If ideas are the seeds of innovation…

Innovation is a product of human activity. Innovation keeps life interesting, yet it begins first, with ideation. The creation of a new thought or idea.

If ideas are the seeds of innovation, idea management  is the formalization of the processes involved in gathering, sharing, analyzing and executing the ideas generated within an organization and its collaborative networks.

Ideation and idea management pack the front end of the New Product Development (NPD) funnel with a wealth of viable concepts. Since only a fraction of ideas actually reach fruition, ideation should be harnessed by a process with dedicated resources and with both NPD & LTD (Long Term Development) teams working together.

Ideations can take many different forms. They can be solutions; where there is a problem, there is a solution waiting to be found. They can be evolutionary by modifying an existing product or adding a feature to it. Ideations can be symbiotic; combining multiple ideas, using different elements of each to make a whole. They can be revolutionary (a brand new perspective). Ideations can be serendipitous; where the intended idea is generated by the unexpected. They can be targeted; dealing with a direct and planned path to discovery, or they can be artistic, disregarding practicality and allowing ideas to flow without constraints.

Whichever form your ideas take, how you manage them dictates the outcome of each endeavor. Frequent and intelligently facilitated ideation sessions lead to successful new products… and the much sought after AHA! or Eureka! moment.

Here’s a fun little side fact for you: The Eureka moment is said to be named after the myth that the Greek mathematician Archimedes, having discovered how to measure the volume of an irregular object, leaped out of a public bath, shouting “Eureka! Eureka!” Or, translated: “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”

Now, getting back to the business of ideation, here are some idea management tips:

  1. Tear down the walls or create dedicated ideation space – Break up teams into people who know each other but are not “that friendly” with each other in order to minimize group think.
  2. Provide a framework to capture ideas – Accept ALL ideas and get them written down on the board. You never know when a concept can be recycled for future use.
  3. Setting and Location – Create a positive environment to delivery pitches, but vary the format as well as locations and times of ideation sessions. Predictability can kill ideation. Mix it up to get people out of their comfort zones.
  4. Info Alchemy – Create and maintain your idea inventory & review it regularly. Build a database of ideas from which new combinations and solutions can be derived.
  5. Include a diverse group of people – In addition to your team, include members such as the sales team, people who interact directly with customers, and maybe even a few select customers themselves to offer their insight into the meeting.
  6. Establish rules of engagement – At some point during the ideation process you will need to inform your team what you are, and are not looking for. Communicate what the overall process will look like, and how ideas will be evaluated.
  7. Recognize and reward contributors – Instill a sense of urgency in every employee about what needs to be done; give them the support they need to feel their good efforts will be rewarded.
  8. Encourage the creative process – The Challenge sponsor must promise that the crowd’s efforts will not be for nothing and that the ideas will all be taken seriously and some will be further developed.

Last but not least start with White Boarding or Brain writing versus just Brainstorming that should follow… ask your Innovation Coach about this.

For additional Tips on Idea Management, see Robert’s Rules of Innovation ™ by Wiley, Spring, 2010.