Not everyone can be expected to have ideas about everything. Ideation should focus on active solicitation of ideas from groups and individuals who are likely to have ideas about a particular problem or opportunity. In the product domain, this translates to people with sufficient technology expertise or application/user experience from the areas concerned.

There are basically three ways of organizing ideation:

  • open “submit anything anytime” environment
  • integrated with the product or service development process
  • topic focused and time limited: idea campaigns, events, competitions
The first and the last are the most commonly used, with the latter generally producing better results. The second option would represent somewhat of a semi-mandatory approach with ideation management activities predefined as part of the work process. It is not necessarily intended to change what’s in a new product development project but rather to tap into people’s minds as they work through a project.

Even though an open and asynchronous ideation process (“submit anything anytime”) makes it convenient to contribute, it does not create compelling reasons to do so. An ideation process organized as a series of idea campaigns would most likely yield a better overall result.

Idea campaigns are organized innovation challenges with relatively short time durations and focused on predetermined business opportunities or technology problems. Typically two campaign sessions could be launched on the same topic to reach an appropriate number of people, thereby also allowing the second session to build on the results of the first.

Well-articulated innovation challenges motivate creative thinking and facilitate collaborative ideation. As contributions would cluster in the targeted area, an idea evaluation may be performed in bulk by a single team of experts and managers, making the review cycle more efficient.

Idea campaigns are useful in that they serve as the “front end” of ideation helping to communicate importance, raise urgency and focus the creative effort in time and on particular challenges. They also demonstrate management commitment and could thereby make it easier for people to make time for idea contributions. Most likely it will also be easier to find an internal sponsor willing to invest in ideas that result from campaigns organized and promoted by management.

The ideation process could be greatly facilitated by designating organizational roles. This also demonstrates management support and such roles could include ideation champion, idea campaign manager and idea champion. In conjunction with idea campaigns a review team could be designated to secure the availability of sufficient time and expertise for idea evaluations.

Serious idea contributions may justify serious incentives such as cash rewards similar to those many organizations offer for patents or even stock options in case ideas develop into actual new products and new business.

Tangible incentive, however, should not be used at the expense of working with intrinsic motivation as the latter has been shown to be strongly associated with creative contributions. Nor should the reverse apply.

In summary, the following needs to be part of a serious approach to guided ideation:

  • Communicate and promote ideation to increase general awareness;
  • Develop a management approach to organizational slack, intrinsic motivation and employee engagement from the perspective of ideation performance;
  • Designate organizational roles: ideation champion(s) (not just an ideation tool champion), idea campaign manager(s), idea champion(s) and idea reviewer(s);
  • Drive ideation through organized and engineered idea campaigns;
  • Segment and target potential contributors and actively solicit contributions through individual invitations to submit or review ideas from different perspectives;
  • Communicate with idea contributors and provide timely feedback/updates;
  • Offer real ideation incentives;
  • Conduct internal ideation workshop sessions to increase reach and stimulate contributions;
  • Align the design and configuration of an ideation tool with the main business purpose of ideation and with the focus of idea campaigns, and
  • Make it easy to submit contributions and use an ideation tool not just to capture and share ideas, but also to promote ideation and manage idea campaigns.
Even with the above items in place, confidence in the future no doubt has an impact on people’s willingness to make voluntary contributions to the business. When people are not sure about the company future, or their own future with the company, even if they do not deliberately deny the company a great idea, creativity and innovation are simply not first and foremost on their minds. It may be tempting for management to communicate that individuals making idea contributions are particularly valuable to the business, but this could easily turn into a slippery slope. Better then for management to demonstrate strategic leadership, create a compelling but realistic vision for the future and, most importantly, provide real, tangible support for innovation.

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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