3 Ways to Get Your Good Idea Greenlit

After inspiration strikes, research, networking and foresight will allow your idea to blossom

A hand holding a lightbulb.
John Purakal
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine John Purakal turned his idea for ParallelED into a system which has touched nearly 1,000 Duke patients. Photo by Shawn Rocco.

“Because of how tough these last couple of years have been for everybody in healthcare, to have a win like this is something that means a lot more,” said Purakal, a 2022-23 Duke Presidential Award winner.

Whether a workflow change, research project or way to improve a team, ideas carry the potential to bring about positive change, innovation, or solutions to existing problems. For an idea to become reality, getting people to buy in is a crucial step.

According to Jamie Jones, Director for Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Associate Professor of the Practice of Management at the Fuqua School of Business, the most important steps for getting support for a new idea come long before it’s time to pitch it to anyone.

“When you’re inside an organization trying to be entrepreneurial, how do you do it? How do you get support for your ideas?” Jones said. “It’s not just about selling your idea. You have to actually put in the work and be able to show that there’s potential there.”

By drawing lessons from Purakal’s experience, here are a few steps to help your next good idea blossom and become reality.

Do Your Homework

When we have an idea for a simple solution to a problem, Jones said it’s important to remember that the solution and problem may not be as simple as we think. Before trying to move your idea forward, it’s imperative to spend time studying the issue your idea is meant to fix, and how it looks from perspectives other than your own to best position it.

“You need to make sure you deeply, deeply understand the problem that you’re trying to solve,” Jones said. “Who are the people who care about this problem? Who are the stakeholders and decision-makers around that problem? How will my idea affect them?”

When Purakal was in the early phases of developing the ParallelED idea, which fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, he closely studied the emergency department workflows, safety protocols and other factors to figure out how a plan might work. During the planning process, which took roughly a year, he gauged the interest of both potential student volunteers and patients who passed through the department to see if they would be amenable to a waiting room screening.

“Before you get to the point where you’re asking your leadership, or your boss, for buy-in, you have to have done a lot of legwork to just determine feasibility and what an accomplishable goal will be,” Purakal said.

Seek Feedback

Director of Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Fuqua School of Business Associate Professor of the Practice of Management Jamie Jones, at right, helps Duke's bright minds move ideas forward. Photo courtesy of the Fuqua School of Business.

While refining his concept for ParallelED, Purakal consulted colleagues elsewhere at Duke who were involved with similar efforts.

He spoke with students and faculty leading a Bass Connections project that featured students helping patients at Lincoln Community Health Center overcome health barriers, and leaders of other Duke University Health System clinics that use social workers to screen patients for unmet needs.

“I ended up doing a lot of listening,” Purakal said. “I needed to learn about the barriers to something like this working here, what had been tried before and why we shouldn’t try to go down certain roads again.”

Fuqua’s Jamie Jones said asking for advice from people who have tried to move similar ideas forward can provide priceless insight into challenges and allow you to address concerns in advance.

“In order to put together a plan which could work, you have to understand why other people haven’t done this yet,” Jones said.

Start With Reachable Goals

Purakal’s inspiration for ParallelED centered on the widespread and complex unmet needs of patients coming through his department. He and his colleagues were helping patients with urgent issues in the hospital only to know that instability in their lives in the community would lead to more health troubles.

He knew his pre-visit screening system wouldn’t solve the problems of every patient, but it would address a specific problem and lead to positive outcomes for some people.

Two years after launch, Purakal said he hopes to expand the program to other parts of Duke University Hospital. He said that keeping the scope feasible at initial execution helped him gain support for the idea from decision makers.

“The mistake a lot of people make is when they want to put a plan into action, they shoot for the moon,” Purakal said. “I’m not saying not to have high goals or broad ambition, you can have those long-term goals, but having reasonable, attainable short-term goals to get to that end point is a step people sometimes skip.”

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