What’s the Best Idea?

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been participating in an innovation jam organised by Kate Morrison from Vulture Street Innovation Services – it’s been a fascinating experience. I’ve talked about jams before, but it’s been great to get deeply involved with one. I’ve been thinking about this one through the aggregate, filter and connect lens, and I’ve learned some interesting things about using these kinds of tools to aid innovation.

  • The first point is that the idea generation process was clearly tied to strategy. The group sponsoring the jam has specific strategic objectives that they are trying to meet, and the questions that were asked address these goals. These objectives were identified by looking at the needs of the sponsoring organisation and their customers.
  • Second, the jam invited specific people with an interest in these objectives to participate. In other words, as I said yesterday, people and process were considered first. In this case, this was part of the filtering process – ideas weren’t solicited from everyone, there was filtering right from the start.
  • After people were filtered, then the jam process itself ran over two weeks – this was the aggregation stage. As is usually the case with this kind of exercise, participation followed a power-law distribution that looked roughly like this:

    There is almost always a disproportionate contribution from the most prolific contributors. However, as in the example above, the most popular ideas (shown by the stars) came from people from all across the range of participation. This is normal for most idea generation exercises.

  • Throughout the jam, people voted on the ideas that they liked and disliked. This was one form of filtering. However, the really interesting part is what this organisation did after the voting closed. Today they held a workshop where they invited all of the participants to come and select the ideas that were the best ones to take forward. About 40% of the people that contributed to the jam came along to today’s event. So the process looks like the one used by linux, and icanhazcheesburger:

    This is the way that crowdsourcing initiatives often work. The ideas are gathered from everyone (aggregating), and then a smaller group selects the ones that are most promising (filtering), leading to the final content that is then distributed widely (connecting).

  • The selection process today was very interesting to watch. Our first step was to filter out ideas that did not match up with the strategic objectives that were initially outlined. This knocked out a few ideas that had been quite popular in the voting. Some of these were off-topic, and some were too vague to be executed. Once we had done that, we had discussions within small groups about which ideas were best, and each group picked two or three to develop further. This step is critically important – this is where connecting plays a huge role. We were connecting the ideas to the strategic objectives, and in several of the groups we connected up several of the ideas that had been submitted to form more coherent plans around the best ideas.
  • Once all the groups had picked the best ideas, we reconvened with everyone and heard about the eleven best ideas (we started with 48 in the morning). These will be developed further, and then brought to the project sponsors for implementation.

One interesting point – for all my talk about ideas being the least important part of the innovation process, I ended up being pretty strongly attached to the idea that I had contributed. It had done well in the voting, and it also did well in the group discussion today. I’m convinced that it is a good idea, and I’m going to carry out myself regardless of how this process ends up. Typical behavior for innovators – you do have to be stubborn about your ideas sometimes. Still, I do think that idea execution is the most important part of innovation.

Overall, I think this was an excellent process. The jam + workshop method is able to combine crowdsourcing with a good level of strategic thinking and judgement. The ideas that had been most popular in the voting didn’t all end up in the final eleven, and several that did had been less popular during the ideation part of the process. At least one idea that I really liked got discarded, and a couple of lousy ones ended up in the final mix, but despite that, I think the process worked really well.

So that’s how aggregate, filter and connect can work on smaller-scale innovation projects. You can see how all three procedures were used to build a system that is effective overall. The biggest lesson from all of this is that idea generation processes must be supported by selection and implementation processes as well.

What’s the best idea? Hold an innovation jam and find out.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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6 thoughts on “What’s the Best Idea?

  1. the idea generation process was clearly tied to strategy

    This is so true. In most things, ‘best’ is relative – relative to a set of conditions/criteria, that is, e.g. carbs athletes need are shunned by those in low-carb diets. Setting strategies (or vision) to which ideas (or tasks/goals) can be aligned to is critical in any selection (or decision-making) and execution processes.

    I like the notion of innovation jams. It’s a good supplement to the good ol’ brainstorming – which though good for generating and even categorising ideas, is not really designed for selection/filtering.


  2. Nice stuff Tim. Seems like that first filter of people is a really important step in getting the process working well. Do you have any thoughts on the different approaches to this?

    It would be interesting to compare the results of different filtering methods. For instance, using self-nomination vs. betweeness centrality vs. supervisor-nomination. I imagine an SNA-type approach would be especially useful if you were sampling from a larger population.

  3. Interesting point Sam. I definitely think that SNA could be used in something like this. Although for this particular case it would be very hard to get the right data since everyone was from different firms, and it’s not clear what the network would even be.

    But certainly for within firm jams SNA could be really useful. It’s actually an idea that Kate & I have discussed – I’d love to have a chance to try it out some time!

  4. This seems to tie clearly to my theory (and one similar to the Foresight testing) that there are ideation styles and preferences that are very unique but can be totally complementary. Different thinkers work best in different parts of the process but are all integral to the process. The trick is being equally rigorous in the divergent and convergent parts of the ideation process in order to allow everyone to contribute their best, inspire and challenge others and ultimately come up with the most kick ass ideas!

  5. Thanks for stopping by Leslie! I think that’s probably a pretty good way to think about it – it certainly both makes sense and rings true for me.

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