(Very) Early Stage Idea Validation

We are driven by assumptions and too often we think we know people. The sour truth is that we don’t.

Daniel Egger

10/24/20192 min read

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

We are driven by assumptions, and too often, we think we know people. The bitter truth is that we don't, and this 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 listen, understand, and validate the assumptions of our ideas—constantly. 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. These are the very people we want to convert 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 first before starting to implement, in reality, someone will always throw a monkey wrench in the works, complicating matters.

Yet, it does not take much to validate your idea in the earliest possible stage, 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, open up, and where you guide with some orientations in the conversation. Each encounter has a different plot, where we capture insights through active listening, emotional perception, 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 already validate your assumptions and have sufficient 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 the innovation process. 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 the hypothesis and assumption and test them with people. Engaging with your target audience is the key to success.