Recently I read an article by Daniel Tillett: Ideas are not cheap. Daniel is a researcher and the article is about tech start-ups. But he makes some great points that are directly applicable to Christian leadership, ministry and leader development work:
It is a cliché in the tech industry that startup ideas are cheap and all that matters is execution. The thinking is that it doesn’t really matter what you do, it just matters that you work really hard and pivot until you get product-market fit.
The truth is the vast majority of ideas are worse than worthless because they are simply bad ideas. Bad ideas will sometimes work because of luck or effort, but good ideas are much, much more likely to succeed. Life is too short to work on bad ideas.
I love that last sentence: “Life is too short to work on bad ideas.” In any case, we’re serving God, the Creator of the universe; He will never run out of perfect ideas!
So, how then can we tell which ideas are “good” ones? Daniel helpfully provides a list of potential characteristics of a genuinely good idea. I’ve added some categories, changed his list a little and added a few of my own to customize this list for Christian leaders – this includes removing or adjusting various references to the competitive environment of the business world (you can see all his points at the original article).
Good ideas will have as many of the following 27 characteristics as possible:
Union with Christ
- Must be in line with the Word of God and the direction of the Holy Spirit. His ideas are better than ours! This first characteristic is non-negotiable.
- Must be realistic for you within your limitations. An idea that you can’t execute (for whatever reason) is a bad idea. As Christian leaders, we can often be somewhat naïve about our limitations. It’s not unbiblical, or a lack of faith, to think through whether we can successfully execute a plan or not (Luke 14:28-43).
- Impossible to achieve without God’s help (2 Cor. 1:9). He wants our work to be fully dependent on Him. This is not a contradiction of the previous point – we need them both.
- God’s work must be done in God’s way. We can change the world but we must do it with kindness, love, integrity and accountability (1 Cor. 13).
- Does not require a lot of money, avoiding the need for financial dependency on others.
- Is not dependent on the use of low cost labor.
- Has no legal issues – you don’t want to spend the next 20 years in litigation.
- May be hard to conceive, but is simple to explain. Really good ideas require considerable hard work to clarify, but, after the work is done, they’re easy to articulate (think “E = mc²”).
- Easy for beneficiaries to experiment with and use (i.e. low barriers to implementation).
- Is not dependent on the actions of others. So, for example, if your entire leader development work is dependent on someone else writing and rewriting the curriculum or design, then it’s not the best idea.
- Solves an important problem or responds to a significant opportunity.
- Is not just a copy of someone else’s good idea. We certainly should use the work of others, but we should also be transparent about its origin, not claiming it as our own. Moreover, we should not be content just to mechanically copy others. If we’re in daily union with Christ, He will speak to us!
- Fits into the existing environment so you don’t have to create both a new strategy and a new environment at the same time.
- Can be easily replicated.
- Can be easily adapted by others for use in their specific environments.
- Has a strong network effect in which those who are benefited by it will naturally and enthusiastically share it with others.
- Is easily multiplied.
- Is sustainable over time.
- Can be scaled to support many recipients at a low cost.
- Can be used internationally.
- Can be used multi-culturally.
- Provides the beneficiaries with such significant value that they will wonder how they once lived without it.
- Is “sticky” – the recipients won’t need to quickly switch to other strategies. Ideas that have a strong network effect are sticky.
- Can be distributed at low cost.
- Doesn’t threaten any well-established powers who are able and willing to crush you. (This is an interesting point by Daniel, quoted verbatim. This is certainly true of the business world. It should not be true of the Christian world, but, sadly, often is.)
- Is of interest to the media (free PR to enable rapid distribution).
- Has a specific target constituency that can be clearly identified and reached.
Examine yourself and your strategies now according to the above list. Keep in mind, as Daniel writes, “the list is a checklist, not a must-have list. If you have an idea that hits seven or eight on the list, it is a fantastic idea; even just hitting three or four, it is still better than the average idea.”
Remember: Life is too short to work on bad ideas!