Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 30;   July 28, 2010: Exploiting Failed Ideas

# Exploiting Failed Ideas

When the approach you've been using fails, how do you go about devising Plan B? Or Plan C? Here are some ways to find new approaches by examining failures.

Your team is stuck. The approach you were using has failed, or it can't possibly be finished in time — if ever. A solution is needed yesterday. So you assemble a small group to generate some new options. The most popular method in such situations is brainstorming, and for many of us, it's the only method we know. As good as it is, there are techniques we can use to make brainstorms even more productive. One method works by exploiting failed ideas.

By examining the ideas we've already tried or rejected, we can generate new ideas we might have missed otherwise. And we can do this within the familiar structure of a brainstorming session.

Here's an example. Suppose we have a blown out oil well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, and it's gushing oil all over the ocean. Hey, it could happen. We want to collect all the spilled oil. We've tried burning it, dragging booms behind boats, and skimming it off the surface into supertankers, but nothing has worked.

So we ask, what's fundamentally wrong with these approaches? Actually, it's basic geometry. These methods are all point-oriented — the fire we light burns at a single point, the mouth of the boom loop we drag behind the boats is narrow, as is the prow of the supertanker skimmer. Compared to the surface of the Gulf, these are points, while the oil is spread unevenly over a big part of the ocean surface. To capture material spread over a surface, we need a surface-oriented approach, not a point-oriented approach.

A more effective method might involve tens or hundreds of thousands of small, possibly robotic, skimmers working close enough to mother ships to free them of storage and separation functions. In effect, a fleet of oil-seeking mega-Roombas.

Luckily, the problems you face are probably smaller scale than that. Here are some questions that will generate ideas using what is already known about failures.

Why have the ideas we've tried failed? If we were to try them again, would they fail the same way or would they fail in new ways? What did their failures have in common?
How does this new idea Why have the ideas we've tried
failed? If we were to try
them again, would they
fail the same way?
differ from others we've tried or rejected? If it doesn't differ by much, how can we make it more novel?
How expensive is exploring this idea? How can we make exploration cheaper? Can we pilot it? How expensive would it be to implement?
What parts of the problem would this idea resolve? What parts of the problem would remain? Why?
If we implement this idea would it move us forward? What can we change about this idea to make it even more effective?

You get the idea. Now, if you were to try to exploit failed ideas, and the suggestions above all failed, what else could you do?

Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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## Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.
Divisive Debates and Virulent Victories
When groups decide divisive issues, harmful effects can linger for weeks, months, or forever. Although those who prevail might be ready to "move on," others might feel so alienated that they experience even daily routine as fresh insult and disparagement. How a group handles divisive issues can determine its success.
On Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely?
Why Meetings Go Down Rabbit Holes
When a meeting goes "down the rabbit hole," it has swerved from the planned topic to detail-purgatory, problem-solving hell, irrelevance, or worse. All participants, not only the Chair, contribute to the problem. Why does this happen?

## Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Coming September 4: Beating the Layoffs: I
If you work in an organization likely to conduct layoffs soon, keep in mind that exiting voluntarily before the layoffs can carry significant advantages. Here are some that relate to self-esteem, financial anxiety, and future employment. Available here and by RSS on September 4.
And on September 11: Beating the Layoffs: II
If you work in an organization likely to conduct layoffs soon, keep in mind that exiting voluntarily can carry advantages. Here are some advantages that relate to collegial relationships, future interviews, health, and severance packages. Available here and by RSS on September 11.

## Coaching services

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