Ideas ≠ Innovation


Imagine a suggestion box. You've seen them ... at a restaurant, inside an employee cafeteria, on the factory floor, maybe in the waiting room of a hospital. "Have a suggestion? An idea? Something we can improve? Just fill out this form and deposit it *here* - in this suggestion box." Simple, right?

Well, imagine that same suggestion box being available in digital form to an employee team of 120,000 colleagues. Or maybe one million customers. Or a massive global list of suppliers. INFORMATION OVERLOAD!  Lots of Noise, very little Signal. Instead of a solution, it's created a big, problem.

This is the reality in the era of crowdsourcing and idea solicitation websites: hundreds (or sometimes many thousands) of ideas that are not organized in any meaningful way for you, for your team, or for your organization. Sure, you might know the most "popular" ideas - maybe you had a voting round for favourite ideas online. Or you may even know the top suggestion themes - perhaps you had the ability to filter the submitted ideas for emergent themes with natural language text analysis software. You may discover an idea that will provide an incremental improvement. But do you know which suggestions will likely make the most positive impact on your business? Do you know which ideas have the most likelihood of helping you launch an innovation that will disrupt your marketplace? Can you confidently choose the path that will most likely differentiate your product in a really profitable way? Sadly, no. Not without lots of human time spent on reading, filtering and discussing those ideas. I've spoken with customers who have more than 10,000 ideas, all nicely stored away in their enterprise database, with no tangible business impact on innovation.

As designer Debbie Millman says, "Ideas are easy." We're wired to come up with ideas. But, innovation, especially the disruptive kind, is the ability to translate ideas into highly differentiated goods, services, solutions, and brands that create great value and attract people to adopt the innovation. Innovation needs a more sophisticated process than an idea contest or a suggestion box. 

Instead, give your community of global employees, customers and suppliers a process to combine, rate, rank, play with, and work through discovering ideas ... so that they help you organize the data, express their feelings about the themes and concepts, and along the way give you real insight into how they are thinking and WHY they like or dislike things. Your old databases of old ideas can be a great starting point: try some combinatorial games and distillation activities with the concepts that have already been generated.

Help your community to inspire your next innovation, don't ask them to design it for you.

"Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought." - Albert Einstein