Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 33;   August 17, 2011: New Ideas: Judging

New Ideas: Judging

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When groups work together to solve problems, they eventually evaluate the ideas they generate. They sometimes reject perfectly good ideas, while accepting some really boneheaded ones. How can we judge new ideas more effectively?
Wilson's Bird-of-paradise

A male Wilson's Bird-of-paradise (Cicinnurus respublica). The female is brownish, with a blue crown. Evolutionary systems can be viewed as problem-solving systems, exhibiting analogs of the cycle of new ideas, judging, and experimentation, as discussed here. In sexual reproduction, vivid coloration and other forms of displays give partners a means of judging the genetic worthiness of the individual providing the display. Photo (cc) Doug Janson.

In group problem solving, we generate new ideas, we assess or judge them, and we experiment to see how well they work. Since experimenting is usually costly and time-consuming, we use our judgment to select the most promising ideas for experimentation. But the judging process makes mistakes. Here are two insights that can help prevent rejecting good ideas or accepting bad ones.

The right to judge is inalienable
After idea generation, and the newborn ideas are subjected to judging and evaluation, two traps await. First, we sometimes confuse judging ideas with judging the people who generated them. Honest attempts to critique ideas can seem like personal criticism, and criticism intended to be personal can be disguised as honest attempts to critique the ideas.
Second, during judging, judges and their comments might in turn be judged. This secondary judging degrades the judging process. In some cases, generators might demand that judges themselves address the issues they identify: "Show us how to fix it," or "If you're so smart, show me a better way." Such demands that judges "earn" the right to judge are violations of the (usually implicit) contract between the judges and the larger group. They freeze the judging process and they might even inhibit contributions by other judges.
When we act as judges of new ideas, we must take care to judge the ideas — not their generators — in good faith. When we provide comments on newborn ideas, we must also suggest underlying principles that can guide the generators during the next cycle. When we ask people to judge new ideas, we can accept or reject their comments, but we must trust that those comments are provided in good faith, unless there is clear proof to the contrary.
Judging can uncover misunderstandings
Generators have their Judging newborn ideas is one
of the earliest points at which
differences in understanding
the problem become clear
own understandings of the problem to be solved; judges have theirs. Judging newborn ideas is one of the earliest points at which differences in these understandings become clear.
In processing judges' comments, difficulties can arise if the group mistakenly assumes that there is only one understanding of the problem. The ensuing debate about the relevance of a critique can in fact be irrelevant itself, if what's needed is consensus about the problem definition, rather than consensus about the judges' comments.
Shared group understanding of the problem definition is one of the first things to check when processing judges' critiques. For any reasonably complex problem, all of the members' understandings will likely require multiple revisions. Success depends on the group converging on a single understanding of the problem, and judges' critiques provide an important means of exposing divergences.

As you begin judging these ideas, keep in mind that your understanding of how groups solve problems is yours; others have theirs.

Next time we'll examine experimentation. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: New Ideas: Experimentation  Next Issue

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Probably not the kind of waiting we have in mind hereComing July 26: Strategic Waiting
Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option. Available here and by RSS on July 26.
Srinivasa RamanujanAnd on August 2: Linear Thinking Bias
When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories are logical, than we would if they're less than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because the discovery story is not the solution. Available here and by RSS on August 2.

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