Idea campaigns are all based on the simple concept that the more people who contribute ideas, the better. It is sometimes also referred to as the democratization of ideation, or crowd-sourcing ideas. This is important since encouraging creative potential is a powerful new resource to evolve the organization with expanded capabilities, relevance in the market, business opportunities, increasing revenues, etc. But just believing in the benefits of democratizing ideation is not sufficient for running an effective and successful ideation campaign. A poorly constructed campaign can be a huge waste of time and effort, and set back the cause of innovation. The best ideation campaigns all manage to balance the free flow of ideas with some process and structure.
The old-fashioned “write your idea on a note and put it in the suggestion box” (now referred to as a Static Innovation technique) is the most rudimentary form of gathering ideas from multiple people who have different responsibilities, various expectations for the future, not together in the same room or a virtual meeting, etc. By understanding how to improve outcomes, we need to be effective at ideation and execution to be better at Business Innovation by –
Getting past shortcoming with ” Static or Slow Moving Ideation ” (ie: like an Idea Box)
• The Idea or Suggestion Box is too open-ended – It simply says, “Ideas” or “Suggestions” on the outside. Ideas are good, but ideas about what? Properly structuring the problem or the challenge you are trying to address with new ideas is the first step to running a good campaign. For ideations to be business critical, they need to be connected to strategic initiatives of the organization.
• The Idea Box lacks transparency and offers no collaboration opportunity – With an idea box, you have no idea what ideas other people are submitting, because you cannot look inside the box. If people could see the breadth and richness of others’ ideas, it would spur new thinking and help the next person to think of a better idea that builds on the ideas of others. Many innovations are two or more ideas brought together, rather than a new one.
• The Idea Box is a totally static device – It sits there on Monday, and it is still sitting there on Friday (with a bit more dust on it). Maybe there are more ideas in there after a week, but unless you open it, you won’t even know. And no one really has any emotional incentive to contribute an idea, because nobody else is reacting to their contribution. A proper feedback loop is crucial for us humans to want to keep submitting ideas and contribute to the future of the organization.
• The Idea Box is in one location – With organizations typically having multiple departments in multiple locations (with a HO, branches, home offices, partners, etc.), the chances of getting the best ideas when being close to the box is extremely small. The best ideas might come to you when you’re at the gym or driving home. Or when you are in the Singapore office – which is an issue when only head office has an idea box !
• The Idea Box does not allow iteration – Everyone who has worked with idea exploration (vs. execution) knows it is not a linear process, quite the opposite actually. Several iterations are often needed and you need to cluster ideas, test them, and maybe go back to collect new ideas. The idea box is not a very flexible format for iteration. It is more like a black hole.
While an “Idea Box” is good, unless the above issues are addressed, the organization won’t realize meaningful benefits from Innovation, or get better at Business Innovation.
A good Ideation Campaign includes –
• A well-structured challenge – Something that people can get into and framed to help with focus. If the challenge is formulated at too high a level, it will not spur enough creative thinking and the ideas will be all over the place. If it’s framed at too low a level, it may be too specific or have no obvious paths for new solutions.
• The potential to build on one other ideas – Ideas need to be shared with everyone as they are submitted to build excitement and awareness, as well as spur new followup ideas from others. You can accomplish this by posting ideas physically, or more appropriately with a geographically spread-out team, virtually. Mechanisms can be the organization’s internal website, email updates, in mobile, or by using a digital platform for this purpose.
• Closed feedback loops – As an Innovator because you put time and energy into submitting an idea, you want to know what’s happening with it. You want feedback to assist in understanding if it is valuable for solving the challenge or not. If relevant, what is the plan to proceed with the idea ? You need to be smart about how to set this up since it’s important to realize it can be challenging if the volume of ideas are large or not relevant to the innovation initiative. Fundamentally feedback is absolutely crucial in fostering an innovative culture.
• A mechanism that allows the submission of ideas at any time, from anywhere – We know that the creative process is not linear and ideas come to us at the most random times. By running ideation campaigns over longer periods of time and through a digital platform, participants have more freedom to participate when it suits them. This means that participation and engagement increases and quality of the ideas improves.
• Global collaboration – Global is the new local. Thanks to the web and digitalization, there are new ways of collaborating across locations, time zones, with people having similar interests as well complimenting skills, etc. This is great for defining ideation campaigns that generate value since having people from different countries, teams, and backgrounds collaborate, we benefit from a greater diversity of ideas and have more options to move forward – to quickly scale the best ideas or fail fast on those not getting traction.
• Taking the ideas forward – While collecting ideas is fairly straight forward (unless you try and use an idea box), what really matters is making something out of them (ie: monetizing value). For this, you need a clear sponsor with resources to spend on it and a proper process to cluster ideas, connect hypotheses to the clusters, and design experiments to test the hypotheses. Only after this process do we have data and learnings to make informed decisions on which ideas to move into our project portfolio for further development.
All organizations can innovate, and good ideas can come from anyone. Successful organizations figure out how to do ideation to improve outcomes from Business Innovation – while running their core business. To get better at Business Innovation, it’s important to encourage creativity and help people develop a vision to improve outcomes for the organization and all those in the ecosystem (ie: Customers, colleagues, partners, etc.). But you can only be successful if you try. Start by running a pilot campaign, learn lessons, and scale it up the next time.
This blog post was Co-authored with Peet Van Biljon and originally posted in Innovation Leaders magazine Pointers June Edition (https://www.innovationleader.com/pointers/)
July 17, 2017 – CAIL – Business Innovation commentary