Monday, March 05, 2007

Ideas in Context

One of the interesting challenges that innovation presents is that ideas are often "out of context". That is, ideas may be generated by people who are not responsible for their implementation, or ideas may appear but their scope and value are not clearly defined. When ideas are submitted with no context, they are difficult to evaluate and often don't move through the ideation process. If left without correction, eventually the idea management system becomes overloaded with interesting but ultimately useless ideas that simply sit in the system. This eventually leads to the decision that the system isn't working.

There are two ways to create context for innovation. The first is to publish a challenge or problem that needs to be solved. In this context, a team submits a challenge that the business faces or a problem that needs to be solved. The team also indicates the parameters of the solution, if applicable, and how the outcomes should be measured. So a challenge might look like this:

We are losing customers to Competitor X's new online portal. Our team requires new ideas to attract our old customers back to our portal and attract Competitor X's existing customers and prospects as well. A great idea will be measured based on its viability, it's ability to attract customers to the portal, the cost to implement, our ability to implement and the expected measurable increase in portal members.

By creating a defined challenge or problem, you can indicate:

  • What the significant challenges the business is facing, so ideation is working on your most significant challenges
  • What a solution might look like without limiting ideas
  • How the solution will be evaluated, so ideas that don't pass these screens are less likely to be submitted
This provides much more focused ideation and more actionable ideas.

The second method to provide context is to ask the submitter for the context, evaluation criteria and measurement. Rather than simply allow individuals to submit ideas for the business, they need to also provide information regarding how the idea should be evaluated, what the measurable benefit will be to the business, the estimated effort and time to implement the idea and what part of the business will benefit. Too many suggestion boxes allow people to submit ideas with no context. Forcing the submitters to create the context will encourage more focus around the ideas and provide more direction for the idea evaluators. The obvious challenge with this approach is that each submitter determines what is important and drives the criteria, rather than the business providing focus.

Whether you use a focused challenge or an open suggestion box, developing the context for the ideas you capture will make your innovation process significantly more effective.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:45 AM


Anonymous James Todhunter said...

The notion of establishing a firm context for innovation is very important. All too often, organizations encourage and seek input from both internal and external sources without considering how to frame the discourse. The inevitable result is that either these organizations receive no input because potential contributors are unsure of the meaning of the request, or the organization is buried in feedback that they don’t know how to filter.

This second situation is common enough to have given rise to an entire vendor segment serving the needs of companies who believe, in vain, if there was only a better way to manage all the great ideas they were getting, their innovation problems would be solved. Sadly for these companies, it is not so easy.

The context of innovation is essential to categorizing and evaluating concepts. Only when this is understood, can companies hope to begin breaking the pattern of accidental innovation.

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