Friday, December 09, 2005

It's so esoteric

One of the main challenges I run into when talking to firms and individuals about innovation and idea management is the refrain "It's too esoteric". What I think they mean is that their expectation is that managing innovation is like nailing jello to the wall.

Hmmm. That seems to be a fairly reasonable argument at first blush. How can anyone manage an idea or a concept? These are usually nebulous things, hard to share and hard to pin down concretely. Is it possible to create a steady stream of ideas that are evaluated and eventually launched as new products or services? Won't that be exceptionally difficult?

I guess the answer is: yes, but. Of course that's an answer you'd be more likely to get from an economist or politician, but no one said this was going to be easy. Generating, capturing and evaluating ideas in the absence of a process and collaborative systems is a very difficult thing to do. It's even more difficult if the management team doesn't take it seriously.

But what if the management team does take it seriously? What if there are motivations to generate, capture and manage ideas, and convert them into valuable products and services? Seems to me that Intel, P&G, 3M and a lot of other firms are doing this on a fairly routine basis. 3M has a goal that 50% of its revenue will come from products developed within the last three years. P&G has a stated goal that 50% of it's revenue will come from ideas generated outside the company. Do you think these firms (and others) would establish public goals, especially ones tied to revenue and profit, if they thought this was difficult or impossible to do?

I think people fear idea management and innovation because there's a significant number of ideas that simply won't pan out, and they'll be labelled as a failure if their ideas don't work. Didn't Edison know 1800 ways not to build a lightbulb? That didn't stop him, however. And what's not so well known about Edison is that he had metrics and expectations for the number of inventions his team would create, and a timeframe. He expected to create one minor invention every three weeks, and one major invention every three months. He also determined to only work on ideas that he believed there was a strong market for, and those ideas could become valuable products.

If Edison, 3M and P&G think innovation can become a sustainable, repeatable process, and have demonstated they can do it, what's so esoteric about it? What's left is the will to change the culture of your firm, establish a process and get started.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:42 AM

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