Co-inventor of cubism, Pablo Picasso, once described his way of working as “I start with an idea and then it turns into something else.” This is a good description of the creative process and not only as it relates to art. On a high level it also applies to new product and service innovation in business enterprises, pointing as it does to the need for inspiration, search and exploration.

The importance of creativity and new ideas in business is of course widely recognized. Today ideation has established itself as a front end extension to the well known Stage-Gate process for product innovation. Ideation here loosely refers to the acquisition, creation and evolution of ideas in organizations. Following this notion, idea management would then be the process and associated discipline of facilitating ideation from a management perspective. Even though the process concept can be applied to ideation, it must be recognized that innovation also involves serendipitous discovery as well as significant human cognitive and social activity. To emphasize the thus somewhat less traditional management approach required, it may be more appropriate - at least in some respects - to refer to idea management as guided ideation.

The purpose of a guided ideation process is to increase the return on creativity in organizations in support of both innovation and problem solving. This may involve a number of key objectives and challenges such as stimulating creativity, generating and capturing ideas, engaging relevant expertise and valuating new concepts.

The successful implementation of a guided ideation process should result in both organizational and business benefits:

  • Adding Structure, Definition & Visibility to the Early Stage of Innovation
  • Providing Ideation Language and Vocabulary
  • Adding Consistency in Creating, Developing and Evaluating New Ideas
  • Increasing the Level of Innovation (more good ideas) and Accelerating Learning
  • Increasing the Return on Innovation (good ideas turning into good business)
Over time, R&D and Engineering organizations develop strong expertise in technology and in product development processes. They also typically show a preference for analytical (versus creative) thinking. Even though such expertise and skills are necessary in technological innovation, it does not automatically follow that experienced and competent organizations are also highly creative. However, creativity can be developed and creative thinking can be learned.

Creativity research suggests both process (ideation) and management (guidance) as well as intrinsic motivation play key roles in driving creativity and innovation in organizations.

Working on interesting technology is certainly a key intrinsic motivator in R&D organizations. It is, however, not the only one. Creativity is closely related to positive emotions and perceptions of progress. On the other hand, a strong focus on performance and efficiency - important as these may be - can be difficult to reconcile with a need for creativity and innovation.

Creativity, to be useful, requires both convergent and divergent thinking and both individual thinking and thinking in teams. Even though creativity can be stimulated, it has some limitations. Technology and product areas to some extent determine the creative potential (i.e., it’s not just about the people) and creative ideas to a large extent originate from what individuals are actually working on (i.e., what they naturally think about). This implies that the driving context for ideation is constructed both from the characteristics of technologies and products, people’s knowledge and perception of these as well as from the innate creativity and curiosity of the human mind.

Ideas may emerge spontaneously or as a result of organized efforts. In both cases they need to be captured. Ideas that remain tacit (e.g., as cognitive entities in the minds of people) can only be expressed by engaging people in idea collaborations, reviews and discussions. Ideas expressed in explicit form can, of course, be captured more easily and submitted to an idea repository, for example.

It is not only the initial idea conception that is important. The subsequent discussions, comments, reviews, enhancements and collaborations add perspectives and insights that may be necessary to move an idea forward and make it grow into a strong new product concept. Therefore, creating and maintaining a collaborative environment for evolving ideas is crucial to successful ideation. This also helps level the playing field so that ideas can compete on fair terms.

Overall, it is easy to see that the process of ideation is one that, while driven by purpose, needs to be guided rather than managed.

For part two, please click here.

About the Author

Anders Hemre is the Founder of Interknowledge Technologies and the former Chief Knowledge Officer at Ericsson Canada. With an international background in the telecommunications industry, he now specializes in the organizational practice of innovation and knowledge management.

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