Don’t Feed the HiPPO

It seems harmless enough. They seem so nice, and they’re so hungry. That’s why it’s so tempting. That’s also why there are signs to stop us. Because if you feed them, they’ll do more than keep eating everything you’ve got—they’ll devour you if they get the chance.

Whether it’s bears at the zoo or the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) in your company, one thing is true: if you can’t resist feeding them, you’ll likely regret it. In the case of the HiPPO, I mean those ideas that are brought to you by someone with power, all the way up to the CEO. It isn’t uncommon for senior leaders to have ideas they believe to have great potential (and very well might), then want you to stop everything, put them at the top of the priority list, and start making progress.

The problem is, what about all the other ideas you’ve got in your pipeline? What about the effort put towards generating and solving insights—real needs that your consumer wants solved—and tested ideas and concepts that are showing promise with your real customers? How can you defend them and keep your scarce resources focused when there’s a c-level “pet” mandate? Is the idea any good? It seems like it might be, but…

That’s why your goal should be to remove subjectivity from the innovation decision-making process. How do you say “no” to the HiPPO (or the CEO)? When you have objective, strategic criteria for your organization to assess ideas—and all opportunities—against. They begin with clear-cut desirability and Don't feed the HiPPO.whether they’re meeting an insight for your customers. The ideas also need to align with your organizational mission and strategy. Some criteria will be exclusionary (setting boundaries) and some will be relative (creating priorities), therefore allowing you to determine which are more worth investment than others, including the one from your HiPPO. To determine these criteria, we apply elements of the Simple Rules approach developed by Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt.

And it isn’t just evaluating all ideas against objective criteria, it’s knowing that all ideas aren’t the same and that you can only compare those ideas that are alike. Is it an evolutionary idea that’s close to the core business? Or is it a revolutionary idea that’s nothing like it? Whichever it is, they’re clearly not the same and require different approaches, resources, teams, expectations and more. Which one is your HiPPO’s idea? Is it even competing fairly against other ideas that are like it?

With a balanced approach to tell ideas apart and objective, strategic criteria to prioritize within those categories, you’ll be able to confidently assess the value of any idea you’re provided from anywhere in your organization. That will give you with more than just peace of mind in your everyday decision-making, it also might just keep you your hand (or job).

Hippos apparently have jaws that can open to almost 180 degrees and bite with more than 1800 psi. Yes, I looked that up on the Internet, and no, I don’t really have any idea what that kind of force means…but I do know it’s more than my pressure washer, and it’ll blow the muck off anything. So, the question is…how do you stare more than 1800psi in the face and say “You know, we truly appreciate your involvement and the submission of your idea, however…we have strict criteria through which all ideas get assessed, which we will use to assess this idea and report back on where it falls in the prioritized list of initiatives we’re putting our scarce resources against”?

You can’t, unless you’ve done the hard work to intentionally develop those exact criteria within a defined process intended to create objective decisions and prioritization.

A more extensive exploration of this topic, and approach for the prioritization of innovation efforts, can be found here.

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