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So where do ideas come from? The most popular one is the ‘voice of the customer’ yet this is one of the many ‘voices’ that need to be allowed to speak.

In this fuzzy front end of innovation where ideas are generated, there are many places we can ‘discover and listen’ to the voices that will provide concrete ideas and concepts. Let’s take the time to recognize these and ask you, the reader, do you have a systematic plan to capture all these voices?

The Voice of the Customer

The most talked about place to find the ideas that are closer and relevant are the search for new ideas around the jobs needing to be done (jtbd). We get closer to these voices when we use a variety of techniques that give this voice its chance to speak. We do this through customer focus groups, user panels, customer surveys, lead-user research, direct observation of the user in their environment, and allowing ourselves to become fully immersed in a customer’s experience.  

You can read What if customers evaluated your company’s ideas? posted by Hutch Carpenter or Want to be Successful at Innovation? Start exploring your Customers’ “Jobs to be done”! posted by Elena Ozeritskaya  and so many more within the Hype blog around “jobs to be done” or “ideation” but please don’t forget the many other voices that need to be heard and the thinking behind these voices captured as they are equally of potentially great value.

The Voice of the Value Chain

We can gather plenty of ideas when we have visits to our suppliers and listen to their engineering, their specialists that work with our products or the production of the materials, even work alongside their product development staff as they often have broader industry exposure than we do, within our own organization. We can construct more formal cooperative and technology agreements and exchanges with our suppliers to find new ways to collaborate.

Also by spending time ‘in the field or market place’ we can discuss with the many players in the distribution system (distributors, wholesalers, customers, final retailers or those closest to our final point of sale. We can then ourselves look at all the stages along the value chain for opportunities to innovate in different ways. Just imagine all the collaborators working with your company that have knowledge that would contribute.


The Voices within the Organization

The more your innovation strategy is known internally the more likely you are to focus your opportunity investigations and draw out those rich ‘nuggets’ that lie somewhere within your organizations experiences or insights. You can deliberately organize an operational capabilities audit to see what it might reveal in improvements or fresh ideas.

The attraction of brainstorming both within your functional and cross-functional groups can offer so much but the brainstorming techniques need to generate excitement and be seen as well worth the time and engagement, otherwise these can fail badly. Often we miss the chance to systematically and equally on ad hoc occasions talk with the sales team in some structured ways to reveal their insights.

We should also remember many of the employee’s at the company might be users and will certainly offer an opinion that might provide some very frank and honest feedback.  Of course, there is that tried and tested new product idea suggestion scheme or contest but these do need to really offer something, besides money to gain real contributors value. Lastly you might want to build or tap into a company idea bank.

The Voice of the Industry

We often ignore what is going on around us, many companies don’t really have good intelligence gathering systems, they tend to stay within very limited silo’s. There is absolutely no reason for this as the capturing of trends, of new patents, reading prospectus or annual reports can yield much that can generate fresh ideas and point to future directions. Often a company belongs to numerous professional associations yet those attending fail to pick up some possible ideas as they feel this is not their job, we need to make it theirs.

The number of technical conferences that people within the organization attend gives such a productive source of insights but are they actually being ‘fed back’ into the system or just stay with the attendee alone?

Then how often is your organization participating in different standards committees, where you are often given great clues of the ‘collective’ thinking of trends, issues, roadblocks that might all lead to breakthrough ideas to gain real competitive advantage.

The key to all of these being well-captured is putting to use the idea management software and make it mandatory those that attend and engage come back and ‘file’ a ideas report for those responsible for product or service development get the chance to ‘touch and feel’ the ideas emerging around them.

Voice of the Experts

So many consultants, training professionals, advisors are interacting daily with your company, are you tapping into this source of knowledge? Do you consider setting up focus groups with industry experts; take time out to tap into a consulting practice for its broader expertise deliberately for extracting ideas. Do you work with universities or individual facility members who can contribute different thinking and provide a rich source of knowledge?

Do you think about setting up some specific dedicated time for ‘walking around’ ideas with your research companies or consultants? Do you ever allow for providing a dedicated time that puts the product ‘brief’ on one side for the moment and just talks and exchanges? How often do you make contact through venture and equity fund that specialise in your industry and how these can offer up some very focused insights into your thinking.

Lastly within our experts the relationships with government labs and private R&D labs are very engaged in leading edge concepts and knowing and understanding these can dramatically alter your own perceptions.


Then we have the voice of Secondary Research

It always staggers me how academic papers are shunned and discounted yet offer such a rich source of insights and investigation. Of course Google and the many different internet search engines can yield some interesting ideas but how often do we never dedicate the time or fail to go past the second or third page. I have found on page 8 or even ten often a search item that dramatically alters my thinking. These searches take time on the internet and you do have to stay focused and disciplined to extract all that you can as the ‘search strands’ can often take you so widely off course you wonder how you got there.

Of course you have trade articles, white papers; competitor’s analysis, trade press clippings, but I wonder how systematic you really are in these? You should be.

Lastly patent scans can be deadly boring, try doing those across twenty or so countries in multiple languages, it can be tough but thankfully these searches are getting easier, just go and visit the Pharmaceutical or Computer / internet related organizations to understand their leading practice in this and how strategically import this is to them. It will make your efforts seem minuscule in comparison.


Ideas can come from so many places - are you systematically listening?

We think of idea management systems in such narrow ways. Strategically across your organization you should find ways where all ideas can get captured, where everyone working within the organization knows contributing knowledge, insights, intelligence and thinking can make a contribution.

Do you have a clear and precise plan to capture all those ideas that are whirling around or are so many ideas just left ignored, never captured or simply drowned out by your fixation and focus only upon the sources that might just be scratching the surface?

Perhaps you should give the many voices the chance to be heard? 

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Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft researches and works across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provides possible answers to many issues associated with innov