Because business and technology is charging ahead at warp speed today, the pressure is on to be more than one step ahead of the game. In a quick survey of professional people in my network, I asked their opinion on how much time they thought businesses actually spend actively soliciting creative ideas from their employees. The number was frighteningly low, averaging around 10-20%. When I asked how much time they thought companies spend to solicit new ideas from their customers, the number was even lower.
Wait a minute! These are the customers the companies are trying to please, right? The ones for whom they are developing new products and services? Certainly we expect idea generation to be a focus by firms such as ad agencies, because this is what they get paid for. Take as an example “Idea City”, the name that is broadly and proudly displayed on the front lawn of award winning agency GSD&M’s corporate office in Austin. That message sets the expectation before you even walk in their door. But what about businesses in general?
A research study by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York reviewed some of the innovative ideas that had come from large companies like GE, IBM, and Dupont. What they found was that most of these cutting edge ideas came from what they called “happy accidents” rather than idea generation processes. We expect new ideas to be generated in small startup companies, but what about the importance of idea generation in large organizations as well? These companies have better funding, more resources, and the luxury of more time to let good ideas bake. Often politics can hinder good ideas in large organizations, or the bureaucracies of vetting a new idea through the layers of the organizational structure make it difficult.
Consider this quote by thinker and writer Charles Browder: “an idea can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.” Each new innovation starts with an idea. Ideas are the seeds of the products of tomorrow. Technology has changed the world, organizations have developed processes for everything from manufacturing to marketing, yet few have formal processes for generating new ideas. Organizations need to put formalize this process and make idea generation top of mind, an integral part of the organizational culture.