What Are IDEAs Made Of: Workshop roles

Mike Rea

IDEA Pharma

When pushed, most of us believe that we’re better-than-average idea evaluators. However, when pushed further, we’d concede that we’re not in a position to be the sole arbiter of whether an idea is acceptable or not – we run out of talent pretty quickly when we need to consider an idea from all angles.

However, in workshops, we go to that first position, and our behaviour often leads to people taking on the mantle of über-decider, simply by offering up their ‘won’t work’ thoughts as soon as an idea appears.

Now, the meeting roles that people assume are many and varied. There’s the ‘Smart Comment Guy’ whose main goal is to show he’s smarter than the people around him (“well, of course, if you only knew about the Maxell pathway, you’d know that…”), the ‘Silent but Deadly Guy’ whose silence is only hiding the disengagement he feels, and who will go away and dismiss the outcome out of hand later, the ‘Silent Rider’, who is really there because it is easier than working, the ‘Enthusiastic Agency Rep’, whose goal is to make sure they get more work out of the meeting, and, amongst others, the deadliest of all, the ‘Idea Killer’.

The Idea Killer can come from any department – regulatory, clinical, legal, formulation, commercial – but their modus operandi is always the same: ‘that won’t work because…” Oddly, we have heard ideas challenged ‘because there’s no market there’ by clinical folks, ‘because we can’t design a trial to show that…’ by commercial folks and ‘the FDA will never wear that…’ by discovery, with no trace of humility…


“Like young seeds, an idea needs a chance before it can be properly evaluated.”

Ideas are remarkably fragile things when they’re new. Like young seeds, an idea needs a chance before it can be properly evaluated. Challenge is welcome, because challenge can make an idea better, if offered up as a challenge for consideration (and improvement). It is this meeting behaviour that is essential – seeing a challenge as a challenge, keeping it next to the original idea, and then inviting creative solutions to the challenge. That will produce a better idea. Giving a challenge to appropriate subject experts to improve the original idea is a very different process than inviting a group to say which ideas ‘don’t work’.

An example from the excellent book, Different, by Youngme Moon1, is Red Bull. Apparently in blinded taste tests, Red Bull performed (performs) incredibly badly, which would give most pharma discovery/ BD&amp,L people reason to pause – how can you take competitive advantage in a situation where one might presume taste counts? However, in Red Bull’s case, that was not regarded as a problem at all, because of the way in which it would be marketed… That additional information is essential. Something that improves an idea may well take the idea into a wholly different, and more unique place.

This is not the same as saying that ‘there is no such thing as a bad idea’, which is patently untrue. There are more bad ideas out there than great ideas. It is simply a restatement – the time to tell whether an idea is good or bad is not at first presentation, but after some consideration by a multi-disciplinary group (not just by the Idea Killer’s first thoughts).

Ideas are not born good, bad or great, they’re built. The best ideas are systematically improved on their path, by pressure test, creativity and perspiration.


1. Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, by Youngme Moon. Available at amazon.com.

About the author:

Mike Rea is a Principal with IDEA Pharma, who enjoys taking a look outside the industry to learn how it can think differently. For direct enquiries he can be contacted on mike.rea@ideapharma.com and for more information on IDEA Pharma please see http://www.ideapharma.com/what/default.htm.

The next WAIMO piece will be in a couple of weeks.

Do you find new ideas are dismissed too readily?