The Problem With Ideas


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In any conversations about innovation phrases such as ‘that was a good idea’ or ‘the idea wasn’t great to begin with’ are inevitably surfacing.

It is true that an idea is at the core of any innovation. Therefor when talking about their company’s innovation efforts, most executive refer to their ideation streams. These come in all shapes and sizes: from hackatons to executive challenge. But, when the lack of outcome is brought up in the conversation, apparently they’re plagued by the same issues: the ideas are not good enough.

Knowing that there is more than meets the eye we (myself and my two co-authors, Tendayi Viki and Esther Gons) set out to do some research on the lack of outcome of the ideation streams.

Being able to tap into the creativity of all your employees is crucial if the company is to stay relevant in today’s changing landscape. A clear ideation process can help even the most introvert of employees have their voice heard and idea acknowledged. Unfortunately only 1-in-3 surveyed companies confirmed having a clear ideation process.

infographic available here.

One of the problems companies face following a ‘ideaton sprint’ is too many ideas to pick from. This is a result of murky guidelines. Without guidelines, every idea seems to be valuable. Thus leading to bottlenecks and battles over the scarce development resources. The selection process needs to differ from organization to organization, yet transparency is an agnostic must. Our research found that only 17.3% of the companies we surveyed have transparent idea selection criteria.

infogrpahic available here.

In addition to that, the ability to align the carefully selected ideas to the corporate business strategy presents the key to the optimal functioning of the company. Moreover, ideas that reflect business’s vision and goals bring the biggest amount of revenue in the long run. Despite this, only 25% of the companies in our research invest solely in ideas aligned with strategy. Whether this is caused by the not so strong leadership or by the absence of a clear innovation strategy, was not clear.

infogrpahic available here.

Every business out there generates ideas. The ability to transform the ideas into the final product is the essence of every flourishing business. Whether the business originated from an original idea or not, what ultimately matters is the drive and the willingness to take risks. But we still wanted to find out what role does the quality of the initial idea play in the final outcomes. Especially knowing that iterative tactics are being deployed to bring the idea to fruition (eg.: lean startup, design thinking, agile development). When asked about the role played by the quality of the initial idea in the success of the released product/service, only 25% of the interviewees stated that: the initial idea’s quality is critical to the innovation effort. In other words the vast majority believe that iterative development methodologies can shape an idea to make it match what customers are willing to use.

infogrpahic available here.

For us, the research put into perspective the need of having a perfectly clear idea from the beginning. And showed that although ideas do play an important role in business, they ultimately do not dictate the future outcome.

Our results were based on a survey that was distributed to and filled out by Innovation Top Managers in 80+ listed companies from various around the world.

Dan Toma
Dan Toma is an innovation thought leader and the co-author ofthe award winning book 'The Corporate Startup’. Dan started his career in entrepreneurship, being involved with technology startups across the world. Puzzled by the questions ‘why are innovative products mainly launched by startups?’, he focuses on enterprise innovation strategy - specifically on the changes blue-chip organizations need to make to allow for new ventures to be built in a corporate setting. In this capacity he worked with companies like Deutsche Telekom, Bosch, Jaguar Land Rover, Bayer, John Deere or Allianz.


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