10 Reasons Why Innovation Suggestion Schemes and Idea Boxes Fail

10 Reasons Why Innovation Suggestion Schemes and Idea Boxes FailWhen people ask for my advice on how to improve their innovation programs, one thing I usually suggest is to do away with their organization’s suggestion schemes and tear down the idea boxes. Why? Because it’s too tempting to substitute these methods in place of real innovation that adds customer and organizational value. And they can do more harm than good, in my opinion.

Here are 10 reasons suggestion schemes and idea boxes fail:

  1. Wrong Motivation. In many cases, suggestion schemes are made for disgruntled employees who need a way to vent. The result is a very narrow set of ideas from only a small percentage of the population.
  2. Lack of Training. Suggestion schemes assume that employees know how to generate innovative ideas on their own. In most companies, employees are not provided with the proper training (tools and methods) to understand how to generate valuable ideas.
  3. Incremental Innovation. Without proper training, employees tend to only generate ideas related to their immediate sphere of influence, ad mostly related to process improvement. While these ideas shouldn’t be ignored, they won’t ever lead to breakthrough innovation.
  4. Irrelevant to Customer Needs. Most suggestion schemes don’t provide a model to understand customer outcomes and expectations (voice of the customer) related to the ideas.
  5. Irrelevant to Organizational Needs. Idea boxes don’t ensure alignment between the ideas and business strategy. Some ideas submitted are important to the company, some are not.
  6. Too Many Ideas and Poor Processes. The suggestion box collects ideas. Although some are processed, others are not. Over time, the suggestion box will have more ideas than can be managed by an innovation manager.
  7. Overwhelmed Managers. Because suggestion boxes are not transparent, many ideas are submitted by several employees at the same time. An unpopular policy or faulty process can lead to a deluge of almost identical ideas, leaving the innovation manager overwhelmed.
  8. Lack of Transparency. A suggestion box is not transparent. Employees cannot see their ideas once they are in the box and do not know what is happening to their ideas. This is demotivating.
  9. Lack of Oversight. In many cases, all the suggestions are processed by the same person. This person may not always recognize the potential of a powerful idea, particularly if it is outside of his/her area of expertise.
  10. Wrong Message. Idea boxes and suggestion schemes send the wrong message to employees. They encourage limited, anonymous ideation in isolation and without any feedback, as opposed to open and collaborative ideation that leads to breakthrough innovation and adds real value.

What’s your experience with these methods for idea generation?

Leave a comment…

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Kamal HassanKamal Hassan is President and CEO of Innovation 360 Institute, and is responsible for leading the company’s global operations and customer acquisition.

Kamal Hassan




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No Comments

  1. Mike on June 8, 2010 at 5:52 pm


    This is a very well-written, concise article. I enjoyed the structure and the obvious thoughtfulness behind all of the suggestions, and I agree that the review process must be more robust.

    I believe, however, that your entire premise is incorrect. You must keep in mind that “innovation” is the creation of newness that adds value. Ideas, in themselves, do not add value, and they shouldn’t be expected to!

    The point of ideation is NOT to generate “innovative ideas” but rather to generate ideas… just ideas. They need only to be plentiful. They certainly do not need to be “well-thought-out.” That is the reviewers’ job. Ideas should be wild, crazy, and sometimes downright stupid. It is the onus of the reviewers to mold them into something useful, valuable and… innovative!

    Remember, you must first diverge – THEN converge. Never, ever, ever filter an idea before it comes out of your mouth! Get it out there… then hone it later.

    It is easier to tame a wild cat than to make a kitten roar 🙂


  2. Jens on June 8, 2010 at 6:54 pm


    I certainly agree with you that innovation is the creation of newness that adds value – value to the stakeholders, be it customers or organisation… But I think you are down a wrong road stating that ideas shouldn’t be expected to be innovative. Certainly they may not be, but from a motivation point-of-view I believe it’s utterly wrong to communicate to your employees (in fact to anyone) that they are not expected to be innovative. In regard to the ideas just being plenty enough then innovation will emerge, this is in my mind equally wrong; quantity cannot substitute quality. You are right that if the ideas are plenty then the chance that some of them will afterall be innovative do indeed increase. But if you instead forster a culture in which innovation is encourraged and managed (both being long stories in them selves) then for sure your yield will be better and wasted efforts less.

  3. Mike on June 9, 2010 at 11:29 am


    Thanks for your feedback! It’s fun to get into discussions about innovation methods.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would never advocate telling employees that they’re not expected to be innovative. Everyone in the organization needs to be innovative, whether it be Product Development or Finance. But innovation is all about a process.

    If you’re familiar with divergence and convergence… What it means is that you must, first, get all ideas out on the table (hold nothing back) and make connections and tangents off of them. This is divergence. But these are just ideas.

    Then the real “innovation” action starts. You must take each idea, pull out ALL the good aspects, bring up the negatives, and then improve on those. It takes a long time, as it should, but most people forget this all-important second half. Convergence.

    To converge, we use a method called POINt. Pluses, Opportunities, Negatives, New Thinking (In that order). It’s amazing!

    I certainly don’t mean to say that if you have plenty of ideas, one or two will just BE innovative, in some hit-or-miss fashion. You must MAKE them innovative.

    • Jimmy on October 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

      Hi Mike,

      I like you’re thinking and am very interested in the POINt method. Where did you pick this up? I think we would benefit in learning this method as we are thinking of implementing an Employee Suggestion Program (aka Idea Box).
      Thanks in advance for your reply!

      Kind regards,

  4. Katherine Clevenger-Burdell on June 14, 2010 at 2:14 am

    I appreciated the article and the comments on the subject of creativity, innovation, etc. I have had the opportunity on several job to be responsible for designing a new program, pilot testing, and then implementing the program. Managers need to allow those who are creative some ability to run with some of the creative ideas which may lead to innovative implementation of programs,a new process or a new product. Managers ought to consider some type of incentive for creativity. Some type of bonus for a innovative idea that is implemented would be great. It could be a new procedure, product improvement, or new product. The bonus does not have to cost a good deal to the organization. In some of my jobs, a good parking space would have been a great incentive. Do not be afraid of the unknown, the untested, and possible failure if an idea does not work.

    Great topic for discussion.

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