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Unlocking the secrets to great ideas

Unlocking the secrets to great ideas

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For businesses to grow, ideas need to be nurtured and encouraged. Chris Locke, CEO of ASPIRE, believes that companies need to create a safe, creative culture for brewing ideas. He offers his tips on how to encourage every employee to capture ideas and how companies can support and grow these concepts.

Every innovation, every great advancement, started as an idea. So why is the process of implementing new ideas so poorly executed at a corporate level?

It might be because ideas are just that, ideas, ideas that will need resources dedicated to test it, that come with uncertainty because it’s new and therefore is risky.

For others, sometimes there are just too many ideas, and without a process for managing and rapidly prioritising these opportunities, the good ones can get lost in the noise. But what is clear, the better organised and focused a business can be about how they operationalise the idea generation process, the stronger they will be at opening huge new waves of innovation and productivity.

Whatever the reason at your company, there are a few secrets to unlocking higher quality ideas that will produce new lines and growth areas. Everything starts with a clear innovation strategy, defining where the business believes new growth will come from and defining the key challenges/opportunities they are wanting to address. With that context, you can put in place a programme of activity and training that allows ideas solving these challenges to come from anywhere instead of any idea from anywhere, improving the quality of the ideas coming into the funnel.

Encourage everyone to capture ideas. Give everyone an ‘ideas capturing’ notebook

Ideas come at the strangest moments, most often when we’re relaxed and our brains are in a ‘diffused’ state of mind, i.e., when we’re daydreaming or in the shower! But great ideas can come and go, so naturally, we can easily forget the best ones.

Getting everyone used to capturing ideas throughout the day as part of their daily routines helps makes it safe and fun. 3M, the famous company behind the Post-It Note, had a Fifteen Percent Time policy that allowed and encouraged employees to spend 15% of their time daydreaming. It didn’t even have to be thinking about 3M. What they wanted was for people to find that diffused state where ideas can flourish.

This policy has produced many of 3M’s bestselling products, a similar idea time policy is found at companies like Google and Hewlett-Packard. Make it safe to capture and explore ideas; when everyone around you uses their ideas books, it becomes business as usual.

Don’t make it challenging to participate

Ideas workshops and competitions linked into your overarching strategy and training are a great way to help recognise and discover ideas. Reducing the red tape or layers of approval, and making these upskilling moments open to everyone will empower the whole organisation. This means that even if the ideas aren’t successful this time, they are building the capability for the future.

If your company is actively and openly working collaboratively to help everyone with an idea succeed in getting it in the process, the more likely you’ll have people actively participating. Nothing beats seeing action.

Great ideas can be about internal innovation

Driving efficiency and productivity internally can have a significant impact on the bottom line, as new technologies and ways of working bring new opportunities to reimagine internal processes or improve the customer experience.

Give people the responsibility to do their jobs differently and have the power to improve existing processes or tools that no one has had the flexibility to question. The same skills, approach and tools for externally focused innovation can help make existing products and business lines more sustainable. What’s more, it helps your business ultimately be ready for more significant innovation.

Stop the negativity

No one wants to suggest an idea if they feel a risk from someone immediately shutting it down or becoming a joke. You want your employees to feel that they are part of a supported process where people welcome and value their input on all levels. You cannot punish people for bad ideas. Try running a brainstorming session on the worst product the company could come up with.

Bad ideas can spark great ideas as it forces you to challenge assumptions. Microsoft’s ActiMates Interactive Barney, which won numerous awards for its educational value, actually initially was the result of the worst product session where the ‘team decided that a computer-controlled talking Barney doll for teaching numbers would be the product with the least possible educational value’. That ‘bad’ idea sparked something in another team that led to success.

Don’t just capture ideas; act on them

Remember, great ideas don’t come fully formed. Our brains are wonderful things, but we do have limitations on how we can evaluate if an idea will be great or not. We can often judge something as a failure when in reality, we need more incubation and execution before we can determine value.

Creating a structured training programme at your company will allow your talent to efficiently go through the critical process of discovery, customer validation and launch to test and ultimately approve the ideas you want your team to take forward.

Focused programmes that employees can join creates and demonstrates a culture that is incentivising idea generation and creation. A programme builds consistency in how you act on ideas and understanding that ideas have a pathway to success. It also has a huge added benefit of teaching and embedding new critical skills into your business, such as creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.

Reward failing fast and failure

Steve Jobs was famous for asking his staff to tell him what they had failed at; he knew that; ‘You gotta act. And you’ve gotta be willing to fail, you gotta be ready to crash and burn, with people on the phone, with starting a company, with whatever. If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.’ Nothing will kill idea generation faster than fear of failing. Your senior team members need to walk a fine line between recklessness and risk-taking, but you will never have a creative ideas culture without facing the fear of risk. Start rewarding those that are brave enough to fail fast.

The key is having the right processes in place to quickly kill the wrong ideas and develop the good ones. As part of an entrepreneurial focused training programme, look at how you can review an idea with the explicit purpose of killing the ones that either don’t align to your overarching business strategy or where the customer problem and need can’t be richly articulated. For the few you have left, it’s about finding clever ways to pilot ideas in a fast and controlled manner without going all in.

Data shows that nine out of 10 products fail, and usually, this is because we’ve not adequately reviewed and made the space for quick fails. In today’s world of ‘No Code, Low Code’, you can build an MVP without a single line of code, reducing risk and cost. Learning how to test an idea continually and be open to moving it forward through specific gates or failing fast makes the process much more powerful and effective. Having a straightforward gaited structured programme makes it much more challenging to lose great ideas and push through bad ones.

If you aren’t coming up with great ideas, the chances are your competition or even a new player in the space will be and quickly end up eating your breakfast. The more organised and focused you can be on creating a safe, creative culture for brewing ideas, the better. Having a recognised structure and training process to help build an ideas culture will only help you formalise an approach to new idea generation to unearth future business and revenue lines.

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