Why Idea Quality is Crucial

Why do so many organisations focus on generating lots of ideas when the try to become more innovative? Innovation is a three-step process – generating great ideas, selecting and executing the best of these ideas, and getting your ideas to spread. Most organisations fail in the last two steps, not in generating ideas.

One reason that people often focus on generating ideas is that this is the easiest part of the process in which to show quick results. But we don’t need more ideas to improve innovation – we need better ideas.

Mark Earls, the author of Herd discusses the importance and value of engaging with ideas in this terrific talk:

Ewan McIntosh provides an excellent summary of the talk – here is how he describes the main point:

Many people think that those who like change are diseased with neophilia, instead of concentrating on the things that matter in the here and now. On the face of it they’re right. Most new ideas fail. But Mark Earls’ PSFK presentation last month puts forward a very good case for why ever-seeking change is a Good Thing.

These are the main benefits to actively engaging with new ideas that Earls describes:

  1. New ideas help us test old ideas: there are no straight lines in business – our current products and services will never continue along a straight trajectory. As I’ve said before, the ‘do nothing’ option does not result in staying at the same level of profit and performance. If we do nothing, our performance will decline. We will be worse off because someone out there is figuring out how to destroy our market. If we try new things, and they work, we might stay ahead of them. If we don’t, they’ll knock us over. Engaging with new ideas helps us keep improving.
  2. Explore the future: you won’t know what the future will be like unless you play and experiment. Playing with ideas helps us envision the future, which can sometimes help us create it.
  3. NPD hacks: taking ideas from other markets & applying them to solve problems in yours is a powerful form of innovation. Using analogy is a powerful form of finding new innovative ideas.
  4. Embrace ideas: there are benefits to engaging in new ideas – this enables both constant scanning of the world & creating new alternatives.
  5. Make your company more interesting: and profitable! There are many things that are positively associated with developing and executing new ideas. Research shows that organisations that do this make more money than those that don’t, they have happier employees, higher profits, and better chances of survival.

I just started teaching a course on public sector innovation this morning, and of the things that the people in it really responded to was the concept that innovation is more about executing ideas than it is about generating ideas. Earls makes this same point:

It’s not difficult to work out what a good answer would be – getting it done is something else.

The arguments in favour of actively engaging with benefits are incredibly strong – it’s something that we should all be doing. The key issue to focus on in doing this is to make sure that we are generating better ideas, not simply more ideas. It is the quality of the ideas we execute that leads to innovation success.

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

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.