Visualize this: 13th October, Friday. 2017. It is late in the evening. The office is empty. Surrounded by a deafening silence, it has an eerie aura attached to it. All the lights are either dim or switched off, two are flickering in a rhythmic harmony, and there are faint voices coming from a meeting room in the far corner of the office floor across a long dark corridor. As the man approaches the door nimble-footed, he is scared to open the door. *screech* - he opens the door and he can see 7 pairs of eyes gazing at him. He is 3 minutes late for the meeting! This is a meeting of all the team members called by the product head to bang their brains together and pivot some of the product’s offerings because it wasn’t doing as well as it was expected to do among its users. As the ideas start flowing in and coagulating on the whiteboard which the 8 attendees are facing, déjà vu strikes the man who walked in tip-toed at the end. “I have seen this before earlier”, he wonders. The ideas (now organized under the labels of green, yellow, and red) are not new to him. None of this is. Sitting with his team members, discussing ideas to better the product, because of an increasing trend of customer complaints, one late evening, or early night if you will, and coming up with these ideas – these exact ideas.
No, this isn’t the build-up to a short Friday the 13th horror story. Or maybe it is – if you call brainstorming the same ideas nothing less than horror! How many times do you come across such a situation (minus the imagery and hyperbole) where you observe the same ideas getting repeatedly discussed because earlier when they were discussed, they didn’t seem contextually relevant and never saw the light of the day? Idea management could be the answer to avoid such eerie instances. Idea management tools help, as the name suggests, to manage ideas; and potentially foster innovation. There are multiple tools which exist for idea management, such as Acuvate, Bright Idea, Codigital, Idea Spotlight, Ideanote, OIEngine, QMarkets and Spigit, among others.
Idea management tools facilitate collective innovation (by crowd-sourcing ideas), tracking of ideas (more like an idea tracking system), and transparency (everybody is apprised with their progress)
These tools facilitate collective innovation (by crowd-sourcing ideas), tracking of ideas (more like an idea tracking system), and transparency (everybody is apprised with their progress). More often than not, ideation is a very team-specific activity. Idea management tools allow the business to crowd-source ideas for every required project from everywhere in the organization. Sometimes the most uncanny and unexpected sources come up with the most innovative ideas. What these tools also do, most importantly, is ensure the ideas do not get lost. Their progress is tracked, and it is told in the open if they are put down mid-way the development stage if found unfeasible. And since they are tracking systems, teams can go back to certain problem statements which have been discussed earlier and find ideas to solve those problems. They may not have been relevant then (due to timing or budgets) but may come in very handy now. AT&T, for instance, used an idea management tool, Spigit to use “crowdfunding ideation to drive new products, earning over $44M in seed funding.” Its application is not only limited to product development, academicians can use them for crowdsourcing ideas on a subject and organize those ideas into meaningful research papers. Harvard Business School opened Open Forum – a platform powered by Ideo’s OIEngine, another idea management tool. The end outcome was the creation and publication of “The Capitalist Dilemma” by Clay Christensen – an influential management thinker.
Idea management may sound like another one of those functional areas that is nothing but an expansive name for a project management tool. But research shows that innovation is a science and, if approached in a systemic and scientific way, idea management could give the organization that competitive edge it is always seeking. An analysis of data of 3.5 million employees from 154 public companies using an idea management tool (Spigit), the researchers discovered the four variables that drive the ideation rate are:
Number of participants
This is a reflection of scale. The more the participants in the ideation process, the more will be the number of ideas generated. The research found that for every four participants in the system, companies generate one idea.
Number of ideas
This is a reflection of frequency. The frequent the company creates “idea challenges” which are prompts for the employees to participate, the more ideas are generated. One idea (worth implementing) is generated per five idea candidates, on an average.
Number of evaluators
This is about engagement. The more the feedback on the ideas, the successful the idea management system will be and the better chances at innovation (whether incremental or disruptive). The more people evaluating ideas, the better chances at innovation!
Number of types of people ideating
Cognitive diversity in idea-contributors results in more ideas. An idea management tool needs ideas from a diverse group of people to be successful and foster innovation.
Four variables affect the ability to generate better ideas – Number of participants, ideas, evaluators, and types of people ideating
Organizations can be classified into separate clusters when it comes to innovation – a)organizations which have a structured innovation program; b)organizations which innovate but have not structured it; c)organizations which do not innovate at all. Idea management tools can help each category. Automate manual processes and make the ideation process transparent and reduce leakages in the pipeline for type a); introduce an automated structured process for type b); and encourage type c) to innovate. Polaris, for example, belongs to the type a) category. An idea management tool made its Ideate Innovate program efficient and helped the company achieve an “80% reduction in time needed to analyse, graduate, and implement new ideas and inventions, changing their R&D process and time to market dramatically.” It gives them a huge competitive edge in the vehicle market. They have already come up with 4 cutting-edge vehicles that are bestsellers in the ATV market, says their case study.
A type b) organization has adopted an idea management tool.
Monday. 2nd April 2018. They are not brainstorming. Nobody has déjà vu. They just pick up leftover ideas from the previous meeting listed in the idea management tool and directly get to discussing the execution and action points for all. It feels like a great start to the financial year for the product.