As companies continue to evolve their business strategies to become more social and collaborative, the role of ideation is more important than ever. Customers are eager to provide feedback and share ideas and they are using social channels to do so (either solicited or unsolicited). The more enlightened brands are finding various ways to engage with their customers to capture such feedback. From specific, targeted campaigns to broader ideation initiatives, companies must realize that some thought needs to be put into this process in order to avoid the common pitfalls of poorly executed ideation efforts: very few breakthrough ideas, no follow-up or commitment-to-act on the part of the company, and lack of clarity on how the results will be used.
At Lithium, we understand that great ideas can come from anywhere; it is not limited to the confines of a select group of individuals or experts. Developing a successful approach to ideation is much more than simply announcing to the world that you are open to ideas. It requires thoughtful consideration of what questions you want to explore, how you will organize/filter the ideas and your plan for implementation. This may sound like a lot of work but in fact we have developed an approach to ideation that makes it easy to understand and provides a solid framework for any organization who wants to implement such an approach.
One of the most important factors to ensure long term success of any innovation strategy is having the right the corporate culture. Without a permanent change in culture it can be difficult to sustain this strategy beyond a few initial activities. There are many factors which drive culture change but perhaps none is more important that support from the top management of the company. Many of the most innovative companies in the world (Apple, P&G, IBM) have sustained innovation over time because of the dedication of their leadership, starting with the CEO.
Successful ideation relies on three key steps that an organization must undergo as shown in the figure below. These steps are defined as Generation, Selection and Implementation. Organizations must be prepared to manage each step and have the appropriate people and processes in place.
Figure 1. Key Internal Steps to Manage Ideation
Step 1 – GENERATION
The process of ideation is not a generic one and can be broken down into various modes, depending on the needs of the organization. By looking at these various modes, they can provide additional opportunities to leverage ideation beyond the standard ‘suggestion box’ type of approach. For many companies, using ideation to address a particular problem or need is often a good place to start. Most companies can readily identify these types of needs – the key decision is whether they lend themselves to an ideation approach. Beyond problem-solving there are two other important opportunities for using ideation: consumer insights and core competencies. Consumer insights in the context of ideation refer to using principles of traditional market research (such as surveys and focus groups) and applying them in the context of a collaborative idea-sharing environment. Surveys are effective, albeit with a few limitations: respondents cannot see other replies (to comment on or vote up/down) and the response rate tends to be very low. Focus groups are effective but can never reach the scale of online ideation due to cost constraints and other factors which prevent them from accessing a larger pool of participants. Core competencies, in the context of ideation, refer to leveraging ideation to build upon a company’s capabilities. In this type of ideation the organization is seeking new markets or new applications for existing products/services.
Figure 2. Different approaches to generate ideas
Step 2 – SELECTION
Selection of the best ideas begins well before the ideation process has even started. It’s important to know by what criteria the ideas will be evaluated, who in the organization will be involved in reviewing the ideas, and what is the process for handing over the top ideas to the appropriate internal teams for implementation or further evaluation. A well-designed selection process starts with the use of labels and tags to organize the ideas into meaningful groups. As ideas are received, employees or other experts could be allowed to tag the ideas to provide an additional layer of filtration. For example, labels could be organized along product lines (phone, tablet, laptop) and tags could be one level down and focused on features (display, interface, operating system) and/or attributes (lightweight, portable, long battery life, easy navigation). As ideas move through the process of labeling and tagging, the next key step is prioritization to ensure the most important ideas are carried forward for implementation.
Figure 3. Example Filtration / Selection process
Step 3 – IMPLEMENTATION
Implementation depends on an organization’s capacity to take the top ideas and work on them and also on an organization having the right workflows in place such that the appropriate groups participate at the right time in all three ideation steps. The design of these workflows (which call out specific roles and areas of responsibility) is very important for companies complete before they launch any ideation initiative. These roles called out in the workflow plan must be willing to accept new ideas from outside the company and could be incentivized or otherwise recognized for their willingness to adopt this new approach. An often-used term in ideation is “proudly found elsewhere”, which is the opposite of “not invented here” (an attitude which is still seen in many companies).
In conclusion, ideation is a very useful strategy for customer and employee engagement and companies that have seen success in this area have put the effort to establish workflows and criteria for evaluating the results and taking action on the best ideas. In addition, clear and regular communication all the participants in the ideation process is important to not only let them know where the ideas stand (for example: accepted, rejected, under review) but to keep them motivated to want to submit more ideas in the future.
EXAMPLES OF LITHIUM CUSTOMERS USING IDEATION:
Cesar is currently Director, Social Strategy Consulting, at Lithium Technologies. His strategic consulting experience includes business strategy, innovation strategy, and social strategy. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Silicon Valley Immersion Program at the University of San Francisco School of Management where his lecture topics include the following subjects: Global Innovation, Design for Innovation, and Preparing the Corporate Culture for Innovation. He is a former Research Director at the Institute for the Future (IFTF). Before joining IFTF, Cesar served as VP of Business Development at InnoCentive, one of the leading open innovation platforms that was originally launched by Eli Lilly and Company.
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