There seems to have been a lot of discussion around the innovation blogs recently about who is allowed to innovate; tapping into the creativity of everybody; allowing people to run with their ideas; and making sure that idea selection doesn’t just happen at the top of the business. The implication is that the originators of the idea should “own” the idea and be the right people to champion them.
It’s essential to distinguish between idea origination – the creative part – and championship in the context of ownership. Origination identifies who comes up with the idea. Champions are those people who are passionately advancing it through the organization’s processes and structures.
Here’s where I’d like to introduce a note of caution here, which may seem heretical to some people. Individual idea ownership is a bad thing.
Why? An individual can’t take an idea through to market. Success not only has many parents, it needs them. There are very few organizations where “Jan’s idea” will survive all the way through. It doesn’t mobilize the energy and resources of the company by constantly pointing out – “that was my idea”, even if it is tempting to say so. Indeed it can prompt a negative reaction along the lines of “well, if it is your idea, get on with it then”.
Nobody ever bought a product or service because of the identity of the person who generated the idea. It’s not important to them. It’s another reason why you need to move rapidly beyond whoever generated the idea to the quality of the idea itself.
It is also generally acknowledged that diversity of thinking and fresh minds lead to higher quality ideas. In those circumstances, the initial headline suggestion is only part of the eventual outcome, once the group has added all the value. Those ideas have the best birth; they have many potential advocates for its progress through the company. It avoids the situation where ideas are, often wrongly, associated with individuals, when in reality there are lots of people who add value not only at the start, but also along the way.
In my experience, good ideas attract a group of supporters. These supporters use a combination of passion, evidence and belief to get approval for the next stage of a project. Then the additional data convinces more people, and so on and so on until eventually the product is launched. This is how it works – business is rarely a cult driven by belief alone.
I strongly believe that the correct innovation culture should value the substance and output of creativity, and not the identity of the parents. Of course, IP lawyers need to forensically analyze ownership to allocate patent authorship, and this is doubly important in countries that legally entitle inventors to a share in profits. From a corporate perspective though, the sooner the idea moves ahead to have many owners and contributors, the better.
Finally, the less importance that is attached to the origin of an idea, the more likely your organizational culture is to be open to external solutions. If you value the merit of an idea rather than its origin, Open Innovation is then a real deal for you – and that has tremendous potential.
So here are some suggestions:
- Don’t confuse origination and championship of ideas.
- The next time you hear people talk about “my idea”, make sure it quickly becomes “our idea”.
- Make sure your idea generation includes diverse inputs right at the start.
- Recruit as many idea owners as you can to create a critical mass of influential supporters.
- If you want to encourage creativity by publicizing it, focus on the group and not the individual.
- Make sure people with organizational influence champion ideas.
Kevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He
spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions, and also has experience in life sciences.