Ideas. Employees, customers, and business partners have lots of them and companies large and small can be overwhelmed by them. They do, however, need to be managed. Most companies still try to manage ideas and suggestions the old-fashioned way, perhaps not with a wall-mounted suggestion box but with tools that have not strayed terribly far from this protocol.
Despite the wealth of idea management tools that exist today, some companies still get it wrong, a recent initiative by Starbucks being a prime example.
An effective idea management environment must support ideation and subsequent review. Both of these must be done in lockstep, with the goal being to enable what amounts to a Massively Parallel Conference (MPC), defined by Basex as a massively scaled meeting that takes place in a computer mediated environment and facilitates many-to-many collaboration leading to many-to-one gathering of information. In this case, the goal is to generate and refine ideas through large scale participation and brainstorming and then communicate the best ones to decision makers.
Brightidea, an idea and innovation management company addresses these areas in its WebStorm idea management offering. WebStorm is a solid ideation environment. Think of it as a browser-based brainstorming session that supports the large scale generation of ideas, increasing the odds of quality ideas being generated and discovered. Once submitted, ideas are ranked by session participants; the best ideas float up to the top, ensuring that good ideas do not languish on a manager’s overcrowded desk or inbox.
The offering includes collaboration and social networking tools that enable a Community of Reliance to be formed around idea generation initiatives. A Community of Reliance is formed on an ad hoc basis where members rely upon the participation and input of other members whom they may not actually know or come into direct contact with. With WebStorm, participants rely on each other to rate and comment on ideas; this is enabled through individual profiles that include social networking functionality. The ideas an individual has created, as well as the popularity of the ideas, are visible in the profile, allowing management to set up incentives for participation through recognition for the contribution of quality ideas.
Brightidea uses its own product internally to battle what they call “idea overload”. They had found that their own product managers were being bombarded with and spending significant time responding to suggestions, new feature requests, and other submitted ideas. Automating through use of its own products steps that ideas, suggestions, and requests take reduced this overload by pulling them out of e-mail and into a better suited system.
For all companies, the creativity and passion of employees and customers can provide an extremely effective and cost efficient source of new thoughts and proposals. Large-scale brainstorming, à la the MPC concept, could be an excellent model for companies to follow as they seek to generate new ideas, and products such as WebStorm make conducting this sort of event easier and more accessible. Companies that are considering tapping the potential of large scale brainstorming should give thought as to how they can leverage an idea management solution to automate the workflow of ideas, provide incentives, and enable social and collaboration capabilities.
[For an in-depth look at the topic of idea and innovation management, you can also read our report Improving Profits Through Idea Management: How America's Smartest Companies Embrace Innovation]
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.