Idea Generation in Organizations

What is a Useful Idea?

What’s the definition of a useful idea for innovation?  The idea may  lead to the highest impact in the market; it may inspire a hundred other great ideas.

A great example of a very useful idea is super market in factory from Taiichi Ohno, the man credited with  developing the revolutionary Toyota production system, which is today being implemented throughout the world. Ohno wrote that kanban is the tool used to operate the order based system using kanban and it is based on the idea of using refilling strategy of American supermarkets. Ma ny people before Ohno knew the strategy of supermarket refilling, but could not notice the connection between it and the rational factory.

But Ohno was prepared to see that connection because he already had the question of how to improve the factory firmly lodged in is mind. It was his preoccupation with the problem that made him see the solution in the supermarket. Creative people bring ideas that others do not see from the outside, and
understand how they can be applied inside.
You cannot identify a great idea when it was presented to you by somebody in your organization unless you first define what constitutes greatness. And once you define what is a great idea, then you have to put in a process to evaluate ideas submitted to you.  Naturally, they come about in many different ways, and not as a result of a single activity or a single process. Sometimes they arrive spontaneously, but as we learned in making the distinction between preparation and luck, it’s not enough to sit and wait for them to arrive on their own. It’s far better to proactively and aggressively
create them.
What information should we assemble when we’re searching for a great idea? What experiences should we pursue? Experiences about our customers, our competitors, our own company, our suppliers, and about the external factors such as technology and globalization that will have an impact on our business. Information about them?

• Where would we find those experiences, and that information? We’d get it from a variety of public and private sources, many of which we would examine carefully and frequently.
• Or if it wasn’t information we could find, but had to create, then what would we do? We’d learn about the process of creativity and then we’d do what creative people do when they’re looking for
great ideas.
• And what would we do to turn ideas into something that we will use in our business? If we had a lot of ideas, we’d choose the best ones and develop them.

Use Multiple Viewpoints

There’s an important principle underlying the search for insights and ideas, which is that to succeed at it you have to come at it from multiple points of view. You’ll certainly fail to come up with any great ideas if you look at your problems or your markets with the same perspectives that you use in the day-to-day course of normal work.
Hence, the goal here is to see differently by setting time aside to peer into the future, and adopting multiple differing perspectives about the future. So in addition to your deep immersion in “internal ” point of view, the team must explore other viewpoints.

For example, ask:

• “How do our customers view things? What’s really bothering them?”

• Or you could examine what your competitors think, or your key suppliers.

• You should also ask, “What does the evolution of technology tell us about these issues? And what about changing demographics, and globalization?”

• You could also consider what the problem would look like if you were an Asian company, or a European one.

Edward de Bono is famous for the  process called “lateral thinking.” The premise behind lateral thinking is simple:  when you look at the same thing in a different way you are likely to be more creative, and if you can change perspectives at will then your creativity can be expanded enormously.
The point is clear: you have to adopt multiple different viewpoints to grasp the full scope of the issues you’re facing today, and those you’ll face tomorrow. The means of doing so are equally clear: you have to help people to change their own perspectives, and at the same time bring multiple individuals with different viewpoints together and ask them to interact with one another.

The goal of ideation is to come up with lots of great ideas, the more the better. But quantity itself is not enough. Ideas also have to be different from one another so that they are  be applicable in many  markets that may exist today and in the future. Differences are therefore sought along three different dimensions.

First, by engaging in a variety of different types of idea generation activities –  and second by involving very diverse groups of participants in the activities you undertake.  A key reason for this is that diverse individuals tend to see things differently than one another, and from their different points of view they can conceptualize a much wider variety of possible solutions. To further enhance this process you should also engage outsiders, including customers, experts, consultants, and suppliers to participate along side the insiders. The third dimension is  to broaden the  pool of ideas is to get a lot of people involved. Maximum possible number of people from inside the organization and outside the organization are to be involved for the broadest possible input and participation. In various formats of participation there may be hundreds or thousands of people eventually involved, whether for ten minutes, ten days, or ten months at a time.
There will be interesting differences among individuals participating in the idea generation process. Some are natural trend trackers, and they know a tremendous amount about what’s going on and indicate leads for various idea. Some others are highly focused,  think deeply on fewer issues, so they hardly pay any attention at all to outside trends. But once a trend is pointed out to them, they can tell many times the possible uses for the organization.  Some other people are natural problem identifiers and can tell you what’s wrong with just about anything that’s going on inside or outside of their organization. Also they can point to problems likely with new solutions proposed.

How to Create Ideas: The Six Ideation Processes

1. The universal search methods, three approaches whose applicability to the practice of innovation are exceptionally useful in nearly every conceivable situation.

i) Questions
ii) Ethnography
iii) The Innovation SWAT Team

2. Trend gathering, monitoring the external environment and thinking about the key patterns that are most important to your organization.

13 Trend Gathering Tools

i) Competitor intelligence
ii) Economic forecasts
iii) Trend safaris
iv) Market analysis reports
v) Advisory boards
vi) Conferences and tradeshows
vii) Periodicals
viii) Structured reading programs
ix) Previous experiences and success stories
x) Think tank reports
xi) Periodical scanning services
xii) Google, Online trend tracking services, Blogs
xiii) Weak signal research

3. Idea hunting, proactively seeking out and creating new ideas.

i) Customer surveys
ii) Learning expedition
iii) Insight workshops
iv) SWOT analysis
v) Creativity techniques
vi) Scenario planning
vii) Pattern analysis
viii) Brainstorming
ix) Drucker’s tough questions
x) Idea rooms
xi) Idea vaults or repositories
xii) After action review
xiii) Go and visit the customer

4. Problem and solution finding, searching for previously unidentified weaknesses in current methods and processes using fresh eyes, searching for solutions to specific problems that have already been identified as important, or reexamining the way we do it now to find the hidden defects.

i) The learning curve
ii) Root cause analysis
iii) Systems thinking
iv) Collaborative design
v) Design methodology
vi) Ideation workshops
vii) Corporate strategy
viii) Quality

5. Outside-in and peer-to-peer innovation, processes that engage the broader world outside the organization in the search for insights and ideas.

i) Externalized research or “Open innovation.”
ii) University alliances and partnerships
iii) Customer relationships
iv) Customer requirements
v) Joint research
vi) Idealized design

6. Future dreaming, the process of exploring possible futures to imagine opportunities that do not exist, and to provoke insight into what could be, or what could be created.
Science fiction: Dream away from the current reality. Think of a future where the current constraints do not exist. Later on ways may be found to remove the existing constraints to reach the dreamed state. Here the end is dreamt first. Then thinking on removing the constraint is started. The problem is not coming out with new design that satisfies constraints. The solution without constraints is imagined first and constraint removal is thought of next.

Overall, the key differences between these approaches is that they involve different styles of thinking, and each therefore addresses the processes of insight and ideation with different types of questions, but all with the ultimate goal of maximizing the number of great ideas in your stock of useful possibilities.
It’s worth noting that trend gathering and idea hunting are complementary, one oriented to recognizing change as it is happening, and the other to creating change. Problem finding and solution finding are also complements, as they consider existing realities from two very different points of view.

Fun, Joy and Creativity

One of the most important principles of creativity is that it’s really hard to be creative unless you’re having fun. The ideation processes  have to be pursued with some degree of whimsy and light-heartedness.  
Divergent thinking is the thought process that leads to new ideas, because it is based on looking for a different  (i.e., novel) way of solving a problem as opposed to a similar way as that of current solution. Creativity is all about recognizing a different way of solving a problem and if it make a difference to the future of the organization it becomes a great idea – different products, different services, different business models.

From Permanent Innovation – Langdon Morris

Permanent Innovation
The Definitive Guide to the Principles, Strategies, and Methods of
Successful Innovators
Langdon Morris

Langdon Morris is a co-founder and principal of InnovationLabs LLC and Senior Practice Scholar at the Ackoff Center of the University of Pennsylvania and Senior Fellow of the Economic Opportunities Program of the Aspen Institute.

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Innovation – Strategic Issues and Methodology

Updated on 25 May 2019, 27 November 2014