Stuck between two good ideas for your business? Here’s what to do.

I often hear from people who feel stuck between two good ideas for a business.

“I have some ideas for a business, but I feel stuck. I’m torn between two different versions of how it could come to life. I really like both ideas. Which one should I go with?”

There’s a tension between the two ideas. It often feels like they can’t coexist. And, we’re left to feel like we have to make an impossible choice where, no matter which one we choose, we’ll wonder if we made the right choice – it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Rather than choose between these binary options, we can use the brilliance of both ideas to create a third alternative. If you need a primer on creating third alternatives, see my post The Dangers of Binary Thinking

This is the third post in a series about half-baked business ideas. In 4 Steps to Shape a Half-baked Idea, I explored how to capture an idea when it arrives in your mind not fully formed. In 3 Steps to Research a Half-baked Idea, I shared a few very basic research tactics that might help you learn more about the competitive landscape and what market opportunities are out there. Now, in this third post, we’ll explore what to do if you’re feeling torn between two different visions of how your idea might come to life. 

Stuck between two good ideas for your business? Use integrative thinking.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts (throughout this blog), you might remember a few references to the book “Creating Great Choices” by Jennifer Reil & Roger Martin – two serious business strategy gurus. In the book, they share a model called Integrative Thinking

Here’s how they define it. Integrative Thinking is “the ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.”

Stuck between two good ideas? Use Integrative Thinking.
Stuck between two good ideas? Use Integrative Thinking.

Here’s how it works. 

Define the problem.

Articulate the problem worth solving. Ask yourself: what is the problem you are attempting to solve for your consumer/audience? It should be the challenge that’s at the root of both ideas. From there, flip the problem into a question: “how might we…?” Keep it open and not too narrow. Give yourself room to play. 

Identify two extreme and opposing answers to the problem.

What ideas do you have to solve that problem? Push yourself to imagine what it really looks like in vivid detail. What is the essence of the idea? Describe each idea in three bullets, specifying the key choices that make them extreme and opposing.

Sketch the two opposing ideas.

Grab a marker and actually draw. Pictures can help you see the idea more clearly, seeing what each idea is and is not. Keep it simple: use stick figures, draw arrows to represent relationships, and thought bubbles to represent what/how people feel/think. 

Lay out the benefits of each idea and the way it works.

We usually default to pros and cons. Resist that urge. Focus on what’s great about both. Skip the cons. And, be sure to think about the people involved: you, your consumer, perhaps any suppliers or business partners or co-founders, etc. What pros exist for each person involved? Make a list for each idea.

Combine what’s good about both to make something new. 

Now, mash together the best parts of both ideas. You might see the pros of each and immediately see new alternatives and options. If you don’t that’s ok. Ask yourself: how could you get the benefits of one without sacrificing the benefits of the other? What combinations might offer new value to your consumers? Lastly, ask: what’s most important to your consumers? 

After you try this process out, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

  • What insights did you have?
  • What’s different for you now?
  • Where did you get stuck?

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