It is a question heard around the world. Where did all of those great ideas really go? Like you, I find it intrinsically satisfying to share ideas that can improve how we carry out our work. But, while this exchange of ideas is a fundamental component of knowledge work — bringing those ideas to life can prove challenging. Many of us have the opportunity to share ideas; whether in team meetings, off-site conferences or brainstorming sessions. But, what really happens to all of those promising ideas once collected?
While we place great emphasis on innovation in today’s world of work — the fact remains that many worthy ideas will never see the light of day. I would venture to say that many organizations have a back-log of great ideas, languishing untouched and undeveloped. Ultimately, we likely do a good job of generating ideas. But utilizing them effectively — well that can be quite a different story.
Forward progress is just as much about managing the ideas we generate, than any other element in the dynamic. Many worthy ideas fail to become reality, because we fail to utilize a process robust enough to properly select and implement them effectively. In many cases, we are stymied as to how to wade through that mountain of collected ideas.
One key problem is the tendency to view idea management as a spontaneously occurring event — when in fact, we need to employ a winning process to ensure success.
A few topics to consider:
- Build trust. In the cultural scheme, if there isn’t an adequate level of trust within the working team, it is nearly impossible to evaluate ideas effectively. To begin evaluating ideas, the stage has to be set for an open and honest discussion. If we are wary of bucking authority and voicing all sides of the story, we can land in trouble. Pixar calls this cultural element the “Braintrust” — the notion of offering an “unvarnished” opinion to move idea development along effectively.
- Complete a postmortem. Carefully consider worthy ideas that never reached their full potential — what caused this to happen? Was the idea not properly communicated? Inadequately defined roles in the field? Lack of data concerning value? Use this information strategically, going forward.
- Connect ideas with mission & vision. An idea floating in the stratosphere can have little meaning to the work your organization completes. So, offer context, to properly identify idea potential. Attempt to connect an idea with desired end-states that align with company mission and vision. How can the idea provide a route to valued goals?
- Narrow the field. At some point we have to focus on the ideas that are worthy enough to devote valuable time and resources. For that to occur, you must develop selection criteria relevant to your team and the situation at hand. (For example, ideas that meet an urgent need or those with the greatest potential to impact customers.) Without these criteria, you cannot move forward. (See other selection techniques here.)
- Don’t look for a single “winner”. One trouble we encounter with idea management, we tend to narrow the focus quite quickly to one path — when it’s likely there is more than one great idea circulating. One idea really does not have to “win”? You can often combine ideas, to enhance product development or service improvement.
- Capture potential value. To drive your idea home, take the time to draft a “business case” which adds dimension and clearly outlines future cost and benefit. As discussed by Microsoft, this can serve as an integral step in the evaluation process.
- Find an owner. Yes, just like people, ideas need guidance and care to develop fully. So identify an owner — and make this choice by aligning with interests and passion. Offer the role to a team member who believes in the idea, and can envision its potential.
- Give things time. Great ideas have the potential to turn the normal state of affairs “upside down” and trigger a powerful emotional response. As discussed here, ideas need to be fully digested before we can act on them effectively. Take this into consideration when planning any implementation phase. A little patience may be entirely in order.
What at strategies are you utilizing to manage ideas and bring more of them into the fold? Weigh in here.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and workplace strategist. She also writes at Linkedin.