducted as well as result that is obtained. The OTHER Loop below shows the relationship between "Hypothesis" and "Experimentation" in a problem solving cycle.

Each phase or "link" of the OTHER Loop is important. If one phase is missing, learning is lower and outcomes may be sub-optimal. The important thing in improvement, innovation, and problem solving projects is that a project team rapidly goes around the OTHER Loop while using a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to test the validity of hypotheses, plans, and/or visions. The goal or idea is to achieve maximum learning at minimum cost.

On reflection, it's a misleading and worthless idea that "ideas are worthless." Ideas are valuable especially in Improvement, Innovation, and Problem Solving Projects. Good ideas have the potential to advance a project towards its goal, while bad ideas remain stagnant or move away from a project's goal. Consequently, there are "good ideas" or "attractors" on the one hand and "bad ideas" or "detractors" on the other hand.

The diagram below presents the OTHER Loop as a "transformer" or "factory" of bad/good ideas. If everything is the same, the OTHER Loop Factory implies that it would take a longer time to transform an initially bad idea, seed, or observation into one that produces little or no gap between expected (planned) and actual outcomes. By definition, an initially good idea, seed, or observation directly leads to little or no deficit between expected and actual outcomes.

So, let's move away from saying that "Ideas are Useless" and focus our attention on reducing cycle time around the OTHER Loop while validating or pivoting our strategy in order to attain our vision.

What do you think?


P.S.: As a tool for universal problem solving, the basic language and topics of the OTHER Loop can be related to heuristics in other domains of problem solving such as in the Six Sigma methodology, Lean Startup Methodology, and Creative Problem Solving. Below is shown the OTHER Loop as it relates to the process of Creative Problem Solving. The actions in the OTHER Loop are directly associated with the five phases of creative problem solving.


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