Please Stop Ideating
May 15, 2014 Editor 0
Surely it makes sense that the more ideas we have, the better our innovation track record will be. Not true, it turns out.
Firms that hold ideation sessions − those in which a group guided by outside consultants generate ideas for new products and services − generate little additional revenue from new offerings compared to those that don’t. That was a finding of a study of consumer-package-goods companies that I led.
How could this be? Aren’t more ideas better?
Actually, coming up with an idea turns out to be relatively easy; refining a concept until it becomes an economic success is the hard part. Consider this example: The first known claim of inventing a hand-held mobile phone was made in 1906. Yet it took another 70 years of development before one that actually worked was produced.
In fact, most companies have an abundance of ideas. At one firm with a particularly dismal record of innovation, about 800 new product ideas sat frozen at the corporate level.
As a chief marketing officer of an iconic groundbreaking brand once told me, “The hard part of innovation isn’t coming up with an idea; rather it’s picking the right one to develop.”
When working with groups at organizations that face big challenges and enormous pressure to innovate, I tell them, “I’m very certain one of you in this room has the right answer. The problem is the 200 wrong answers also in the room.”
Let’s face it, ideation is fun. It’s a taste of freedom away from the constraints of an everyday job, and it can feel pretty exhilarating. And yet an ideation-fest invariably creates an illusion of generating new ideas that’s followed by disappointment when it becomes clear that none are actually being developed.
Someone will always claim they participated in an ideation session that produced an incredible new breakthrough. But even when true, a few examples of success from the multitude of ill-considered sessions conducted annually around the world hardly constitute an impressive track record justifying the time and money invested.
And it gets worse. Not only might an ideation session fail to improve innovation, it can actually impede the process. Many times I’ve witnessed leadership teams leaving these sessions confused by all the additional new product ideas they need to consider.
Does all this mean ideation sessions are worthless? Not when they have the right focus. Ideation sessions that shift the focus away from creating new ideas to capturing all existing ideas, clarifying, and then prioritizing them enables the organization to begin the critically important task of deciding upon the few powerful ideas they need to develop.
When there are many ideas on the table, how do you prioritize?
It’s time to apply what you’ve learned in the past to develop criteria for whether or not to invest in a given idea in the future. Research shows that learning from past mistakes and successes has, by far, the biggest impact on increasing revenue from new products. For instance, perhaps over the years you’ve discovered that for a new product to flourish, a highly influential customer must commit in advance to incorporate it into its own products. So that becomes a primary consideration in deciding which new products to pursue.
The key is implementing a formal and mandatory review of all successful and unsuccessful new products or services to capture everything learned. Then use this to develop and refine explicit criteria that are religiously followed when selecting the ones to develop and launch.
So think twice before holding that next ideation session. By digging a little deeper you’ll realize that the session will likely produce little of value if its focus is mostly on generating new ideas. Instead, focus your innovation efforts on what will pay off in the long run and relentlessly refine an idea until it becomes the equivalent of the next handheld mobile phone.
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