(Very) Early Stage Idea Validation

Assumptions drive us, and too often, we thin,k we know people. The sour truth is that we don’t.

Daniel Egger

10/24/20193 min read

two people holding coffee cups and drinking coffee
two people holding coffee cups and drinking coffee

Assumptions drive us, and too often, we think we know people. The bitter truth is that we don't, which can hinder our ability to innovate effectively.

Running through many projects, from idea to proof of concept, market, and revenue, it is always astonishing to see how we can get things wrong if we don't constantly listen, understand, and validate our ideas' assumptions. This is a critical aspect of the innovation process.

We have numerous ideas, and their quantity is increasing through the spread of the digital layer in society, maturing innovation processes in organizations, and the startup culture. We embrace agility and fast implementation, getting developers and designers on board to start developing something to show our stakeholders. However, this initial excitement can overshadow the importance of understanding our target audience.

Yet, this "something" is often too biased to add value. We don't listen deeply, understand context and emotions, and are too far away to comprehend people's stories. We want to convert these people into users, and understanding them is crucial for success.

We can't blame ourselves entirely, as we have lost the ability to listen deeply. In organizations, we live in a culture of argumentation, proof of delivery, politics, and growth. Although we know that we should structure before starting to implement, someone will always throw a monkey wrench in the works, complicating matters.

Yet, validating your idea in the earliest possible stage does not take much, during the definition of hypotheses. By conducting in-depth or extreme people interviews, it is possible to uncover how people feel about the hypothesis and what really drives them. This insight is invaluable in refining our approach.

Please don't confuse such profound conversations with normal questionnaire interviews. It is all about creating an environment where people feel trusted, and open up and where you guide them with some orientations in the conversation. Each encounter has a different plot, where we capture insights through active listening, emotional perception, and change in wording combined with content analysis.

The good point is that it does not need hundreds or thousands of people to make a valid point. With 8-20 interviews, depending on the context, you can validate your assumptions and have good feedback to transform your idea into a sounder (adapted) concept. This feedback loop is essential for innovation.

For me, this first couple of weeks, where you test your hypothesis, is one of the most crucial steps in innovation. If you skip this, you will deviate with each step further from the true value expectations, and any later correction will not take some weeks but a high level of investment, time, and argumentation with stakeholders. It's a vital part of creating value.

Start your innovation journey by capturing and testing the hypothesis and assumption with people. I want you to know that engaging with your target audience is the key to success.


Question: What is a common mistake in the innovation process?

Answer: A common mistake in the innovation process is failing to validate assumptions about ideas, often due to not actively listening to and understanding the target audience.

Question: How can initial excitement about an idea be detrimental to innovation?

Answer: Initial excitement can overshadow the critical task of deeply understanding the target audience. This often leads to biased outputs that don't necessarily add value.

Question: How can you validate your idea at an early stage?

Answer: You can validate your idea early by defining hypotheses and conducting in-depth or extreme people interviews. This approach can uncover valuable insights about what truly drives your target audience.

Question: Why shouldn't profound conversations be confused with normal questionnaire interviews?

Answer: Unlike normal questionnaire interviews, profound conversations create an environment where people open up. This method captures insights through active listening, emotional perception, and content analysis.

Question: How many people must make a valid point in the innovation process?

Answer: Between 8 to 20 interviews can validate your assumptions and provide good feedback to transform your idea into a more solid concept. This number can vary depending on the context.