Two Ways to Select Ideas

Innovation is more than just generating ideas. Most organisations have more than enough ideas. They might need better ones, but usually they need to get better at selecting ideas, executing ideas, and diffusing ideas. The irony of this situation is that there are a lot of techniques around (and consultants that use them!) designed to help generate ideas, but not nearly as many available for the more difficult steps.

So it’s been really nice to run across two different methods that can be used to select ideas this week. The first is from the book Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo. I’m only partway through the book, but so far it is pretty good. The basic premise is that games are the best way to unlock peoples’ capacity for creative thinking. After a brief introduction of some the thinking that justifies the premise, the bulk of the book is taken up with descriptions of more than 80 games that you can play to help with the idea management process (you can see some examples on Dave Gray’s site).

The thing that I like about the book is that it is not just looking at ideation. They actually consider selection too. Here is how they frame the process:

Many ideation tools only look at the first part of this process. But in Gamestorming they try to address all three parts. More importantly, they include games that can be used effectively in the explore and close phases too. Note that “close” is equal to “select” – so this is an important area to address.

They also point out that going through this process is messy, and non-linear:

Again, I think this is a pretty good approach. They don’t have as many games for the selecting step as for the first two, but it is still a pretty useful resource.

Nilofer Merchant takes a more systematic approach to idea selection in The New How (recommended to me by Matt Perez – thanks Matt!). Here she is explaining her main ideas:

The issue that she is trying to address is the gap that many organisations have between strategy development and strategy execution. She attributes this gap to a lack of participation in the strategy development process by those who actually have to make the strategies work – an idea that certainly rings true for me.

The bulk of her book is taken up with developing a methodology for generating strategic options, outlining how the different ones could work, selecting the best one, and getting people to take responsibility for executing the strategy. The great thing here is that Merchant spends the most time explaining what she calls Murderboarding, which is the idea selection step in the process.

Merchant says that Murderboarding is not designed to find the ultimate best solution, but that it’s supposed to help you find the best strategy out of the options available. This reflects the main flaw that I see in the book, which is that it is based on the premise that your strategic outcomes are within your control. I don’t think that this is necessarily true. However, if you keep that caveat in mind, there are some very useful ideas in the book.

Selecting ideas is a critical step in the innovation process, and it’s one with which a lot of the organisations that I talk to really struggle. So it’s great to see people giving some thought to how to address this problem. If idea selection is an issue in your organisation, these two books will be useful resources.

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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8 thoughts on “Two Ways to Select Ideas

  1. As you point out, Ideas are abundant and fairly readily available. The problem I am finding is that even organizations that want to harvest ideas from everybody only accept them from a selected few who are good at presenting their ideas and making them persuasive. Unfortunately, these folks know the context of the organization all too well and only rarely step out of the box. The result is a lot of good, sustaining ideas being put forward.

    The vast majority of folks are never really heard or if they are, they are disregarded because of how (poorly) they present their ideas. Of course, the further from the box the idea is, the harder it is to make it grokkable anyways, even for skill communicators.

    Who knows how many times I’ve been guilty of that myself. I do know that in at least one occassion I caught an extremely good idea from a casual conversation. I didn’t know what to make of it, only that there was “something there.” It took weeks to flesh it out in many one-on-one, intimate conversations that often wandered far afield (but helped create trust). Before that these guys had been telling us their idea over and over and every time we just didn’t get it (but we thought *they* didn’t get it). Luckily they didn’t run off to start their own company around it (well, they did later, which turned out better for the industry).

    As you point out, ideas are abundant and there are tons of techniques to ferret them out (and games are an excellent way of doing so—that’s why I am a big fan of Innovation Games). However, more emphasis must be put on ways of reaching out throughout an organization and finding ways to help people express their ideas and decision makers to *hear* these ideas. I am starting to suspect that there’s a learning-to-grok-it, pre-idea step that needs a bit more work.

  2. That’s a really perceptive comment Matt – thanks!

    I’ve been giving some thought to the issue of persuasive presentation – I agree that this is an often overlooked issue.

    The other problem with getting ideas from everyone is that you have to be equipped to handle them if you ask for them. Most firms aren’t, and that is why a lot of idea-generation initiatives designed to improve innovation fail.

  3. Tim,
    I’m imagining you’ve tackled what I’m about to write somewhere else in your blog but I’ll go on ahead. Like you said I don’t think idea selection is the issue for ‘innovation’ (additionally I think that innovation’ is so overused that it’s lost its meaning, but that’s another conversation…).

    What I think is needed is dynamic organizational environments where scenario design (ideas in context) can happen. Organizations need to be able to learn and build at the same time. It’s something I call the E & M (essence and mechanics) factors . Essence is – culture, narrative, improvisation, sensibility, story (and a few others) that work in tandem with the mechanics – strategy, execution, prototyping, tactics, finances, process (and some others). In many ways the former drives the latter.

    When all you have is mechanics, void of essence, there’s no meaning. There’s nothing employees can really sink their teeth into. It’s just a bunch of new and (maybe) improved maneuvers. You haven’t really gotten to the core of how to drive innovation.

    Listening to the video above, I think Nilofer has 1/2 of the equation right. And like you said there are some chinks in her armor (and I think you’re RIGHT on point…your strategic outcomes aren’t really within your control). At some point you need more than just the intellectual chess moves.

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