Ideation or idea generation is a key driver of the innovation process. So how do we find our best ideas? Many of us generate our best ideas during the morning shower, or while we are listening to music or driving. Sometimes we come up with ideas when we are actively trying to solve problems or when we wake up in the morning. The greatest impediment to extracting value from these ideas is firstly our ability to actively capture these great ideas before the hard work begins to evaluate, harvest and implement these ideas.
Converting ideas into successful outcomes or benefits, i.e. innovations, requires a disciplined approach, although creativity forms the foundation of the process. A typical idea management process may involve the following steps:
Dr Linus Pauling, the dual Nobel Prize Laureate stated “The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas”. The more ideas you produce the greater the chance of finding a winning idea. Idea generation was popularized by Alex Osborne in his 1953 book “Applied Imagination” where he described the concept of “Brainstorming”. Brainstorming is now widely used as a tool to generate a large number of ideas in a group setting. Furthermore, Tony Buzan’s Mindmapping® technique has also provided the means for individual brainstorming. Individuals or groups have the capacity to come up with ideas when they are in a conducive state or environment, such as relaxing in a quiet and comfortable place or while taking a shower. Relaxation allows the subconscious mind to continue to process information and make connections.
Where do you look for ideas? You don’t need to go far. Ideas already exist within individuals working in an organization or they can be easily sourced from the external environment, including the market, customers, competitors and the Internet. We can improve the process of capturing ideas by:
- Actively looking for ideas around us through observation and listening e.g. talking to people, newspapers, the environment
- Building idea sources such as reference books, the Internet, thought leaders
- Recording and banking ideas in journals, notebooks, electronic databases or mobile phone apps
Discovery through serendipity results in a random coincidence or accident that triggers an idea or concept. An attentive mind is important in recognizing and capturing these random ideas. Alternatively, synchronicity or focused awareness is more powerful since the individual is actively seeking an idea or a solution to a problem.
Constructing and Harvesting Ideas
When ideas are generated and captured they are usually in a raw form and require further constructing or processing into a concept or application. For this to occur a number of creative thinking tools can be used including brainstorming, morphological analysis, scenario building, rearranging, cross-linking or randomizing. The final step involves harvesting the developed ideas that will either, satisfy an existing market need, solve a known problem or provide a new opportunity for further development. At this stage some people will include an incubation step to sleep on the ideas before the evaluation stage.
Evaluating and Protecting Ideas
The previous steps in the idea management process all involve some element of creative input, while, the evaluation stage involves traditional analysis of the ideas using a number of predefined criteria relevant to the individual or the organization. Although, intuition may also play a role. In evaluating ideas an initial feasibility should include a preliminary market, technical and risk assessment to determine the viability of the opportunity. It should also include an intellectual property search to determine whether someone else has already patented the idea, and to confirm that you have the freedom to operate. This step is followed by determining the value of the idea to the organization and the costs associated with the implementation phase. Paralysis by analysis should be avoided if the idea is to progress to implementation.
One of the most difficult steps is the implementation phase. To develop great ideas and not to action them is the same as not having any ideas at all. Implementation requires planning, hard work and discipline to achieve successful outcomes. Many people underestimate the effort involved in converting their ideas into successful products, services or processes. A typical implementation process may involve:
- clarifying the objective,
- developing the plan,
- identifying key processes and tasks,
- prioritizing activities,
- resourcing and budgeting,
- assigning responsibility, and then
- doing it!
Developing a compelling business case or business model with a clear path to market is a key factor of success.
Measuring Outcomes and Results
Progress can be monitored using appropriate measures to determine the effectiveness of the idea. Measures include value currencies such as revenue, cost savings, efficiency gains, social benefits and environmental benefits. Remember, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.
Your next idea could be the breakthrough innovation, new solution, new product, new service or organisational system that could add value to your organisation or to society.
Dr John Kapeleris