One of the CIA’s favorite techniques for the critical analysis of ideas is the Murder Board. A Murder Board is a special group of selected individuals that evaluates and criticizes ideas before they are presented for final approval and implementation.

The goals of the Murder Board are to:

• Terminate worthless ideas and proposals.

Expose all the negative aspects of a viable idea so that corrective actions can be taken before final evaluation and implementation.

• Provide feedback.

           The group critiques the idea as harshly as possible, attacking every weakness. If the idea has too many weaknesses, it goes no further. When the Board considers an idea viable, they suggest ways to modify or improve the idea to overcome each weakness.

            The Board has saved the agency from considerable embarrassment over the years. For instance, many of the highly publicized anti-Castro plots such as poison cigars, powdered poison on his uniforms, drugs to render him impotent or make his hair fall out, and so on were terminated by the agency’s Murder Boards.

            The CIA adopted this technique from its predecessor, the Office of Strategic services. The OSS was awash with ideas during World War II, including one idea from behaviorist B. F. Skinner. He suggested using pigeons to control guided missiles, as pigeons could be conditioned to peck continuously for four or five minutes at the image of a target on a screen. The birds would then be placed in a nose of a missile, harnessed in front of a similar screen. The idea was that the pigeons would peck the moving image on the screen producing corrective signals to keep the missile on course. Skinner’s idea was never used in actual warfare. The problem, according to the OSS, was that the members of the Murder Board couldn’t stop laughing long enough to take the idea seriously.

            Creating your own personal Murder Board is an excellent way to get feedback about ideas.


1. Verbalize the idea to your significant other or a trusted friend. Sounding out the idea in detail with someone close to you will help clarify the idea, brighten its virtues, and expose its flaws. You need someone who is not afraid to tell the emperor he has no clothes. You need someone who is close to you so that they are not afraid to be honest.

2. Detail your idea in writing. Type up a detailed proposal, using graphics and illustrations if necessary. State your goals, your assumptions, your concerns, areas where you need information, your beliefs, what inspired the idea, and why you want others to evaluate it.

3. State why you want feedback: Is it to decide the worth of the idea, determine its strengths and weaknesses, compare it to other products, plan funding, business opportunities, and marketing, or what?

            Your proposal should also list the questions you need answered. Remember that the questions themselves can stimulate creativity in others as they read your proposal. Emphasize that you are asking for feedback about your idea so that you can make decisions about implementing, terminating, modifying, or improving it. Some common categories for questions are: need, cost, marketing, and feasibility.

Sample Questions


• Does the idea meet a real need?

Should a need be created through promotional and advertising efforts?

• Who will resist?

• Does it sound like a good idea to you?

• Are there real benefits?

• Do you feel it is new and original?

• Do you think it is better than others on the market?

• Can you think of different variations of the idea?

• Can you offer alternative ideas?


• Is it worth producing or implementing?

• Will it provide enough benefit to outweigh the cost?

• How should it be financed?

• What immediate or short-range gains or results should be anticipated?

• What should the projected returns be?

• Do you feel the risk factors are acceptable?

• What are the economic factors—what necessary talent, time for development, investment, marketing costs—do you foresee?


• How should it be marketed?

• What are some possible obstacles, objections, and concerns?

• Does it have natural sales appeal? How ready is the market for it? Can customers afford it? Will customers buy it?

• Is timing a factor?

• Are there possible user resistances or difficulties?

• What might go right?

• What might go wrong?

• Who should be involved?

• What special marketing programs can you imagine?

What is the competition?


• Is the idea sound?

• What is the best thing that could happen?

• What is the worst thing that could happen?

• What are the faults and limitations?

• Do you feel the idea is original?

• Will it work in actual practice?

• What problems or difficulties do you think the idea might solve?

• Do you think I have the resources?

• How simple or complex will its execution or implementation be?

• What is most likely to help me implement the idea?

• What is most likely to hinder successful implementation?

• Is it possible to make it happen? How soon?

4. Appoint a Murder Board. Seek out people in your network of friends, relatives, and coworkers who have a creative mindset or are knowledgeable about your idea’s environment.

Select as many as you wish and ask each for their help in providing you with feedback (it is probably best to approach them one at a time). How you involve people in your idea can make or break the Board’s effectiveness. Give each person your written proposal and listen carefully to what they say, without judging. Encourage each person to articulate his or her thoughts as they ponder your proposal and to brainstorm with you for ways to improve your idea or its implementation. Play devil’s advocate. If you get objections, make them tell you why they feel it won’t work. Get specifics.

Make value judgments at a later date. The decision is ultimately yours no matter how positive or negative the feedback you receive. I worked with one fellow whose entire Board told him his idea wouldn’t work. “It was incredible how everyone told me the idea sounded great, but it wasn’t going to work,” he said. “But they all had different reasons, so I ignored their advice.” If they had all cited the same reason, he probably would have taken them more seriously. As it was, he sold the rights to his invention for a huge sum of money.

There are any number of methods for obtaining feedback about your idea. You may choose a quantitative or qualitative approach, depending upon the idea, the purpose of the evaluation, and the style of analysis you prefer. For instance, if you prefer to mix the two approaches, you could assign a numerical value to each question. In the eight-factor approach that follows, you would ask people to assign a point value to the questions that reflects their opinion (the point spreads are completely subjective). This would quantify your idea’s perceived strengths and weaknesses; you could then interview people on selected questions for more information or opinions.

Eight Factors

1. Did I communicate the idea completely and clearly?

            (0–20 points)

2. Do you have interest in this idea?

            (0–20 points)

3. Are there good market opportunities?

            (0–20 points)

4. How good is the timing?

            (0–5 points)

5. Do you feel I have the competence to implement this idea?

            (0–10 points)

6. Is this a good application of my personal strengths?

            (0–10 points)

7. Does my idea have good competitive advantages?

            (0–5 points)

8. How unique is my idea?

            (0–10 points)

Now you can look at total points for all eight factors, or focus on specific questions. For example, if your point total for marketing opportunities is 0, you would probably ask a lot more questions about the market or marketing opportunities.

One inventor developed a commercial hair dryer that could dry hair in five minutes. He used the eight-factor method and got a 0 for marketing opportunities form hairdressers. The reason there was no market, he found out, was that stylists wanted slower dryers to keep patrons occupied for thirty minutes or so while they worked on other customers.



Michael Michalko is a highly acclaimed creativity expert. To learn about him visit:

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