In a previous post, we discussed bringing back the suggestion box to give employees a way to express their creative ideas. But once idea generation is complete and all ideas are collected, however, you’ll need to decide which ones are worth worth acting on.
When it comes to innovation, it’s important to first determine what type of idea is in front of you. There are two main types of innovations–improvements and new directions. Improvements are changes to an existing process for known problems that make the process more efficient or provide the consumer with a better experience. New directions, or potentially disruptive ideas, on the other hand, are not as simple. New directions can address known problems from a new perspective, or address a problem that has not been previously addressed. New directions represent a completely different way of doing things and generally create disruptions to solutions offered within the marketplace. The evolution of home lighting can illustrate the difference between an improvement and a new direction. Initially, lights worked manually with the flip of a switch. An improvement was introduced when the timer was introduced, thus giving consumers the ability to set how long the lights should remain on and at which times. A new direction was introduced when motion sensors and the ability to use a smartphone with wifi to turn the lights on and off were introduced to the market, thus giving the lights themselves the power to turn on or off based on whether people are in the room, and also giving the consumer the ability to control the lights from anywhere they have an internet connection.
When dealing with ideas classified as new directions, a good place to begin to select viable ideas is by pairing people to explore an idea, each taking an opposing side of the issue in order to weigh its strengths and weaknesses and determine the idea’s viability. Let’s say you have a pool of ideas and a group of employees that you want to assign to these ideas in order to analyze them. A simple way to do so is to have each employee select their top 3 ideas from the idea generation process, then pair them up based on their choices. Have both of them analyze the idea together so that all aspects are taken into consideration and all pros and cons are identified. Often times when an individual ponders an idea, they overlook some key detail because they tend to become fixated on a particular detail. But when you add another person into the picture, it becomes a conversation, and fewer details are overlooked.
After the ideas are analyzed in pairs, and some are inevitably thrown out because of cost, time commitment, lack of market need, or other factors, the next step is to present the ideas that made the cut to a larger group of people. The pairs can then present the pros and cons of their selected idea to a larger group, and the group can provide their thoughts to ensure nothing was overlooked when the pair analyzed the idea. The group serves to dive even deeper into the ideas and possibly identify different innovative spaces for idea generation. The group should be comprised of people from different backgrounds and different levels of experience to gain as many different perspectives as possible. Different perspectives allow different details to be brought to light and different potential problems to be addressed. This exercise also serves to show that if the idea can make it past a diverse group of people, then there must really be some merit behind it.
One final step that is to introduce the idea to outsiders who were not present during the idea generation process. This group of outsiders will serve as a control group who can challenge the idea in question from the perspectives of the consumer and the rest of the marketplace. The questions they will bring up will help strengthen the idea and act as a final review to ensure that all possible issues are addressed before action is taken to move forward with the idea. After passing through the outsider analysis step, you can further refine the list of vetted ideas by effort, cost and more to determine which ideas will contribute significantly to the goals of the organization.
Looking back on the process you will see that it starts with analyzing a larger number of ideas in pairs, then the pool of ideas gets smaller and smaller with the introduction of more people to analyze them. At the end of each step, ideas are eliminated as more people interact with them–as the addition of more perspectives adds more potential issues. Eventually the ideas that are not viable are eliminated and you are left with a small number of truly innovative ideas. When the decision is made to collect ideas for innovation, remember that having a great idea is only half of the battle, in order to innovate you must also execute.