Capturing Ideas: Building Idea Factories

Figure 1: Common Barriers to Idea Creation

Great ideas redefine our world.  Many of the conveniences that make our lives easier and more complete started as simple ideas.  Most successful organizations possess a dedicated group of employees that imagine, development, and convert ideas into reality on a regular basis. When an organization fails to produce strong ideas on a consistent basis, the typical explanation relates to a failure on the part of employees to be imaginative, committed, or innovative.  Although this opinion is prevalent among managers, employees feel differently.

A recent survey by HCS asked 600 employees in various industries their opinions on idea creation in their organizations.  Specifically, the survey asked employees to rate their organization’s idea creation process and to identify barriers to their success.  Approximately 71 percent of respondents indicated that there was room for improvement in their organization.  Close to 38 percent felt their organizations do little, if anything to encourage idea creation.

Figure 1 summarizes the results of the barriers question.  Only about 10 percent identified a risk adverse environment as a barrier while 68 percent indicated that their organization fails to possess a real process for idea creation.  A very close second is a lack of incentives for employees to develop and recommend ideas.  Clearly, the two relate to each other since a process typically includes some form of recognition.  The lack of management interest response seems counter-intuitive to the message that most organizations give about their commitment to innovation and creativity.  This finding reveals that the message does not always match actions when new ideas question current processes, past decisions, and future directions.  About a third felt that management taking credit for employee ideas diminishes interest in providing new ideas.  This common problem pervades all types of organizations and presents a powerful deterrent to those that would invest considerable energy to create and develop an idea.

What can we do to encourage idea creation?  Almost all organizations have suggestion boxes, team meetings, or retreats.  However, regardless of the structure, key practices must be present.  Specifically, an organization needs a method of capturing and validating ideas that is transparent and supported by employees.  Some of the most critical elements include:

  • Developing talent in the organization on a consistent basis;
  • Communicating to employees the importance of ideas to the organization;
  • Creating a process for capturing ideas and giving recognition to those involved in the process;
  • Implementing a reward system that supplies a benefit to the recommending party;
  • Advocating that improvement and innovation surpasses any personal interests;
  • Providing feedback on what happened to the idea and its relative value; and
  • Ensuring that there is a validation and execution process to turn ideas into actions and products
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