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Don’t let your good ideas disappear

Lots of great research has been done on ideation, innovation, and creativity. Consultants swoop into corporations and set up elaborate workshops over several days to guide teams through the process of developing innovative solutions to problems. Tremendous effort is put into finding a great new idea.

And then what?

I have seen many idea-generation sessions that last a few days and end with a summary of the key ideas. The group leaves tired but happy. The session has been productive, and the tangible results are there on paper.

Unfortunately, many of those great ideas fade away over time.

Perhaps because the process is called ideation, we think that the main goal is to generate the ideas. From the beginning, though, the goal of any session designed to generate innovative solutions should be to develop a specific plan for moving those ideas forward.

The principles for generating a plan to implement new ideas are similar to the general principles for effective planning. However, they are rarely discussed in the context of ideation and innovation. Concretely, here are 5 key suggestions to help keep your innovative ideas from drying up and blowing away.

  • Don’t skimp on the planning. Generating ideas is hard work. A group may spend several days working with domain experts arguing and discussing ways to solve a problem. When a consensus for the best solution emerges, you can feel the relief in the room. At that point, people want to pack up and move on. It is hard to generate enthusiasm for planning for the next stage. Planning is no fun. It involves thinking concretely about next steps. It is enjoyable to think about what might be. It is tedious to figure out where in people’s busy schedules there will be the time and the resources to make an imagined future into a reality. That means that every ideation session needs to budget time at the end of the process to generate a plan about how to move forward.
  • Be specific. Any good plan has to include concrete steps to move it forward. Where is the budget for this project going to come from? What is the date of the next meeting? Who needs to be contacted to ensure that the project has widespread company support? Who will be making those contacts? There is tremendous power in an agenda of tasks with specific dates of completion.
  • Be critical. Successful plans are also explicit about all of the obstacles. There is often a lot of excitement surrounding a new idea, and that can lead to resistance to thinking about all the reasons that the new idea might fail. You can’t plan to avoid failure if you don’t think about the ways that things could go wrong. Don’t be afraid to punch holes in your new idea. If it is truly a good idea, then the idea should hold up under scrutiny.
  • Be realistic. When you generate a plan to move forward, be realistic about the constraints on time and resources that will stand in the way of executing that plan. Ensure that people who will help to move the project forward have sufficient time in their schedules and are not simply adding the new idea to their existing to-do list. Think through the project time-line and try to set goals that can be accomplished.
  • Assign responsibilities. A core part of the planning process to ensure that there are key people who are taking responsibility for ensuring that the project moves forward. Discussions about innovation talk about having “champions” for an idea. It is definitely important to have people involved with a project who will work to change hearts and minds within a company to get behind a new initiative. However, it is equally important to have people who will manage a new project.

Image credit, nyul, via