How do you know an idea is worth pursuing?

If you’re like me, you have countless ideas. In fact, I’ve lost track of the number of ideas I’ve had for businesses, articles, books, screenplays (mostly sci-fi)… But how do you determine which ideas are worthy of  pursuing?

Nothing worth having in life comes easily. Just take finding a job as a great example. Very few people will be able to pick one perfect job, apply for it, get it, and never have to look anywhere else. Most people will have to apply for many jobs – perhaps even hundreds – before finding the one that “clicks.” It’s the same for scholarships if you’re in school. If you apply for just one, well, good luck. Apply for 300 and you’re likely to get one. It’s a numbers game.

Ideas work the same way. Every idea you have isn’t going to pan out. But if you pursue enough of them, one or two will. However, this is not a perfect metaphor. For every idea you choose to follow and pour energy and creativity into, there are other ideas that must be delayed or denied.

So here’s my question… How do you, personally, judge if an idea is “good enough” to warrant a dedicated pursuit that might preclude following other ideas with the same fervor? How do you decide which one is best?

For me, it’s a combination of things. First, paying jobs always get top billing when I’m choosing between a random idea and a project with a client. But when I’m choosing among different ideas that I’ve had – none of which guarantee pay – then it’s a little tougher. Which one stands the greater chance of success? Which one is more in line with my passions? And for that matter, what are my passions?

Larger companies approach this problem systematically. They will host focus groups and surveys to determine if their target audience is ready for their new product. Sometimes, despite all the pre-production research, a new idea still bombs. For an interesting look at this phenomenon, check out this article about the failure of New Coke.

There’s a good quote in the New Coke article that caught my eye:

“When you’re convinced you’re right, you tend to … push on regardless. If it’s a bad idea, it doesn’t take long for the verdict to be reached…”

Most of us don’t have the money to finance fancy focus groups and product testing. So how do you decide if an idea is worth pursuing? How do you look at your moments of inspiration with objectivity?

The “New Coke” article mentions that, despite the utter failure of its product, Coca Cola pushed forward and introduced new variations of Coke in latter years. The company turned its huge, blundering mistake into a lesson and used that lesson to diversify and gain an even greater market share.

Maybe that’s the trick: don’t be worried about bad ideas. Yes, do your research and think carefully before jumping into something new. But if you research an idea thoroughly, think it’s great, and it still bombs… Move on. Take lessons from the experience and apply them to the next idea. Some of us will be better at identifying a bad idea than others, but all of us – no matter how good or how poor our “idea gauge” may be – can learn from the negatives and keep moving forward.

What do you think?