September 12, 2011

Leadership Limerick: How Do You Manage Ideas?

Every Monday, I offer a leadership limerick, highlighting an idea or strategy about effective leadership in limerick form. Searching for leadership limerick will identify previous posts.

Great ideas are easily lost
And bad ones often aren't tossed

You need a system to rate
and determine the right fate

Or else you'll pay a great cost

Ideas don't always arrive on a predictable schedule, so having an ongoing idea management system is important.  Not only for capturing the ideas, but also for effectively evaluating them and refining the ones identified as having the most potential.  A few reminders for doing so:

Collecting and capturing ideas:  If you're going to invite others to share their ideas, increase the usefulness of the submissions by succinctly defining the problem you are trying to solve or specifying the needs or aspirations successful ideas should reflect.  It's one thing for a hotel to extend an open-ended invitation for guest suggestions.  It's quite another for a hotel to ask "What one thing would have made the hotel feel even more welcoming and comfortable for you during your stay?" 

Evaluating ideas: People evaluating the possibilities should apply the same criteria for their feedback, some of which might be weighted as more important than others.  A search committee can't select the best candidate for a job if the committee hasn't already defined what best means and isn't rating resumes fairly similarly.  The same is true for considering which ideas in an area might have the most merit.  Having a common evaluation process can help limit personality conflicts that might arise from individuals applying their own definition of the best idea.

Refining ideas: Too often an idea that has potential is accepted as presented instead of further refining it.  Identify several core features or aspects of the idea to be further refined, and assign each one to a small group of individuals for their exclusive attention, i.e. "Make this publication more practical."  These parallel refinement deep dives can help improve the overall quality and value of the idea.

As you consider how to improve your own idea management process, be sure to examine some of the many online approaches worth emulating.  IdeaScale, Betterific, and MindMixer are three of the many online idea management systems you could use for your own efforts.  My Starbucks Idea is a great corporate example of customer innovation and involvement in the ideation process, and Open IDEO models the various stages of community involvement in social innovation idea management.  Quirky.com is a "social product development" site in which the most popular customer suggestions and inventions are then turned into actual products.  The New York Times profiled Quirky in late August.

And don't forget that most innovations result from an iterative "trial and error" process in which a new product or service is shared with a small number of people and then refined based on their feedback.  You need real users to determine the ultimate usability of what you're creating, so embrace beta testing as discussed by startup guru Eric Ries in his new book The Lean Startup.


A few other posts about idea management:

Upending the Idea Approval Process

Creative More Moving Ideas By Moving Your Ideas

Driving Ideas on Your Innovation Highway

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