If you're ready to submit your idea right now, just click HERE to head to Ideascale, the Air Force's new ideation platform.
If you would like to know more to put you and your idea in the best position possible, please read the information below.
Moving from an idea in your head to a product ready for market
Simplified down, the process of going from idea in your head to product going to market is divided into the following steps.
A. Sell yourself on the idea
B. Sell others (a team) on your idea
C. Sell the market your product
You may notice the “sell” at each step. It is largely a sales / communication effort.
Sell yourself on the idea
First, you need to give an honest self-evaluation of your idea. You need to look honestly at the 5 major criteria of what makes a good idea.
1. Pain – What issue does your idea solve? Does it involve damage to equipment, injury, loss of life, or just loss of time or money?
2. Solution – How does your idea work AND is it actually a new idea? There is nothing worse than investing time only to find out someone else already released the same idea and someone you pitched to was the one to tell you about it.
3. Market – Is there a need for your idea? Make some calls. Do some research online.
4. Path – What do estimate you need to implement your idea (time / money / a team)? We all underestimate how long something new will take and how much it will cost. Be realistic. You will need to create the minimal version of your idea that will allow you to demonstrate it to some portion of the market.
5. Benefit – What do you estimate as the benefit to ANG/AF/DoD if your idea is implemented? Once you figure out a savings for your area, do some rough math and come up with a ballpark number for the potential savings. Don’t worry, you will be continually revising these numbers once you actually get started.
If you can answer those questions and the answers encourage you to still move forward, then you are ready for the next step.
Sell others (a team) on your idea
Second, you need to rally a team to assist you with the process, or at the very least pitch the idea to your coworkers and supervisor to get their feedback. Remember, the temptation is to take this personally. Resist this. Listen to what they say. You don’t need to defend your idea. Your main concern should be properly relaying the idea in your head to someone else. This is a very powerful skill to master and don’t worry if you have no idea how to do it now. The primary thing is to just be aware that they can only judge you on what they see or hear. They can’t see inside your mind. Some great ideas have not moved forward in RECENT contests, only because the presentation simply did not relay the value of the idea.
We recommend breaking your idea down into 3 parts. First, the single sentence. Describe it with a single sentence. No matter how big your idea is, there is tremendous value in breaking your value down into a single sentence. Next, prepare your “elevator pitch.” This is the pitch you would give if you got on an elevator with Secretary Wilson, and she asked you to explain your idea. You only have a minute, and you have no props or slides. Just you. You will want to cover the Pain and the Solution. If it’s a pain point that your audience already knows well, you may be able to skip it, and spend the minute totally on the solution. This will take practice and a commitment to narrow down what you are saying. Again this is a powerful exercise and will yield a better ability on your part to quickly express your concept. Lastly, write out a single page description that gives at least a sentence to each of the 5 criteria listed above. If you feel you need to go longer than a page, you are thinking incorrectly. Got those 3 formats together solidly? You are now ready to pitch others.
What was their feedback? Did you sell them on the value? Are they willing to help you move your idea forward? It’s way easier to get your coworkers, friends or immediate supervisor on board than it is to sell a new innovation to market. If you can’t rally some strong support from your local area, you will need to figure out why.
Submit your idea to the Ideascale ideation platform
Now, either as an alternative or in parallel to this pitching of your local area, you can submit your idea to the Air Force's Ideascale platform directly. It's easy to register and you won't require a CAC, so you'll be able to use your personal phone if you'd like. Once you register, you submit your idea into one of the listed campaigns, like the current Spark Tank campaign. The crowd is allowed to comment, question and rate your idea. We MUST lean on the crowd to assist our process as we can potentially get such an amount of submissions that our small team couldn’t possibly give them any attention. (Think of other suggestion programs you may have seen where they take in many ideas but it seems like nothing happens.) The crowd will naturally provide a gauge of how disruptive or valuable it is generally perceived. Naturally, ideas that do well in the crowd environment will be elevated and like the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Submit your idea by registering at Ideascale and submitting your idea. It's a very fast process and you'll have Total Force visibility.
Sell the market your product
Now, after either pitching your local area, the forum or both, you hopefully have received positive feedback and have some people willing to assist you as you move forward. You will need to start working on your prototype, or what is called the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It’s very difficult (usually impossible) to take an idea to market. You need to demonstrate a product of some sort to the market to be taken seriously. This is a very extensive topic and varies quite a bit, depending what you are trying to bring to market. Dive in and create that MVP. Don’t try to make it perfect at this point. Just make it so that it works. A good visualization for how you should be thinking about this is to pretend you were making a new car. Your MVP could not be a single wheel, or just the motor, or just a seat by themselves. The MVP needs to demonstrate the main idea. Perhaps an MVP could be a skateboard or a bicycle but it definitely couldn’t be a single piece of the car. Any single part of a car would not demonstrate the main idea. This is a good visualization, because no matter if the wheel was gold plated, it wouldn’t do the job. For this reason, you shouldn’t spend too much time on any one part of the MVP. Another advantage of starting really rough and simple with your MVP is with each improvement, the potential customer sees a measurable increase in value. Imagine going from skateboard, to bicycle, to motorcycle, to car. Each step is essentially mind blowing. Not so if you are simply adding car parts together that won’t operate at all until the end. Perhaps the greatest advantage, is that if you are paying attention to feedback, you will learn valuable information about your potential customer testing out your rough MVP during each iteration. You can’t do that if you are just assembling parts. If you are putting parts together, you won’t get any feedback until then end, when the car is finally together.
The moment you can demonstrate the concept, show it to people and take in their feedback. Let that guide your process as you move towards something the market is ready to use. Your goal is not a perfect product, but one that can actually be sold and will demonstrate value to the customer who buys it. When you have that accomplished, and you have tested it to your satisfaction, you are now ready for prime time. You could think of this as being ready for Shark Tank. Now you and your team go out and make the last of the 3 sales. Selling to the market.
Moving forward, this bland text will be replaced with info-graphics and short video segments that are much more entertaining to watch and will stick more in your mind. We will also be adding interviews with those who have gone before you, talking about things they got right and things they wished they had avoided.
Colonel David Kaiser
Chief Innovation Officer, ANG
MSgt Peter Whalen
Innovation Evangelist, ANG
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