Most businesses recognize the value of good ideas. However, good ideas don’t always turn into good business. One can argue that this is simply a result of the uncertainty and risk associated with new ideas and new ventures. On the other hand, one can also argue that the return on innovative efforts could improve in many enterprises. As the conception, evolution and evaluation of ideas are integral parts of innovation, understanding the idea process is crucial to improving innovation performance.

The early stage of innovation appears as a straightforward sequence of steps - a new idea is conceived, evaluated, accepted for implementation or rejected. In reality, the process is seldom this linear but rather involves emerging discussions and unstructured knowledge exchanges mixed with organized collaborations and reviews. This constitutes a somewhat “messy” process, where ideas can emerge in many different ways and from many different sources. In fact, making sure that they do is a prerequisite for diversity and creativity in idea generation. Another process objective is to make sure that the raw ideas hatched during the initial stage of ideation are not discounted too early but are allowed to mature sufficiently and turn into rich ideas. This effort can be organized as a deliberate process resulting in the creation of a high value idea portfolio.

Further developing individual ideas or idea clusters through enhancement and collaboration activities will require the participation of not only the idea originators, but also peers, key managers and domain experts. In order to facilitate a richer dialogue, for example, ideas may need to be enhanced through visualization or be described in user scenarios. Organizations that have dedicated mechanisms for innovation, collaboration and knowledge sharing in place, such as innovation cells, expert networks or communities of practice, could use these to facilitate the process. It will involve not just a search for the next big idea but could create an environment of “micro innovation” where profitable growth may also come from the implementation of many small ideas. This obviously requires that the organization is able to capture ideas and that someone is available to manage the process involved. In addition to documenting ideas themselves, it will be beneficial to also keep records of suggestions, comments and feedback as they occur during the activities involved. In large organizations, where there could be many ideas to track, it may be necessary to consider the use of an idea management tool.

In summary, a portfolio approach to idea management aligns such practices with those used for product and project portfolios. It will increase the visibility of the early part of the innovation process, promote a culture of collaboration and help companies pursue effective growth strategies through product innovations.

About the Author

Mr. 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. He can be reached at

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