To streamline and accelerate innovation, companies need to integrate flexible processes and leverage advanced idea management technologies.
Regardless of the approach – build in-house or utilize a SaaS offering – a good ideation platform should be effectively connecting the ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ of ideas — either within the boundaries of the organisation or beyond (e.g., in an open innovation scenario).
In all cases, ‘innovators’ should be able to easily share their ideas at any point in time, while ‘innovation consumers’ – all those who could benefit from ideas in the context of the organisation e.g., product managers – should be able to easily discover ideas that match their context.
“A good ideation platform should be ‘smart’ enough to diffuse ideas through the right channels, at the right time; it should be able to route each idea depending on its context and notify the right ‘innovation consumers’.”
But what makes a good ideation platform? What are the key principles and the essential features? The following summarizes a set of principles that can help companies to implement an effective idea management process — either on top of commercial innovation management systems or based on in-house implementations.
- Always Accessible
“What if the ‘big idea’ comes out of context, from a non-participant or after the deadline?”
Employees usually share their ideas through innovation activities and events — e.g., ideation contests, hackathons, brainstorming sessions, or ‘calls to innovate’ by the leadership. In such cases, ideas come in alignment with a frame of reference set by the leadership – e.g., specific problem statements or innovation themes.
In many cases though, ideas are conceived and shaped without a trigger or a particular ask: Great ideas can come as just-in-time discoveries, or conceptions of solutions to, not only known but also ‘new’ problems. Although such ideas may seem less relevant or even disconnected from business goals, companies should pay the necessary attention and handle these ideas as potential opportunities: an out-of-context idea (one that is not aligned with the strategy of the company) could prove to be so powerful to set a new focus area, a new direction for the company. Modern organisations should be open to the element of surprise — they should be always ‘listening’ for high-potential ideas even if they don’t align with current strategies and priorities.
“People should feel encouraged to share ‘random’, crazy ideas at any time.”
A good ideation channel should be always-on; it should be able to effectively capture any idea and trigger the right activity — for instance, to notify the most relevant teams, or invite the community of innovators for feedback and contribution.
- Everlasting Ideas
“Many great ideas come ahead of their time. Thus, they should remain accessible and discoverable — to be reassessed in the right context at the right time.”
The principle here is that ideas should not expire or get archived — unless the originator wishes to withdraw them. Ideas should be considered always ‘active’, ready to be re-discovered by the right team, in the right context, at the right time. Instead of deleting or filtering-out ideas to reduce the ‘noise’, innovation teams should prioritise them intelligently, against different business intents and timelines.
“Strict rules, bureaucracy, and rigid linear processes can slow-down or even kill innovation.”
A modern ideation platform should accept and handle ideas, even if they come semi-structured or as plain text. Instead of discouraging ideators by asking for all the information upfront, a modern ideation channel should be welcoming draft ideas, through a simple, user-friendly process.
Ideators should feel empowered to submit their early, rough ideas and then use the tools and utilities offered by the platform to further model and refine them — possibly with the inputs of fellow innovators and stakeholders.
Using Natural Language Processing technologies, a modern ideation system should be able to process unstructured text, extract the entities, and retrieve the context — which is then used to orchestrate the idea enrichment process and also to identify the right stakeholders that should become aware of the idea.
“Transparency is the basis of a ‘healthy competition’ innovation culture.”
The ideation platform must provide full transparency regarding the underlying business rules and processes. Users should be able to access the detailed history of their ideas — including all the changes, decision points, contribution history, selection and prioritisation actions, and other significant updates. Ideas should encapsulate their evolution — the detailed history of changes – through a versioning system.
“Discoverability is much more than a good search engine.”
A great ideation platform maintains a growing corpus of interlinked ideas — as a special form of knowledge and a source of opportunities for the organisation — and allows innovators to browse this ‘repository of potential opportunities’ in personalised ways.
“Ideas should be seen and managed as a special form of knowledge.”
In an obvious scenario, ‘innovation consumers’ query the ‘corpus of ideas’ using natural language: search operations use semantic matching of ideas to the user’s context — profile, business title, role in the company — to implicitly personalise the search experience and set the right focus.
In a more advanced scenario, a smart ideation platform may trigger idea suggestions autonomously. For instance, by connecting to existing product backlogs it can become ‘aware’ of the context of ongoing product development efforts and use this context to recommend highly relevant and fresh ideas to different product owners according to their development plans.
Moreover, a modern ideation platform should be using internal and external signals to empower a smart ‘idea discovery function’ — by regularly reassessing the relevance and the importance of the entire corpus of ideas against the current context of the organisation and the state of the market.
- Objective Assessment of Ideas
“All ideas must be objectively evaluated as potential ‘innovation opportunities.’”
Idea assessment must be done by a diverse group of experts and according to a well-defined system of evaluation criteria — which are visible to all. Furthermore, a good idea management system should support ideation processes with optional, conditional anonymity, based on a time frame or other conditions. This would also allow ideators to ‘test’ their ‘crazy’ idea and capture authentic feedback — which is not influenced by the identity of the ideator — a great way to reduce the bias observed when the owner of the idea is known and influential in the organisation.
- Interlinked Ideas
“A graph of semantically interlinked ideas allows novelty estimation and synthesis of various ideas in solving a single problem.”
Identifying how particular ideas relate to each other is essential — especially when ideation happens at scale. For instance, ideas may overlap (they solve the same problem in a similar way) or compete (they solve the same problem in a different way) or extend each other (they solve different aspects of the same problem). When a new idea is submitted, specialised components analyse its similarity and its relationship against the entire corpus of ideas and guide the user to consider the best route — for instance, to merge, combine, split the idea or keep it as stand-alone, as a ‘novel’ idea in the corpus.
- Effective Collaboration
“A good ideation platform sets the basis for growing an active community of innovators.”
When the right innovation culture is there, ideas evolve and mature — they receive feedback and contributions from others. A good ideation channel promotes collaboration and provides the means to allow ideators to work together on ideas — through feedback or creative contributions.
As ideas mature, collaboration may need to become more formal — e.g., a team with the right skills might be needed to prototype or otherwise test the concept. In an ideal scenario, the ideation channel uses the ‘understanding’ of the idea and the ‘knowledge’ of the organisation and the innovation community to recommend the right colleagues as potential contributors — along with the tools to simplify and facilitate the communication among innovators.
- Smart Notifications
“In large corporations, the identification of the right stakeholders could become complicated.”
Handling a high-potential business idea might require input from multiple stakeholders — for instance, the CPO, product managers, commercial experts, R&D technologists, and even legal experts if there are IP opportunities. A modern innovation management platform should be able to scan the hierarchy of the corporation, its inner structures, particular roles, and business profiles, in order to identify the right stakeholders for any given idea.
This way, when a new idea is submitted, the system can automatically raise personalised notifications to the right stakeholders or, when a user edits a new idea, the system can recommend stakeholders to consider.
A good idea management platform must provide a solid measurement framework – the data-capturing methods along with accurate reporting and insights regarding multiple aspects of the ideation process.
Executives should be able to instantly obtain the state of the corpus of ideas — e.g., statistics describing ideas by topic and function, by status, quality level etc. Beyond the state of the corpus, a set of well-defined performance dashboards is also a must-have – to present levels of activity, idea submission rates, collaboration levels, feedback activity levels, idea conversion rates and more.
Modern ideation platforms need to be open, to expose functionality and data through APIs: ideas, process performance, business insights, and other aspects of the idea management function, need to be available for other corporate systems to query and use.
For example, a ‘smart’ corporate building -one that leverages sensors, equipment, and software to interact with people in it – could consume the ideation APIs, to power interactive scenarios with employees and teams. For instance, to retrieve the most recent ideation activities or the ‘ideators of the month’ and present them on specific connected screens in the office space. In another example, content authoring tools query the ideation platform for ‘innovation activity summaries’ to be shared as part of a regular ‘innovation newsletter’. In a gamification context, other corporate channels – such as the innovation portal or a team collaboration system – query the ideation platform for the latest ‘leader boards’ of top-performing innovators or the latest high-potential ideas or problems-worth solving – which are then communicated to a broader audience.
Corporate innovation needs a strong supply of high-quality ideas that feed into an effective ‘innovation opportunity discovery’ process. Driving the supply of high-quality, high-potential ideas is not an easy task: it requires processes that are simple, inclusive, flexible, and objective; it needs effective communication to inspire people but also the methods to manage the risk of ‘internal disruption.’ While these can be covered by a modern innovation platform implementing the above principles, companies also need the right innovation culture along with a general organisational readiness to react to high-potential innovation opportunities.