Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ideas! And How To Deal With Them In Your Business

Ideas. Meetings are scheduled around them, water cooler discussions are dedicated to them, and in the end very little, if anything, is accomplished.

So why do we keep entertaining ideas?

It's because there are great benefits to new ideas, whether they are strategic or tactical, as they can open new avenues of revenue and/or efficiencies within an organization and drive innovation. Innovation is the cultivation of new ideas specifically those that come directly from or benefit the end user or customer.

So what's going wrong?

There are 2 rules when it comes to ideas.

1. Ideas are a drag on productivity! And
2. An idea has no value unless someone is willing to buy! See Rule #1

Unless someone is willing to foot the bill or commit the time to implement an idea, the idea will only succeed in fulfilling rule number 1. Time and resources (financial and human) need to be assigned to turn ideas into reality and the whole delivery process needs to be contemplated from design through to support and the risks weighed.
Oftentimes ideas are launched or implemented without the aforementioned process or resources and the idea dies an untimely death and the company never realizes the value of the idea or gains any market insight or intelligence. The idea may have been valid but their was no organization or resources applied to really validate it. Activities are typically thrust upon workers who already have their plates full, creating conflicting priorities and little time to figure out how to best implement the new idea. You can just hear the balls dropping. If the organization has no formal way of integrating ideas into their daily operations ideas just end up being ignored or a drag on productivity.

So how do we use ideas appropriately to avoid rule number one?

Know your audience. If a buyer is not at the table when you pitch your idea then rule number one is fulfilled. Pitch your idea to someone who is in a position to act on it. They will either get excited enough to buy the idea or not. And if not, move on.
Also, it's important to avoid getting married to any particular idea (product or service). Let your customer(s) define your idea. Many times we can be so focused on the idea we're trying to pitch that we don't hear what the buyer really wants.

The best way to deal with ideas is to create a formal system within the organization to deal with them. Systems of change/improvement like a suggestion box creates a process for which ideas can be passed along to the people responsible to be reviewed at a scheduled time. This is really important. Having a system for change within a department or across an organization presents a formal avenue for ideas and is a way to capture future opportunities, system improvement and innovation. Also, if you include interested staff when reviewing ideas you will teach them how your thought process works on validating and/or prioritizing ideas. It also gives you the opportunity to ask the person with the idea to make their case for the idea including resources required, return on investment, benefit to customers internally and externally and how the idea conforms to corporate strategy, values and standards. This process will slow down and even stop the frivolous ideas that could put a damper on your productivity and precipitate longer meetings. Eventually anyone with an idea would create a formal case for that idea and really take ownership of it (think it through) before they usurp someones time with it.

What's your next meeting about?

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