My metathoughts on idea management

The fun thing about writing an article about idea management is that you need to generate, evaluate and select ideas in order to write it, which means this is going to be kind of a metaarticle. So, if you are not a fan of metastuff, please, forgive me.

In my opinion, one of the most common issues with ideas is that we are usually biased either against or in favor of them.
Should a HiPPO turn out being a very bad suggestion, most people would applaud it anyway, just because it comes from their boss.
Should that colleague we don’t really get along with propose a brilliant idea, we probably wouldn’t even listen to them. By the way, this is exactly what most politicians usually do: they are more likely to resign —do you get the hyperbole here?— than acknowledge that a proposal coming from the other side might be beneficial for everybody.

So, the first thing which comes to my mind when thinking about idea management is that, in order to be fairly taken under consideration, ideas may need to be anonymized, as much during the idea generation phase as throughout the evaluation phase.

In other words, in my opinion a fair idea management process should be similar to a double-blind peer review, that is, a method for research validation, habitually used when an author’s paper is subjected to the scrutiny of other experts in the same field, prior to publication in a journal.

Long story short: by following this method, you can somehow keep bias at bay, since you get to know who proposed the idea only at the end of the evaluation process.

 

On the other hand, I wouldn’t overlook the fact that, at least according to my experience, after taking some rest, good ideas might become even better.

Which means, once you have an inspired thought, before entering it into your idea management system —whatever it may be—, I think it’s better to wait a reasonable time and see if it evolves somehow.
Similarly, when you have to evaluate a proposal, I would suggest taking your time to carefully analyze it, rather than rushing your decision.
And even though I agree that, very often, the best way to validate an idea is to test it and so to reduce the level of uncertainty by getting some feedback as soon as possible, I wouldn’t hasten to have it implemented either —unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, of course.
However, under no circumstances must you get paralyzed by all the ideas you have at hand. In other words, doing nothing is not an option.
So, I would say that the challenge here is to find the trade-off between analysis paralysis and a reckless implementation of a bunch of unrelated or unreasonable ideas.

Other factors that, in my opinion, might help build a useful idea management system are as follows:

  • focus on learning: don’t forget that, after all, this is a discovering process;
  • ensure transparency along the way: make everybody aware of the process, which ideas are selected, which ones are discarded or deferred, and why; make sure that proposing an idea always implies being informed about the final decision with comprehensive feedback;
  • encourage broad participation: foster both internal and external (e.g. customers, suppliers, etc.) collaboration —If you go with this approach, though, you need to be serious: it does not make any sense to let your customers enter their suggestions into a large database if nobody takes them into account…
  • don’t underestimate the power of rewards: to foster intrinsic motivation, you might let ideas generators participate in the evaluation phase of other people’s ideas, for instance;
  • pay especial attention to fairness: instead of having a stable (and potentially biased) evaluation committee, make sure to have diversity of opinions in the room or, at least, some task rotation.

And yes: common sense can help too.

 

Anyway, the heart of the matter is that, while dealing with different (and often competing) ideas, you are most likely going to need to prioritize them.

While ICE scores can be useful here, it has to be said that impact, confidence and ease might still look like pretty ethereal concepts sometimes.
What is clear is that, while prioritizing ideas (and especially when it comes to calculating confidence), reliable data coming from supporting evidence tend to be more helpful than self-conviction.

It might be also worth stressing that, when prioritizing ideas, the goal shouldn’t be to make all the stakeholders happy —which, by the way, is something unattainable—, but to select the ideas that are going to deliver the most value, which is easy to say, but quite hard to do.

First of all, because you need to define what value means for you.

Secondly, because you’ll have to maintain consistency in the process.

Last but not least, because accountability is key to making it work.

In truth, as pointed out by Sophia Gerlach and Alexander Brem within their study on idea management, “the generation of ideas alone does not automatically result in innovative products or processes, higher customer satisfaction, an improved productivity index, and better corporate revenues. Rather, a methodical and sustainable process is needed to successfully review and implement submitted ideas.”

To sum up, although idea management is not just a piece of cake, I would say that it’s definitely worth it.
After all, the more you try, the better you become at managing ideas, and the more you enjoy the process!

As to a metaarticle about idea management, well, that’s just a terrible idea…

 

Brilliant idea
“Brilliant idea” by chunkysalsa is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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