Vikram Bhaskaran
  • Co-founder at SmokyBeaker Labs & Chief Microbe at

Break Your Ideas into bite-sized next steps

So you have this awesome idea for this new startup, marketing strategy or board game. You’ve been excited about it for days now. But every time you try to put pen on paper and get the ball rolling, you hit this giant concrete wall.

Even the awesomest of ideas are rather vague and abstract when they initially hit us. They need to be chewed on and broken into simpler thoughts before you can get down to actioning them.

A year back, when all we had was an idea for in our heads, starting a business seemed like a rather daunting goal. Just looking at the problem made us go light and dizzy in the head. But once we broke it down into product, marketing, financials, and compliance, the whole problem started getting way more soluble (we’re here today, so it must have worked!).

The Art of Breaking your Ideas into focussed Next Steps

1. Breaking by the Assembly Line

Traditionally, we’ve been taught to look at our work as a massive process churned out through an assembly line. In fact, genius economist and creator of the term “globalization” wrote an amazing article in HBR back in 1972 on why businesses should be adopting an assembly-line approach to their work back.

With Assembly Lines, you try to break your thought structure into a single chain of “actions” you need to perform. If you are trying to turn your idea into an Assembly Line, all you need to ask yourself is “what next” repeatedly, until you get to the final piece of execution.

Thinking in Assembly Lines makes sense for most of the procedural we do every day — kanban boards, task lists and digital sticky notes continue to be popular for a reason. But summarizing ideas into “get the box from John, tie the ribbons and hand it over to Michael” may not often work.

Assembly Line thinking works great when you want to create a structured repetitive process around something. But when you are trying to explore alternatives, feasibility, and next-steps, freezing the chain all the way might actually end up hampering your creativity.

2. Breaking by Business Goals

The specific business goals that drive into your idea should provide a great starting point to break down your thoughts. For example, if you were contemplating on ways to boost your Q2 profits, you know you can break your ideas into:

  • Increasing unit revenues

  • Decreasing unit costs, and

  • Selling more units

Now, you can focus your thought process around each of these targets.

Breaking down your thoughts by your core business goals ensures that you can measure and track the progress of your thoughts against the metrics that matter. When you champion your ideas around core business goals, you end up automatically aligning your thoughts with that of your business.

If you can reduce your idea to a single equation of tangible business goals, you should consider structuring your thoughts around each of these drivers. Goal-driven thinking is the best way forward for any marketer, product manager, or business head trying to make their genius a data-driven.

Unfortunately, sometimes, ideas aren’t as amenable to hard numbers and direct tangible impact as we’d like. If you were working on an artistic project, for example, trying to fit your thoughts into hard goals isn’t going to help you too much.

3. Breaking by Departments

Years of research in Organizational Dynamics have helped us break down our ideas into “departmental structures”. Structuring your ideas around departments lets you break them down by the expertise required to take each piece forward.

Departmentalized thinking works great if your idea needs a bunch of experts to drive its different machinations forward. A business plan, for example, is ideally suited for departmental thinking. Breaking down your business idea into Market Research, Business Model, Distribution Plan and Financials shows you what you need to do to cover the breadth of your new business idea.

As a startup, I love thinking in Departments especially when I’m embarking a new project or campaign because it lets me evaluate exactly what specialties I’ll need along the way and when I’ll have to swap my product manager’s hat for my accountant’s.

4. Breaking by Channels

In marketing, breaking your thoughts by channels is almost second nature. If you were trying to boost the number of visits on your website, for example, the first place you’d go to would be your Google Analytics stats where you can analyze and break your next steps into Organic, Inorganic and Referral traffic sources.

This one might sound a bit specific to marketers, but you could break your thoughts down by channels and sources across any domain — right from event planners to hard-core developers.

For example, breaking down architectural problems into Clients, Servers, Databases and APIs, and agile project managers breaking an epic into smaller stories based on usage scenarios are all examples of Channel-based break down in action.

Other ways of breaking down your thoughts

Breaking your thoughts along actionable next-steps helps you rapidly give form and shape to your ideas. But at the end of the day, the way each of us break our thoughts down is highly personal, dependent on your organizational culture, your individual personality, and the problem you are trying to solve.

For top-level strategic ideas, it might make more sense to think along broad lines like “business impact” and “macro goals”, while tactical ideas would be more amenable to breaking by individual functions and roles that can quickly lead to a tangible action plan.