Don’t discount the impact of small ideas on your business, advises Paul Williams, because the can be a great source of efficiency and competitive advantage. Read this article to learn how!

I am always amazed when I talk to various business leaders about idea generation concepts. As the discussion begins about employee ideas, idea generation systems and the financial impact of employee-driven ideas, the following statement inevitably comes out: “We don’t care about small ideas, what we are looking for is the next BIG idea.” That is fantastic, but unbelievably short-sighted.

The question I pose to these very eager business leaders is, “How often does your company develop ‘big ideas’ and what is their impact?” The answer typically ranges from once a year to once in a blue moon. The answer to the impact portion of the question reveals that the overall impact is quite often short-lived, as the rest of the market quickly adapts to the new idea in order to stay competitive. They know this because, these same business leaders admit to reacting quickly to the groundbreaking new ideas of their competitors. So what is the real advantage of that BIG idea? A quick win, a brief capitalization of market share, and some improved morale.

As a follow-up, I’ll usually ask the question, “How often does your company develop ‘small ideas’ and what is their impact?” That answer typically ranges from “I don’t really know,” to “We get ideas from our employees.” They are still too stunned with the previous question to even hazard a guess as to the impact small ideas actually have on their business.

Let’s take a step back for a minute and define “big” vs. “small” ideas. Big ideas are things which shake the foundation of your company or the overall market. They are ideas around which you launch new marketing campaigns because they separate your business from the competition. These are ideas such as the technology involved in the iPod, which decimated the handheld radio/CD/cassette player in the personal audio device market.

An example

Small ideas are things which typically tend to occur based on need, are most likely implemented without management approval or knowledge, and are led by individuals or departments to make their jobs easier or to directly improve the customer experience. For example, let’s say your ten employee company makes widgets. You currently work through ten steps to produce a widget and you can produce ten widgets per person, per day. An employee realizes that step #7 of the ten step process isn’t really adding any value so she has an idea to just stop doing step #7, and that’s what she does. The only difference anyone notices is that she is now able to produce eleven widgets per day. Her co-workers ask her how she is able to do it and she shares her “skip step #7 idea.” Soon, all nine of her co-workers are producing eleven widgets per day. This means that the “skip step #7 idea” just increased production by 10 widgets per day for the company… or a 10% increase in production.

Now, I am not implying that step #7 wasn’t important to someone. It may actually turn out that step #7 was vital to another area of the company. Conversely, it may turn out that not only was step #7 unnecessary, but steps #2 through #4 are also “non value add” tasks. Unfortunately, by acting on the idea in a vacuum, a proper exploration of the entire process was ignored. Ideally, this idea should have been appropriately proposed and walked through an “idea-to-reality system” before being implemented.

However simplistic these examples may be, the concept is merely a window to the power of small ideas. And if you are willing to make the assumption that your company is full of these small ideas, waiting to be born, you can begin to see that their impact vastly outshines the impact of the big ideas. The beauty of the small idea – discounting the sheer volume of them when compared to the big ideas – is the fact that these will most likely never be discovered by your competitors. These small ideas are specific to your individual business operations. They improve the way you produce or provide services to your customers. While not earth-shattering, small ideas, when added together, provide the same market capitalization advantages as the big ideas.


Don’t get me wrong: the pursuit of big ideas is worthwhile. Big ideas, although having impacts that many times are short-lived, do provide incredible boosts in brand recognition, customer loyalty, competitive separation, employee morale, and company performance. The goal of this article, however, is to remind you that, while the pursuit of big ideas is noble, it is short-sighted to discount the huge prospective impact of the numerous small ideas within your organization. Doing so means you are unintentionally placing a ceiling on your future earning potential and stifling your employee’s creative need to help you grow your business. Remember, idea generation systems are all about helping your employees to help you and your business.

Paul R. Williams is President and Chief Ideation Officer of Think For A Change, LLC and has dedicated his professional development to the study of creativity and innovation in business. He specializes in teaching new idea generation, brainstorming session facilitation, and “helping business help itself.”