Where Ideas Go to Die and How to Revive Them
Why your ideation tools aren’t working
Companies often spend thousands of dollars on innovation tools such as idea platforms, innovation management software, ideation software and idea contests. Each used in isolation for the pure purpose of idea collection results in stagnated innovation and demotivated employees. Without an end-to-end ideation process or system, Innovation Managers are left with half-baked ideas and no roadmap on how to decide which ideas are best to progress and how to progress them. Avoid investing in ‘graveyards’ for ideas by recognising that ideation tools are a means of support for a broader innovation journey, rather than the entire solution.
Extra tip: When staff have taken the time to think about and submit an idea, they are usually keen for an outcome. Provide employees with timely and practical feedback to keep them motivated and engaged in the innovation journey. This way, even if their ideas are not progressed, they are likely resubmit in the future, as well as encourage others to innovate; which lends itself to building a culture that supports innovation.
How to generate quality ideas
So how can unhelpful ideas such as ‘beer fridge,’ ‘buy a 3D printer’ or ‘weekly fruit baskets’ be avoided? Before launching ideation platforms or advertising idea contests, clearly define the ‘problem to be solved.’ These challenges should be aligned to the organisation’s mission, with the aim of closing its growth gap. Once a compelling problem statement has been crafted, employees should be further supported by tools that will help them to flesh out their high-level ideas. With the ‘buzz’ that tends to follow innovation initiatives, there are often many ideas that have not been thought through. Business canvasses and similar frameworks prompt employees to consider elements such as resources, partners, investment required, etc and will challenge them so consider whether they have a quality idea.
Extra tip:Leveraging open innovation by introducing new inputs to the organisation can help to expand and accelerate the organisation’s internal innovation efforts. For example, consider inviting clients, partners and leaders from tangential industries to participate in idea generation activities.
Which ideas to prioritise for innovation
Deciding on which ideas to progress usually falls to an open voting system, C-suite members or the judgment of Innovation Managers. These can lead to biased decisions based on subjective preference or alignment to an individual’s KPIs. Author of bestselling book ‘Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking,’ Matthew E May, cites jumping to conclusions, over-thinking and fixation as some of the personal flaws that get in the way of innovation. Rather, top ideas should be selected based on how aligned the solution is to the problem statement.
Extra tip: Decision makers should also beware selecting ideas based on how ‘doable’ they are as this kind of thinking lends itself to more incremental rather than disruptive solutions. In a previous episode of innovation podcast Futuresquared, Steve Blank, godfather of Silicon Valley explained why disruptive innovation ‘requires a little bit of crazy.’
Top 3 things needed to progress ideas
1 — Leadership Support. Getting buy-in from the top ranks is key to advocating a culture of innovation. By allocating leaders to sponsor ideas, more junior employees are able to borrow these leaders’ brand equity to remove work-related obstacles as well as political blockers. Check out a previous blog of ours on How To Get Buy In From The Top For Corporate Innovation.
2 — Focus on experimentation. A quality, detailed idea without a plan for execution means wasted time and effort for all involved. Using Lean Startup to quickly and cheaply de-risk the idea and test the biggest underlying assumptions will increase the idea’s likelihood of successful implementation.
3 — Resources. By the time an idea contest has been run and innovation software invested in, there may not be much money left in the pot for testing the top ideas. Organisations should ensure that time and funds are allocated for experimentation and prototyping ideas.
- Idea infrastructure in isolation is not the silver bullet to creating a more innovative organisation. Instead, these tools should be treated as one part of a broader innovation journey.
- Generate quality ideas by ensuring staff are presented with a clearly defined problem statement. Provide business tools to staff to challenge them to think deeply about their proposed solution.
- The top ideas should be selected based on strategic alignment and how well the idea solves the problem.
- Provide leadership support, permission to experiment and protected resources for staff to progress their ideas.