There are Two Types of Ideas – Bad Ideas and Ideas Worth Testing

There are Two Types of Ideas – Bad Ideas and Ideas Worth Testing
Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown / Unsplash

While push-button solutions are quick and simple, they prevent us from really understanding the landscape in front of us, identifying how to drive improvements, and exploring the optimal pathway to success.

When I trot that title line out to people, it inevitably gets an intrigued look in response, but there is a lot of nuance baked inside those 12 words. You see, we live in a world of absolutes.

Have a health issue? Take some medicine.
Struggling with your tax returns? Hire an accountant.
Not sure how to bake a cake? Follow a recipe.
Want to irritate everyone? Don’t use your turn-signal when changing lanes.

We crave these kinds of absolute solutions to problems, but there is a risk to all of this… and that risk is lazy thinking.

When I am helping people build communities, they often want absolutes.

They want a four step guide to building growth. They want a six step guide to gamification. They want to know exactly when they should post content to get the best response.

The trouble here is that all communities have trends, but not all trends work in all communities.

People interact and engage with others in a variety of ways, and these manifest differently across communities. In engineering communities for example, interactions are often detail-rich with lots of online collaboration and discussion.

Contrast this with a community focused on executives. Most execs prefer to quickly scan bullet points – exhaustive online collaboration and communication are rare.

But again, there are no absolutes. There are general trends, but not all communities follow exactly the same pattern. This is why we need to test, test, test, and test some more.

And then test again.

When I work with clients and students and they ask for my guidance on something, unless I know it is almost certain to not work, my advice is to have them test an idea by doing the least amount of work possible to generate the most data to inform their next steps.

For example, I was chatting to a client today – a tech company – and they asked me how to build a following on Twitter. We hypothesized 5 key pain points that their audience experiences and then we drafted five different tweets to test. We will now track the number of likes, retweets, and responses and this will generate some useful insights into what kind of content resonates best.

Importantly, the only variable we are changing is the content. All these tweets have an image, all have the same type of content (a technical tip), all will be published at the same time on a weekday, and all will be promoted in the same way.

Performing this test meets my criteria – it is a small amount of work to publish five tweets but it will generate a lot of data and insights that we can use to refine our future plans.

In the same spirit, apply this to everything you do – look and feel, content, gamification, rewards, engagement, events, marketing – the more you test, the more you will understand your audience, while at the same time sharpening your thinking and making you better at building amazing, productive communities.

May the force be with you!

Jono Bacon is a leading community strategy and execution consultant, author of People Powered, and creator of the FREE Community Ignition Workshop as well as the Community Experience Masterclass.