Monday, April 03, 2006

World Class Idea management

I had the opportunity to hear Sam Stern speak at the American Creativity Conference in Austin two weeks ago. For some reason Sam was the last speaker on a Friday afternoon, which is a bit of a shame, since his was one of the best talks I heard at the conference.

Sam was using stories from his book, Corporate Creativity, to drive home some points about creativity and innovation in the workplace. There were some great stories in his book - I'd encourage you to get it and read it.

Anyway, one of the topics that caught my attention was that Sam talked about the keys to a successful idea management system. Since my firm builds these things, I was interested to see what Sam had to say about idea capture and management systems. I think his criteria are fairly good:

1. The Idea Capture and Management system must be simple to use. He told a story about the US Forest Service having an idea capture document that required four pages! Not surprisingly, very few ideas were captured or recorded. This was changed to a process where ideas were submitted by email. The idea submissions increased by close to a factor of 10.

2. The Idea Capture and Management system must have a bias for action. Otherwise, idea capture systems become cul-de-sacs or container systems. Yes, it's important to capture the idea, but there must be other processes or actions taken, reactively or proactively. Otherwise the idea sits and rots. What action do you require once an idea is captured?

3. The Idea Capture and Management system must reach everyone. Most of the innovations he talks about in his book were accidental innovations or innovations that the corporations tried to shut down, and only stayed alive because small teams worked on their own time. The greater the participation, the more viewpoints that come to light.

4. The Idea Capture and Management system should provide modest rewards. If the rewards are too large, there's too much pressure to "get it right" and ideas never surface. If the rewards are too small, people think their ideas and participation don't matter. The rewards often don't need to be based on money, but on recognition and the opportunity to continue working on interesting things.

5. The Idea Capture and Management system should document and share results. It's unfortunate that many idea capture systems take an idea, and the originator of the idea has little to no knowledge of how the idea is considered, evaluated and judged. Providing information to the originator about the ultimate outcome and how the idea was evaluated makes the person much more likely to contribute again.

In the abstract, I think this is a very good list of features for an idea management system. The list contains concepts about action and idea flow, and incorporating a number of participants. These attributes would have to mean that the culture reinforces the use of such a system, and that the firm has a bias toward action in eeverything it does. These concepts could not work successfully in a firm where one must seek permission, but one where initiative is rewarded.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:40 AM


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