A few weeks ago I read a question on Innovation Excellence from someone who wanted to know the best way to improve the quality of ideas generated across the organisation. Several answers were given but none of them seemed to really satisfy. All answers ticked a few of the right boxes but there wasn’t one that ticked them all.
The answers, although different in their solution, were based on the fact that one person submits an idea and that’s it. All the answers addressed setting the environment so that this one person submits a higher quality idea. These solutions only improve idea submission quality marginally and are sometimes very hard to implement or expensive to execute (like hiring the best possible people). None of the answers ticked, what I think is, the most important box that gives the biggest improvement of idea quality, multiple perspectives.
The best way to increase the quality of ideas submitted, according to our experience, is to have many different people enrich each others’ ideas before they are evaluated. The fact that more people share their valuable perspectives and experience on the ideas, increases the quality dramatically. Just consider playing Trivial Pursuit. Would you rather play it by yourself or would you prefer teaming up with people that know about the game’s ‘question categories’? The same goes for generating quality ideas. It is much easier to cover and improve all ‘product categories’ (production, financial, legal, etc.) of the idea with the help of others rather than on your own. The more aspects you get covered by enrichments, the more you will increase idea quality. Having more people participate increases the chances to cover all important aspects.
It sounds very hard to get everyone to contribute to every idea all the time, and it is. That is why you shouldn’t.
Instead of having a year-round idea box in which your employees or customers can drop any of their ideas all the time, you should focus the energy of all those people in a much shorter time slot and within a specific theme or topic, a so-called Idea Challenge. A time-limited online Idea Challenge not only engages people to participate (now is the time to share your idea!) but also engages everyone at roughly the same time which means everyone gets to see each others’ contributions. It also challenges participants to generate ideas on the same topic making it easier to enrich each others’ ideas. Proper Challenge management activates everyone to ‘build on’ and ‘add to’ those contributions which causes the quality of the ideas to increase dramatically.
By focusing your innovation efforts into Idea Challenges and actively engaging everyone to contribute and build upon each other, you will increase the quality of the submitted ideas. Guaranteed!
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Jan Martijn Everts is Innovation Consultant @ Innovation Factory in the Netherlands. Jan Martijn has worked on a variety of projects, ranging from Heineken’s annual idea contests to PostNL’s ongoing innovation programme. Due to his uncommon background of both Engineering Physics and Business Administration he has great association skills, is creative and can give any challenge a creative twist.