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Where are the best ideas hiding?

Posted 5 years ago

It’s the dilemma of every innovation program: how to find quality ideas that will add significant value to the organisation.

We all know that ideas are a ‘dime a dozen’, so what are the best ways to discover the best ideas?

In this post we look at two often hidden hazards to be aware of when trying to optimise outcomes from ideation activities.

Who’s in the room?

A popular ideation technique is to pose challenges.

Challenge-based approaches start by identifying the key challenges that an organisation is facing and articulating each problem as a ‘challenge statement’. This is then circulated among stakeholders, such as employees, with a request for ideas to solve that particular challenge within a set time frame. Sometimes workshop-style events are run to bring groups of people together to ‘brainstorm’ ideas that could potentially solve challenges.

Challenge rounds are great for harnessing all that brain energy.

The question that inevitably arises, however, is this one: will the challenge approach generate the best ideas? The answer is – not always. Let me give you an example to demonstrate why.

Imagine you are sitting around a boardroom table, someone poses a challenge and people put forward their thoughts for a solution. Those ideas are what I would call ‘top of mind’ ideas. And, depending on who is in the room, the most senior person might dominate the responses and influence the direction of the thinking.

The responses might also be very similar because the backgrounds of the people in the room are similar. We’re drawn to people who are just like ourselves, so we might not dig deep for alternative ideas.

I believe the objective of facilitated ideation is to find ‘outlier’ ideas which are different and unique. Outlier is a scientific term for describing anything that lies outside normal experience. When we’re digging for diamonds, outlier ideas are the colourful gems! They’re the ones suggested by the people not usually responsible for dealing with the problem, and from further away they see the situation quite differently.

I particularly love it when we have the recent graduate, the receptionist and the accountant in the room with technical personnel when we’re running ideation activities for clients. The light bulb moments are almost audible!

Skimming the surface

Another hazard that can delay the realisation of valuable ideas is when the ideation process shifts too quickly onto an action plan. With rapid divergence into ‘priority ideas’, what tends to happen is that those ideas with the most available information (or which senior management support the most) are the ones that are selected to be developed.

Richer outcomes emerge when we understand that some ideas could have enormous potential even if we can’t see much below the surface or have supporting information about them. These iceberg ideas need their own selection process before being cast adrift.

A previous post on this blog talks a bit more about different pathways for ideas.

To gain the most value from whichever type of ideation approach you take, be aware of what might influence your direction and don’t be afraid to give obscure ideas some exposure. The most brilliant of ideas might just come from where you’d least expect.

Impact Innovation’s tailored and kickstarter services can help you navigate the ideation stage of innovation. Our Brightidea platform is another terrific tool for coordinating ideation outcomes and managing the development process. Contact us for more ideas to help you chart the right course.

– Brian Ruddle, Managing Director

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