Innovation requires (more than) systems, (but also) people, budgets and results

By now we’ve all understand we need a backbone to support the innovation process; a social media based tool to facilitate collaboration. Vendors and users are all exploring the topic together in an effort to figure out how to be the best at turning ideas to production.

Any simple survey of companies steeped in innovation or the idea management process yields certain commonalities amongst them. The best of these companies who experience success producing new ideas, have embraced (and nurture) a culture of innovation. They encourage collaboration and they have introduced a methodology for idea management so it doesn’t happen by accident. The best of these companies have a history of innovation.

Most of the successful innovating companies have a process they follow for nurturing ideas. The process is repeatable and all new managers are introduced to the environment when they come on board. They separate process improvements into separate systems and really reward breakthrough thinking. It isn’t uncommon for companies to have multiple idea management communities. Sometimes they break down by business unit or by interest (i.e. engineering, marketing) or by geography. If concepts don’t easily fit into existing venues sometimes new business units can be created to follow up on ideas.

Ideas need more than a collaborative system. Ideas need nurturing managers and they need budget. As ideas progress through the innovation process they get more budgets. The process to move an idea from a light bulb over someone’s head to a production line producing a new light bulb can take years. These processes typically embrace research first and then development. That’s why it’s phrased in that order: R&D. Eventually these ideas emerge as actual projects.

Idea management enables organizational engagement and strategic alignment. But it can also be an opportunity for team building by assembling different skill sets, as well as combining junior and senior managers.

Companies don’t want to spend too much on each idea at the beginning because it is better to have lots of ideas there. And TIME is a factor. Managers want to plant seeds or challenges over time so each topic can get the attention it deserves. Yes, a system is required but these companies don’t abandon traditional idea generation tools like brainstorming and workshops.

The idea management process is a constant learning curve for those with best practices. The collaborative tools include feeds from other sources of information to keep participants apprised. Partners, customers, and educational institutions are all drawn into the process to keep getting access to the wisdom of the crowd.

At the heart of most idea management systems is a social media system. Most companies have tried rewarding participation and later abandoned it. It is a proposition that is hard to sustain. The best social collaborative tools for idea management are designed to attract people to participate; to seduce them (as one manager described it).

These best of breed systems, frequently with more than a decade of experience, have expert managers to provide seeds or challenges to the populace. The managers keep an eye out for ideas they can merge or cluster. They act on ideas that need to be offshoots of the original premise. The process is managed…it doesn’t happen with a series of happy accidents.

So the best of corporate based innovation systems have a social media backbone presented as an appealing place to congregate. They have expert managers to lead those who contribute. They provide budget to projects. And the evolution of an idea to a service or product is the ultimate reward to those who have touched it.

By Ron Shulkin

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