The Five Filters For New Ideas

Are you on that new social media platform yet?

You know, the one with the app from that guy who does that other thing?

All of your friends are talking about it – why aren’t you on there?!

While we’re on the topic, what did you think about that book I recommended? You know, the one where you put your ideas out to the world by doing your Vision Dance on YouTube?

Every entrepreneur has too many ideas. Books, social media, podcasts and even their friends are always generating more. No business owner suffers from a lack of ideas, but almost every business owner suffers from overwhelm – they don’t take action on one thing because they’re busy listening to podcasts about something else.

In a perfect world, we’d have the time to be scientific about our business:

We’d hear an idea. We’d test the idea in our business for three months, without trying any other ideas. We’d be able to keep every other part of our business the same – the clients, the staff, the news. After three months, we’d have data that proved or disproved whether our idea worked.

But we live in a dynamic world where many variables are shifting all the time. We need to select only the most viable ideas and test them one at a time instead. But how do we know which to choose?

Here are the five filters I apply to any new idea that I hear in a podcast or read in a book. They’re simply questions that I ask before investing my time in trying the idea. I apply them in the order listed.

1. The BS filter.

“Is this an idea, or a proven strategy?”

In other words, has the person sharing the idea actually done it and tracked data? Has the person compared it to something else?

“The new Teleprompt app is amazing for growing your business!”

“Have you actually gained clients from it?”

“Uh, not yet.”

You’re probably already seeing ads for experts on “Threads” – the newest app built to distract consumers (and appeal as an advertising platform for entrepreneurs). It might be helpful for growing your business. But it certainly hasn’t proven itself yet, so invest your time elsewhere and ignore the people selling Threads courses.

As a mentor once told me: “Don’t trust people who are willing to make bets with your money.” If they’re pulling selling ideas without proof, don’t listen to anything they say.

If the idea seems to make sense, and it’s coming from a trusted source, go on to the next filter.

2. The math filter.

Which metric will change? By how much? And what will happen if I do nothing?

If you’re tracking your average revenue per member (ARM), length of engagement (LEG) and profit, the math filter is simple.

You hold the new idea up to the lens of your metrics and ask, “Will this one improve my ARM? Will it improve my LEG? Will it improve my profit?” If not, “Which of my key metrics will this idea improve, and by how much?”

If you aren’t sure, put the idea aside. You’ll have plenty of others.

Being sure means having data. For example, “Clients who start with 1:1 training for at least five sessions have an increased LEG of four months” is great data. “Our clients love having couches to crash on after class!” is not.

Maybe having couches means something; maybe not. You have more than enough ideas; let’s stick to the ones that will show a measurable benefit first because you can’t do everything.

3. The time filter.

Do you need to do it now? When is best? 

We’re all drawn to novelty over importance. That means we want to try the new app instead of dialling in our Facebook ads.

Personally, I have this tremendous fear that if I don’t act on a great idea now, someone else will. Derek Sivers’ book “Anything You Want” has helped a great deal. And my business mentors often help by telling me, “Let’s put that on the list for next quarter, and if it’s still really exciting, we’ll do it then.” I can literally hear my mentor’s voice saying that as I type it!

Remember: you’re not going to run out of great ideas.

4. Bullets before cannonballs.

“Can I run a small test before investing a lot of time into this?”
If a new idea is really effective, then it should be possible to try a small sample before making a long-term commitment. This doesn’t mean asking for something for free. Instead, it could mean:
– renting a piece of equipment and seeing if it improves your productivity, instead of buying it;
– hiring staff on a trial period before signing a long-term salaried contract;
– adding a new service as an option before pivoting away from your current service.

5. The context filter.

Is this right for my specific case right now? Why?  

It might be really tempting to use the new idea as an avoidance technique.

For example, trying a new app is a lot easier than writing a job ad…but if you really need more staff, then you should be working on the job ad.

None of us can remain objective about our business. We’re subjective creatures. We all need a mentor who knows our history and sees our long-term plan. Maybe the new app fits into that plan–but probably not right now. If you own a business and you have time to jump into a new idea TODAY, you probably don’t have a long-term plan, and you’re subject to distraction.

The blessing of being a smart, entrepreneurial person is also the curse: You’ll always have more ideas than you can possibly act upon.

Just yesterday, a friend offered to sell me his company, which is built on a great idea, already profitable and working from the “help first” perspective. I was excited. The idea passed through my BS filter (I know his history and trust him). It passed the math filter (I saw his numbers). But it didn’t pass my time filter, because I have other time investments that will yield a greater return. So I passed the idea along to a friend instead.

Being successful doesn’t mean doing more things. It means doing the right things. My mentors filter my great ideas and opportunities.

Who filters yours?

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