Paul Williams, founder of Idea Sandbox, is a brainstormer and professional problem solver. Today he tells IM about the eight practical tasks of innovation he recommends to his clients and his new project of designing the world’s best brainstorming destination.

What is innovation management to you?

Finding ways to keep your products, services, and processes fresh and valuable for you and your customers.

What are the most important lessons for an innovation manager to learn?

I don’t believe you can create an innovation. Just the same as you can’t create an award winning movie. You can strive for that, but ultimately it is up to your customers to determine if it is innovation worthy.

An innovation manager shouldn’t own innovation, they should be the ambassador for it. The entire organization should be trained to be on constant lookout – both inside and outside the organization – for opportunities to innovate.

There are eight practical tasks of innovation in the cycle I recommend to clients. They are: (1) stay informed, (2) problem recognition, (3) problem identification, (4) generate alternatives, (5) decision making, (6) plan crafting, (7) be the champion, and (8) implement. After you implement, you start following its progress and return to the stay informed task.

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You may notice my list is a modification of the traditional creative problem solving model.

While each step is important, the two I think are most overlooked are (1) stay informed and (7) be the champion.

Keeping informed with a constant eye on the horizon allows you to spot trends and problems very early on. This allows you to be proactive instead of responding once a problem exists.

New ideas need champions to help them survive when they’re new. A seedling idea may look like a weed to some. A champion can point out that the idea will one day be a mighty oak.

Do you think innovation management as a profession is headed in the right direction?

The good and bad news is that the innovation has become a buzz word. The word “innovate” appears in the top 5 priorities of most companies. Innovation is valued. The trick is to be picky about the advice you seek and implement. There is no magic bullet or secret formula. Just like the social media gold rush that’s taking place right now – there is no single right approach. You have to discover or create what works best for your customers and organization.

What’s your next big challenge?

I’m in the process of designing the world’s best brainstorming destination… creating Brainstorming Studios. Spaces artistically and scientifically designed to turn people’s brains into idea machines.

I’m just starting to look for investors! I’ll keep you posted.

About Paul Williams

Paul Williams, founder of Idea Sandbox, is a brainstormer and professional problem solver. Through hand-crafted strategy and brainstorm sessions he helps people create remarkable ideas to grow their business. As one client put it, “Idea Sandbox turns brains into idea machines.”

Paul spent 15 years building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company. Paul has helped brands solve challenges, grow their brand, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation.

Paul is a writer, speaker, columnist, and brainstormer living just outside Washington DC in Alexandria, Virginia. You can reach him by email (paul@idea-sandbox), twitter (@IdeaSandbox), and on his blog.