How many ideas should move from selected to implemented?
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Often, organizations have a tendency to turn innovation into a highly complex system involving numerous processes, approaches and models. Here’s a little secret: It doesn’t need to be complex to be effective.

Like any good managing director, I regularly watch what the competition and others in our field are up to. One thing I have noticed over recent months is a tendency to turn corporate innovation into a highly complex system involving numerous processes, approaches and models.

The great lie of innovation today is that it must be complex to be effective.

Such systems are being promoted by consultants who, not surprisingly, charge by the hour for implementing and teaching their systems. Unfortunately, when firms decide they need to implement an innovation strategy and meet with such high priced consultants, the firms are scared by the complex systems that must be implemented. When different consultants preach different systems, it only makes matters worse.

Since innovation is the result of successfully implemented creative ideas, it is clear that systems that stifle creativity are not going to maximize innovation.

The problem is, corporate innovation doesn’t need to be horrendously complex. Indeed, highly complex systems can actually stifle creativity. And since innovation is the result of successfully implemented creative ideas, it is clear that systems that stifle creativity are not going to maximize innovation. Quite the opposite.

The elements of innovation

As I have written before, medium to large organizations already contain many internal creative thinkers: the employees; and many external creative thinkers: the customers. All that is needed is…

Trust: to make people comfortable about sharing their ideas with the organization. They need to feel they can make mistakes without suffering undue consequences.

Management buy-in: Management must demonstrate their commitment to innovation through internal and external communications media. Management must also demonstrate being creative themselves; as well as a willingness to try out creative, yet risky ideas.

Budget: is necessary to implement highly creative or disruptive ideas, which by nature are more risky than less creative ideas. Money must also be found for investing for tools (see below) that facilitate idea sharing and development and training in the use of those tools.

Tools: such as an idea management tool for soliciting, capturing and evaluating ideas from the employees. Used well, an idea management tool is the best on-going tool for idea capture. Also useful are creative project teams, brainstorming sessions, mind-mapping tools and other items which facilitate creative thinking and collaboration.

Evaluation methods: are necessary for evaluating ideas generated by the tools. Many tools, such as idea management systems, include evaluation components. Note: one must be careful not to over-evaluate an idea. Too much concern about risk can lead evaluators to discourage creativity in order to minimize risk.

Facilities: including meeting rooms, other spaces where people can meet and share ideas, white boards, post-its, pens and other things which facilitate creative meetings and brainstorming.

Rewards: Whether recognition, small gifts or granting special privileges, some kind of fair reward scheme motivates people to share their creative ideas with the organization.

Time: Employees need time to be creative.

How all of these components come together will vary from firm to firm. What is important is that these components exist, that there is flexibility and that ideas are implemented ­ nothing spoils a great idea management system than not implementing ideas that are generated by the system.

Of course the above components of corporate innovation are highly simplified. Nevertheless, they provide the backbone of a corporate innovation plan and can quickly be elaborated to provide a more detailed structure.

So, don’t let the expensive consultants fool you. An innovation strategy is relatively easy provided you have the commitment, the desire and the budget. Moreover, the strategy should be designed to fit your firm with minimal disruption.

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

About the auhtor

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.

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