Cover Story: The Search for Profitable Publishing
How to Focus on the Best Ideas
"Our problem used to be having a lot of good ideas [from new products to operational-efficiency improvements] and trying to do them all," recalls Lefens. "Over the years, we've developed a method that allows us to consider even the wildest idea, but quickly get down to the ideas [with] the most potential."
The company holds a companywide meeting at least yearly, he explains, "where everyone is invited to throw out any idea, even if it has nothing to do with what we're presently involved in. Every idea is recorded. These ideas then go the executive committee (basically all the department vice presidents) … and are organized by category. … Each idea/category is discussed with an eye toward eliminating all but the most intriguing. When we have a short list, we ask, 'What do we need to know that we don't know now?' and a sub-committee is assigned to return with that information."
The company established criteria for judging each idea, largely based on the company's goals at the time. But, says Lefens, some of the criteria might be:
- Could it have a major impact on our company/industry?
- Do we have access to the necessary resources?
- What's the timeline to completion?
- How much more efficient will it make employees (for internal development)?
"For ideas that survive," he says, "we do a cost-benefit analysis and try to estimate ROI, which, at best, is an art. We eliminate those least likely to pay off. This leaves us with a list of large and short-term projects we have agreed to develop. We then prioritize them."
A key to what Lefens calls "our relatively high batting average" is that the company's top management spends a lot of time not only making these decisions, but executing them.