As someone that has worked in innovation for much of their career, witnessing over the past few years how innovation and idea management has moved more centre-stage in the business world has been really gratifying.

At the very least, most organisations now aspire to being innovative. A growing number of those have also put in place measures to foster an innovative culture and are using dedicated idea management tools.

But speaking now also as a parent of two young children, I have been thinking a lot recently about the power and potential of a child-like approach to idea generation. Children think without limits, boundaries or rules and show no fear whatsoever when it comes to looking foolish or making a mistake.

These are qualities that are highly prized and valued when it comes to idea generation in business. Is it possible for organisations to capture that freedom of thought amongst their idea crowd and how can they best go about doing so?

The value of unrestricted thinking

Whatever the size or nature of your idea crowd, most of us would agree that engagement with that crowd is one of the highest priorities in any innovation programme. People need to be motivated to submit ideas, have the right platform in which to do so and feel trusted that their ideas are going to be received in an open and comfortable space, encouraging diversity of opinion.

But even with all this in place, most ideas shared are more of an incremental improvement on existing initiatives. Depending on the nature of the programme – sometimes incremental improvements are what is sought, at other times it is bigger ideas to radically change ways of working – but even with the latter, generating such big ideas is a challenge. Many organisations already have functions who are trying to innovate on a day-to-day basis, and just need the tools that can augment, simplify, easily scale, and lay the groundwork for success to drive better results.

Garnering ideas of incremental improvement is a sound and effective approach, but is it one that is going to tap into a truly game-changing idea? People in this model are usually sharing ideas around a theme and by that very nature their thinking is restricted, or at least directed into a certain direction from the outset.

The business world traditionally has been focused on minimising risk and following convention, yet a child-like approach is full of imagination and creativity and capable of coming up with truly disruptive and ‘big picture’ ideas. Is there a way that the latter can help to address the former?

Tapping into creativity

Of course, no one would suggest that an innovation programme be handed over to their children but tapping into that type of creativity is undoubtedly an asset. The key is to harness that creativity effectively, providing a fear-free environment for people to think and submit ideas, and then have room to iterate and grow those ideas.

Children are uninhibited by rules or fear of failure, so they try new things and are not afraid to fall down or make a mistake. They also typically fail forward, in that they fall over, they get up and try again, rather than giving up.

However, like children, ideas also need rules and spaces to channel that creativity. They need process and structure to give them the greatest chance of thriving – here are three key elements to bear in mind when trying to capture that creative thinking.

Demonstrate what the bigger picture is – if an organisation wants big ticket ideas, then it’s essential for it to educate its idea crowds as to what the bigger picture might look like. This might involve sharing some examples of previously successful big ideas or encouraging people to think big and without limits when they are submitting ideas. People can err on the side of caution and submit ideas that they think will play well with the boss, so ensuring they know bigger and more adventurous ideas are acceptable is important.

Rewards and incentives – these are established pillars of any smart innovation programme but are perhaps even more important when looking to capture the bigger and more disruptive ideas that come from seeking a new way to solve a problem, identify an opportunity or drive change. Your idea crowds need to know that they are in a safe and trusted environment. Not only will their more outlandish ideas not be laughed at, but they will be given proper consideration and individuals could be encouraged to submit such ideas via the use of rewards and incentivisation.

Iteration is key – while children do have an amazing ability to think in a different way, the truth is that big ticket ideas are hard to come by and usually require discussion, debate and development. That’s why it is vital for ideas to be fully iterated, to have the chance to be filtered and developed appropriately.

There is much that can be taken from the uninhibited thinking of kids, but tangible and sustainable innovation also needs a little structure and process too. But by providing the right environment, forward-thinking organisations can recapture the freedom of thought experienced by children and channel that into their own innovation programmes, delivering better and more impactful results because of it.

By Simon Hill, Wazoku.

About the author

Simon is the CEO and founder of idea management firm, Wazoku, working with organisations including HSBC, UK Central Government, Waitrose and more on award-winning innovation programmes. He is also a father of two young children, so fully immersed in child-like imagination and creativity!

Featured image via Pixabay.