The word idea is a loaded term, and it’s easy to become fixated on the ideation part, especially since the products are often called “idea management tools”. But a well-developed platform, firmly established in a company, enables much more than just ideation. The same structured process can be used for a wide array of business activities.
The power of the tool is its ability to handle scale and a distributed workforce, matched with a rigorous way to manage the content generated. But instead of collecting ideas, why not collect insights or problems? Collecting those in a small group of people in the same room can be immensely effective, but being able to do it with ten thousand people across the globe - reaching into areas of the business otherwise isolated from these activities - is potentially game changing.
The first step is to acknowledge that valuable input comes from anywhere in the business, and not just the typical homes of creativity and innovation. For example, why not ask your sales and marketing teams what they are hearing from customers and prospects? These individuals are on the front-line and have some of the best insights into the mind of the customer. The input can be sorted and ranked quickly, and conclusions can spark clear challenges where idea campaigns should be run.
A generic process not just for ideation
Defining the problem
Most companies, and indeed individuals, are not short of ideas - but they are often short of knowing exactly where to ideate. As Albert Einstein reminds us, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes determining the problem, and 5 minutes on the solution”. Once a company knows precisely which problem to target, it typically has all of the necessary ingredients to solve it. Yet it is still not a common practice for companies to use their innovation tools to discover the problem areas on a mass scale.
At the center of any innovation is a coming together of two key aspects: making a problem known and identifiable, and combining fragments of input (ideas, insights, facts) into a single concept. A P&G example shows the potency of this:
“Research showed that about 80% of consumers in India wash their clothes by hand. They had to choose between detergents that were relatively gentle on the skin but not very good at actually cleaning clothes, and more-potent but harsher agents. With the problem clearly identified, in 2009 a team came up with Tide Naturals, which cleaned well without causing irritation … [it] has helped to significantly increase Tide’s share in India.”
- Harvard Business Review, June 2011
Campaigns are an ideal tool for gathering input first, allowing people to suggest broad areas of interest, attach and reference research and data, and highlight known expertise. This input can be quickly sorted into groups, ranked according to suitability or other criteria, and then used as the basis for a follow-up idea campaign. Running these insight campaigns enables companies to generate volumes of rich data which can be mined and searched on an on-going basis, and it also continues to demonstrate openness to the audience, welcoming the perspectives of all employees.
Innovation as a central utility
At HYPE, we have seen clients using their collaborative innovation platforms with this purpose, and in many more inventive and disruptive ways. We are seeing, for example, an on-going increase in the direction of cost saving and continuous improvement. We call thisinnovating your business, and strongly recommend it because of the fast return on investment - cost saving ideas and process improvement tweaks can often be implemented quickly, which allow the program to gain momentum, and bring sponsors and employees on side.
The biggest challenge and, at the same time the biggest opportunity we have seen, is the notion of innovation as a utility, powered by a collaborative innovation platform. Many companies now have a central team responsible for driving innovation, usually home to the Chief Innovation Officer. These teams are typically small, and not provided with deep pockets of money or resources. However, they have the tools and mandate to make a sustained impact. They promote the use of campaigns to help business units innovate, allowing the sponsors to reach out widely across the business, in a familiar and consistent way. Furthermore, they follow a well managed and structured process for dealing with the input received, and handle the critical follow-up steps.
Central innovation teams can act like a Swiss Army Knife, with an array of capabilities for boosting innovation. With a platform in place and well organized, companies can run frequent large scale initiatives with minimal cost and effort. The innovation team is able to handle a diverse array of requests, from pure idea generation, to process improvements, knowledge sharing, expert identification, needs and resource exchange, to open innovation with partners, suppliers, and customers.
This notion, of going beyond ideas and creating a process to do so at scale and in a reliable way, with a central utility built around it, is the challenge we see companies racing to overcome.
Ideas are the easy part, seek out more insights, problems, opportunities
Identifying problems and gathering perspectives on them leads to innovation
The tool offers a generic process for many use cases
Companies are innovating their business, not just products
- A successful platform can enable innovation as a utility for companies
(This post was originally published on LinkedIn here)