The ‘next big thing’ for your business, might be there already, in some form, within your organization: as an undocumented, abstract concept being discussed by your employees; or as the outcome of an old hackathon — still waiting for somebody to take action. It could be hidden in a 120-slide presentation file; or as a TL;TR block of text in your inbox.
Your lack of readiness to spot the next big idea translates to significant opportunity cost: what if this big idea is there but not properly communicated, evaluated or not even discovered?
Fortunately, technology can help — by enabling an always-on, intelligent ideation process.
Ideas are frequently overlooked or archived— typically due to lack of an effective method to handle them. As ideas can be generated at any time, there is a risk of ignoring them as not relevant or out of context.
But even if a great idea is spotted, if it happens to be out of a particular context, it may not be properly evaluated. The same might happen if this great idea is actually ahead of its time: it may be miss-classified as ‘not feasible’ or ‘over-ambitious’ and get discarded.
Even when the potential of an idea is recognized, there is a risk that the idea will fade out, if it is not properly captured and communicated.
Moreover, without a powerful channel, large volumes of ideas can create noise, distraction and other side effects, affecting productivity and operational aspects of the company.
An inefficient ideation process, introduces opportunity costs and negatively impacts the innovation culture: great ideas may be lost or not discovered at the right moment, while employees feel less empowered to ideate and innovate.
Real innovation, needs ideas in a streamlined fashion. In an ideal, innovation-led company, specialized technologies allow employees to easily submit ideas; then properly diffuse them throughout the organization. Ideas remain active and discoverable, in a centralized repository — the ‘ideas store’; AI-powered recommendation systems suggest ideas to the right experts, inventors, teams or product officers for evaluation and further iteration.
But how to setup this streamlined ideation channel?
1. Introduce a simple, always-on channel to capture ideas
You expect your employees to be innovative and share their ideas. But, do you provide the right tools? Do you encourage this ‘innovation mode’ via simple, effective ways to submit and handle ideas? You need to empower employees to randomly submit ideas — at any point, even if ideas are ‘out of context’, incomplete or not that relevant.
Idea submission should be simple, clever and fast — those long forms full of mandatory fields and manual classification of ideas — are all references to the past.
To achieve this always-on mode, you need to embed your ideas channel into typical ideation sessions like brainstorming, design sprints or Hackathons.
Have you ever considered how many great ideas are forgotten on sticky notes when this high-energy, enthusiastic ideation session is completed? To fix this, you can skip these fancy sticky notes and directly capture ideas into your ‘ideas store’, as they happen.
You can always have proper visualization in the room — even as digital sticky notes :) Or, you can introduce a post-processing step for these events, to digitize and port the ideas into a proper structure in the system.
2. Redefine ideas as ‘everlasting’
An irrelevant idea now could be a great idea in a year or two; if you keep it alive and discoverable it will naturally appear in your agenda when the time comes. Ideas should be considered always ‘alive’, ready to be discovered in the right context, by the right teams, at the right time.
Do not reject, delete or archive ideas; assign a lower priority instead.
3. Eliminate bureaucracy, ensure transparency
Strict rules, multiple checkpoints, conditions and aggressive deadlines can kill innovation!
What if the ‘big idea’ comes out of context or after the deadline and not in the ‘expected format’?
You need an efficient, simple and transparent idea management process. Your employees should be able to easily submit ideas and let the magic happen, behind the scenes: as an idea is captured, it is automatically classified, correlated and validated in terms of completeness; it is analysed by artificial intelligence components against other ideas in your repository — for similarity or overlap; the right employees and teams are identified and invited to review it; they can provide constructive feedback and express their interest for collaboration.
The idea owner receives meaningful and timely notification across the lifecycle of the idea — on events, updates and relevant activities by other innovators. The owner receives recommendations on similar ideas to consider or related projects and activities across the organization.
The ideation channel must provide full transparency on any prioritization or other decision. Users, should be able to access the detailed history of their ideas, including the sequence of events, collaboration activity or other significant updates.
4. Focus on Discoverability & Information sharing
Ideas should be easily discoverable — at any time, both via search and through timely suggestions. For example, product management teams must be able to query the ‘ideas store’ and get relevant ideas — in the context of their business. In a more advanced scenario, the ‘ideas store’ can be connected to one or more product backlogs, to use the product development context and then recommend highly-relevant and fresh ideas.
Check also: How to become a great Product Manager
But, discoverability requires much more than a powerful search engine: your ideation channel must be intelligent enough to recommend highly relevant ideas, to the right teams, at the right time — not as a response to a search, but autonomously.
The ideation channel could also recommend the right colleagues to consider when forming a team — based on expertise, skills and recent projects.
On information sharing, corporate systems can consume special ideation APIs, to support interactive scenarios, such as the presentation of recent ideation activities on selected, approved screens in a smart building; or, list the most active ‘ideation users’ or the ‘inventors of the month’ — in a gamification context.
5. Enable Rapid Prototyping and Experimentation
Great ideas drive the innovation spirit and team enthusiasm. A natural next step is to rapidly build prototypes in order to test selected idea and present functional instances of a potential product.
You need to make sure that there is a rapid prototyping framework available along with a proper experimentation culture and the right mindset: teams are ready to take risks and understand failure as an acceptable outcome of the experimentation process.
Experiments and prototypes, enrich the original ideas, generate knowledge and empower the overall innovation spirit.
6. Measure ideation and its impact
You need to define metrics reflecting the levels of activity, the volume and the quality of ideas entering the system. It is also very important to track ideas sharing, engagement, feedback and actual collaboration on top of ideas.
The right KPIs on top of these metrics, can then reflect the current state and also the dynamics of your overall ideation channel.
To establish a powerful innovation culture, you need to [a] inspire teams and individuals to share their ideas [b] properly capture and handle the ideas — ensure they are discoverable by the right teams [c] promote collaboration and an agile process in further exploring these ideas.
And this, requires sophisticated technology and a solid, flexible process.