I’d like to clarify; this post is focused on ideas/creativity management and Leadership. There is lots on this blog already, and lots more to come on Innovation management and Leadership or the ‘what happens next’.

There is no question, every organisation wants ideas on new things and how to do things better; there is a clear cost benefit.

Where most fall down is the way ideas are managed, and in this post I’m going to reflect FIRSTLY on the costs associated with employee/customer engagement and future opportunities when ideas are not effectively managed. Then we’ll look at some simple tips to build idea capability and drive idea engagement.

Before we dive in, let’s agree on this; either you are prepared to take a committed approach when opening the road for ideas, or you leave it alone altogether. To quote a Yoda Facebook meme doing the rounds at the moment “There is no try, only do”.

Same with ideas.

An idea is a very personal thing…if you ask me to share my idea with you, you’re asking me to dig into my personal experiences, knowledge, the way I interpret my environment and analyse information and summarise and articulate that in an open forum where others can see it too…, essentially asking me to REVEAL to you how my mind works for the benefit of your business.

Looking at it that way, you understand why many folks are reluctant to share ideas or participate in open discussions where others may get some insight as to how and what they think. It can be quite revealing and confronting for the individual.

So, it becomes clear that managing ideas is much more about nurturing creative thinking and creative thinkers.

This speaks more clearly to the commitment an organisation is making when opening the road to ideas and innovation; it is a very personal, and specific commitment not only to innovation, but to people.

This moves us beyond the old concept of dropping  a timber suggestion box underneath a pot-plant in the corner near the boss’s desk. We are talking about developing a specific capability in your business which has as much relevance and importance as any other functional area; finance, facilities, HR, marketing etc…, so you have to develop the strategy and framework with the same level of sophistication.

One of the most frequent terms you hear describing the old suggestion box approach is ‘Black Hole’; idea goes in….then nothing…ever!

Perfect segue to the issue of costs associated with poor idea management:

1. Future Ideas. 

Dual Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling famously said “The best way to have a great idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

If you ask me to put my mind on the table for your benefit, and you don’t take the time to acknowledge just how personal an event this is for me, I’m unlikely to come back to the table…and I might just have the next big thing tucked away in my brain which will either never see the light of day, or will go to my next employer who is willing to recognise my creative effort.

No need to elaborate here.

This leads us to the next BIG cost…

2. Engagement/Advocacy.

No-one likes to be ignored, especially when what they are doing is for your benefit and you’ve asked them to do it.

It’s a bit like going to a party, introducing yourself to others, telling them what you do, asking them to get you a drink, then upon their return, asking them their name and what they do, then taking your drink and walking away to the next person before they can respond.

…it’s a very personal insult and one that erodes employee and customer engagement and undermines your efforts to create advocacy with those groups.

Again, no need to elaborate here and no need for figures….lost engagement and advocacy is costly on it’s own, let alone the costs associated with rebuilding those bridges.

Some Simple Tips:

Through the idea creation, submission and assessment stages, there are trigger points where simple mechanisms will provide a smooth conduit for the ongoing flow of ideas and in fact increase appetite for people to seek and speak.

1. Idea Submission

Every idea needs a thank you. It’s more onerous with a physical suggestion box, but if you have a way to capture ideas electronically, set-up a simple auto-response thanking each person for the idea as it comes through.

The thank you message should also include:

  • The name of the idea community manager – puts a face to the framework.
  • A high-level description of what happens next and time-frames – managing expectations.
  • Where appropriate, contact details.

2. Idea Clarification

If there is an idea which is unclear, contact the initiator to seek clarification. Quite a powerful acknowledgement and one which strengthens engagement.

3. Idea Action 

Once you’ve assessed ideas, each will have an action or next step; you’ll either close it, assess it further, or implement it.

Whatever comes next, let the initiator/community know what is happening with each idea, and if you’re closing it, tell them why. It doesn’t have to war and peace, just a simple explanation of why it won’t proceed at this time.

Keep a list of those responses so others who may be involved in responding to the community have a suite of responses to apply for each circumstance.

4. Idea Assessment/Implementation

Where practicable, give initiators some ‘skin in the game’ when assessing or implementing ideas. This could be as simple as providing your idea assessment matrix to that person (or a scaled back version….you do have one right?) and asking them to self-rate/self-assess their idea in the context of the business.

Taking that one step further, and this is more likely to happen with employees than customers, (but it’s not exclusive), involving the initiator in bringing the idea to life….again as little or as much as is practicable.

5. We did it!!!!

Here’s the loop-back and cycle feeder. Recognise and reward.

Recognition is like sunscreen; apply it liberally, frequently and in the right areas.

Be liberal with your recognition, let everyone in the community know.

Reward – quite a different story and there are lots of implications and ramifications around how this is structured, so we’ll save that for a future. dedicated post.

By broadcasting success and recognising your initiator and creative community, you build appetite and confidence for others to come forward, and this feeds into your ideation cycle driving your Seek and Speak idea culture.

After spending the last three years in Queensland Government, my innovation mojo is back.

That isn’t to suggest that gig was unproductive; in fact the systemic barriers to getting stuff done in Government, particularly driving an innovation agenda, raised my tenacity and sharpened my pitch.

The only downside was my innovation mojo…it took a pounding, but it still reaped some reward in terms of deepening my appreciation of the need to ensure a creative/innovation community is nurtured…not simply managed….nurtured, and developed, empowered and enabled….and most of all recognised.

I was made redundant in Nov 2012 from my post on the basis that my tenacious drive for innovation/continuous improvement agenda was too hard and too fraught with risk for the incoming government. A wonderful back-handed compliment and something I certainly hang my hat on.

I took the ensuing period to brush up on some formal qualifications around behaviourial studies and re-focus my career, get back my mojo and move into an organisation with the will and support a high-energy approach to building innovation appetite and capability….and be best not only in class…but world recognised.

There are a couple of irons in the fire now, so stay tuned, I will announce the new partnership on this blog when it happens.

My drive is to inspire an organisation and it’s people to an innovation standard which makes the traditionally creative industries want to tap into how we drive innovation. Once that happens, I see a number of benefits:

1. Lots of media coverage for our brand – especially if we keep winning innovation awards.

2. Cross pollination – inviting cross industry participation in innovation workshops and idea garages.This not only increases the organisation to new insight, it:

  • exposes our creative community to new people and ways of thinking.
  • builds their personal and professional development.
  • creates creative networks across industry boundaries, building a broader innovation appetite and capability for Australia.

3. I would expect to reach a place where in addition to our core business, we also become a hub of innovation on the Australian/worldwide business landscape, building our brand credentials through active, positive participation with others.

It’s great to be back…now the hunt is on.

Sergio Zyman says there are a lot of companies out there that rely too heavily on product innovation, which is expensive, hit or miss and for some, it becomes a case of make or break.

Once a product or brand begins to shows signs of tiredness, companies have a tendency to then embark on an innovation strategy. Often, an innovative new product serves mostly to line the pockets of the advertsing agencies, which try to sell the company’s ‘ innovative’ approach to customers. Many big companies do it; Coke, Pepsi, Nike to name a few, but this is not the true essence of business innovation, even though the product itself, may be innovative.

If all of the processes and procedures to get an innovtive product to market are unchanged from the norm, then where is the business innovation that serves to improve long-term value for customers, employees and shareholders? It all hinges on the success of the new product.

By creating a way for those working in, around, above and at the receiving end of the companys’ processes, services and products to quickly transfer those innovative flashes of business improvement brilliance to the decsion makers and influencers, and of course, to the rest of the crowd who will contribute further insight and promote the idea to really pop it up on the radar.

One of the interesting things I found using Twitter during its early days was the subtlety that had been applied to user features & functions…a subtlety that appeals to designers and developers, and the web savvy, but that in many day-in-day-out working applications can be a barrier to entry for naive users.

Perhaps the best example of this for us was the Ideas Channel we rolled out at Insurance Australia Group. One of the key requirements was based on the fact that management did not want the uptake of the application to impact service levels in front line environments, like call centres and retail stores.

Considering the initial skepticism (manifesting in a tiny budget) we were faced with after they had already had a poor experience from a large (and expensive) solution provider, we knew how critical this key requirement would be and how little onging support we’d receive if we could not clearly demonstrate that it had been met.

So what was the metric by success against this requirement would be measured? Time…customer service levels, and in terms of requirements, there is little that matters more to the contact centre and retail aspects of the business than how well it manages service levels and handling times.

Add to that the need to allow participants an interface that facilitates the capture of ‘flash of brilliance’ moments that come during customer and customer information systems interactions, and you are looking at delivering a user interface that is so easy to use, it requires little thought, thereby reducing the risk of dilution of insight as it is transposed to the application.

Mindful of this,  we firstly needed to understand the demographic of users…call centre and retail consultants.

Surprisingly, a large proportion of consultants where in a bracket that rarely use any PC applications outside of those provided to them on their work machines… we had discovered our lowest common denominator in terms of user application savvy and designed the user interface to enable that group.

When we rolled out the application, we provided several channels through which users could plug in if they needed help using the app, and closely monitored service levels.

On a user base of nearly 5000, no-one came through on any of the help lines and there was no impact on service levels, even though after 2 weeks, we had captured more than 200 individual insights and generated three times as many conversations within the app.

So the lesson here is…know your audience and the size of the lowest common denominator group…design to the needs of the largest lowest common denominator group based on their environment and experience…and most importantly…measure….measure….measure.

We see an increasing number of providers offering businesses ‘Innovation’ or ‘Ideas’ management platforms to enable the capture of same from employees and customers.

Having delivered small and large scale end-to-end solutions, one of the key issues we have observed is dilution of purpose through poor preparedness.

Getting a business excited and motivated about managing innovation & insight is a bit like an invitation to a party; lots of hype, great looking collateral and viral invitations, claims of fun and merriment. That’s because the invitation to party is the easy part and by virtue of the fact that it occurs BEFORE the party starts, the anticipation that comes with it can set some very high expectations indeed because the author wants to be sure they don’t ‘under-promote’ for a low turn-out.

I know we’ve alluded to this before, but we have to flag this as a warning again because of the feedback we get from businesses which have accepted the invitations, only to find the punters leaving early because the party itself is nothing like the invitations suggested.

Too many businesses subscribe to software that allows them to capture insights and feedback from customers and employees, without adequately preparing the business to effectively manage the expectations this sets in the minds of their audience.

If you asked me to take time out to help you come up with ideas on how you could improve your business, and I shared those with you…never to hear another word from you, i’d be pretty annoyed and unlikely to share my insights with you again.

That lack of response & involvement just might give me the impetus I need to explore your competitors.

Ask yourself, are you REALLY READY to send out those invitations? Here are a couple of questions you might want to have answered before you make the commitment:

  • Does the software you have selected (about to select) provide tools to support and automate expectation management?
  • Does the company that provided the software offer support not only for the tooling, but also for the business processes that sit behind and support the tooling?
  • Have you got someone to act as your community manager?
  • Do you/the business, understand the need to provide ongoing financial support to ensure the tools and processes can evolve with the business and your audience/s?

If you don’t have answers to these questions…, STOP…OPEN AN EMAIL…and drop me a line.

Judging by the spike in the number of visits and commentary, the previous post, Applying Web2.0 Indirectly appears to have resonated with quite a few people out there.

Thanks for visiting and for your commentary; clearly this area holds some interest and opportunity, so I’d like to further the discussion by inviting you to share your insights and relevant experience in getting social software and Web2.0 culture across the line in your business.

I’ll tweet your submissions on our (soon to be launched) CrowdZEN Twitter site, and my personal one and together we can help more people persuade decision makers and wallet holders to move into this space.

Business leaders and decision-makers are beginning to understand the inescapable truth that community is key to business improvement and driving customer loyalty.

It can be quite intimidating for not so web savvy business leaders (particularly for ‘old-school’ operators) to consider adopting social media within the business when the only exposure they have to these tools is through the knowledge that employees are loitering on Facebook and Twitter during work time.

How can we best manage that cultural barrier to convince the business to adopt social web technologies to create a culture of community in order to harvest and harness the creative potential of the crowd?

Like any new relationship, positive, sustainable change is achievable if time is taken to ease the shift in attitudes.

Grafting some complimentary social software componentry onto existing, everyday systems and/or processes is an approach I am adopting within Government. I am working on a project to enable a simple, browser based requisitionong system to track building maintenance requests and forecasting.

Pretty simple system really…click through request, a description and approval with some workflow tooling in the back end. What we intend to include is a voting and comments system and some predictive technology as we’ve used on our innovation management platforms whereby users can see the status of their requests, and everyone else’s and vote and or comment.

One good example of how this can work for the business is where there exists a persistent issue in say a fifteen-story building. We will receive ad-hoc requests, from different people through various channels that end up with different people. The impact of that issue on tenants is diluted as there is no consolidated picture.

By providing one entry and broadcast point where people can view and support the requests of others, systemic or chronic  issues can be more quickly and easily identified and actioned.

For those who are still reluctant to move into this space, this approach represents a nice, bite-sizing of social software integration that can pave the way for future proposals while developing a greater sense of community within the business.