Thinking creatively by taking your ideas to trial

What are some of the best techniques for testing an idea before launching it? One strategy is to put your ideas on trial, literally, testing their validity by leveraging the mindshare of your employees.

This is exactly what Richard D. Fain, chairman and C.E.O. of Royal Caribbean Cruises, did when he wanted to find out whether investing in new computer systems or better company policies was a worthwhile idea. He organized a mock trial consisting of two teams of six people. Each team was given a position to defend, and two months to prepare their arguments for or against the planned upgrade.

“I had heard endlessly beforehand why we needed to do each of the things,” says Fain (New York Times). Fain sat as one of five judges listening to the debate between the teams. He also organized a jury of 40 employees to watch the entire proceeding. In the end, rather than proceed with both projects as originally planned, only one of them was launched. The debate structure provided a powerful forum in which to vet and defend ideas. “All of a sudden, you saw elements that nobody had raised, so you saw weaknesses on both sides,” said Fain.

Putting your ideas on trial is a fantastic exercise to explore and vet an idea’s viability. Perhaps equally important is that it’s also a powerful team building exercise. By creating teams and a mock jury, the entire company takes part in the decision making process. People love to be challenged and show off their capabilities — even when tasked with taking the “opposing counsel” individuals will shine. Since it’s a game, it becomes a way to show off and demonstrate depth of understanding and skill.