Innovation and Idea Management
From Ideation to Collaboration to Execution
by Robert F. Brands
Innovation: What a great idea!
Innovation thrives on a diet of news ideas. It needs fresh thinking and a different perspective from across the organization.
We’ve noted that Innovation = Creative x Risk Taking. Setting aside risk for the moment, creativity is a central element to the innovation process. But it must continually be nourished with new ideas from a variety of sources.
Ideation is not a single event. It doesn’t originate from a single silo or one person or one department, although it can come from a single source. Ideation thrives in an open environment; think Wikipedia, the open-source, online repository of the world’s specialized knowledge. It is the result of a collaborative process that welcomes minds and teams from across any organization of any size.
How can you foster a fertile ideation environment?
Start by creating an “idea hopper.” This idea bank is the repository of any idea to be pursued, saved and reconsidered – or at least explored.
In the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is crated and stashed in endless warehouse of similar, non-descript crates. This is the polar opposite. Don’t think of the Hopper as a bottomless pit. Think actionable. While this idea database can be managed online or in Access Dbase, Word or Excel, the key word is “managed”. Ideas come in and are vetted by the Innovation Team and the Chief Innovation Officer. The CIO will organize ideas in order of importance or relevance based on the organization’s current path or needs. Then the ideas then are presented at the next meeting of the Ideation or Brainstorming Session.
About that session… Brainstorm sessions should be held at a regular interval and include a variety of participants from across the organization. This isn’t just a place for R&D or the New Product team. Sales should be there. So should Marketing. Include Customer Service. Those who interact with customers and have a feel for the shifting tidings of the consumer should have input in ideation – whether in feeding the hopper or digesting its contents.
The meetings also should be structured. They should be scheduled, with an agenda in place so participants know what to expect, the topics of discussion, and the anticipated outcomes. In this instance, the CIO should defer to a facilitator or Innovation Coach who can lead the session with complete neutrality. He or she (or someone designated for that task) will write, chart, graph or otherwise gather every idea presented. There are no bad ideas. All concepts should be filed, prioritized, validated, for future reference and / or use in combination with other ideation session results. The outcome of each meeting besides feeding the hopper is a prioritized list to be worked in Product Development
Next, feed that hopper. This database needs that constant diet of fresh ideas – especially between brainstorming sessions. Welcome ideas from all corners of the organization – from the C-Suite to the receptionist’s desk. You never know where the next Great Idea will come from.
To be clear, new ideas aren’t simply about products. Ideas can include process changes, technological enhancements – anything that represents change in the organization.
In ideation, think green. In those brainstorming sessions, some ideas will rise, some will fall. Throw none away. Those that don’t pass muster at that moment should be placed back in the hopper and recycled. Some ideas fail based on momentary circumstances: bad timing, market conditions, budget constraints, technological disconnect, conflict with the organization’s current needs or vision – any of which can change very quickly. In fact, two ideas discarded today may morph into a better concept tomorrow. Keeping them in the hopper ensures they can be revisited in the future.
The process of ideation isn’t inherently a risk-taking endeavor. But it is part of the experimentation equation. As we’ve noted previously, Risk + Experimentation (+ Failure) = An Improved Environment for Innovation.
The risk here is to break the mold. Open the silos. Welcome input from across the organization. You might come away thinking, “What a great idea!”
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