Multi-modal ideation: 5 best practices for setting the rhythm of innovation

While ideation is a small part of an enterprise innovation program, there’s many things to consider in terms of targeting your ideation activities to support both the tactical and strategic needs of the business.

There’s certainly no shortage of options to choose from – ranging from enterprise software, to consultancies, to problem-solver networks, to innovation contests, to partnerships with innovation labs and startups, to open innovation with customers and partners and so on. The key consideration is that you’ll likely need a combination of both event-based ideation, as well as ongoing, enterprise-wide ideation processes as part of your overall innovation strategy:

  • Event-based Ideation: This ranges from large-scale, innovation events such as single- or multi-day, corporate-wide “innovation jams,” to innovation contests and partnerships with innovation labs, to laser-focused Innovation workshops with a select group of subject matter experts.
  • Ongoing Ideation: This ranges from a corporate-wide suggestion boxes and innovation databases of various levels of sophistication, to more focused ideation processes typically aligned with corporate strategic communities, or corporate strategic planning cycles.

A best practice in all of these areas is to think about the pillars of strategy and intent, people, process, technology, and continuous improvement as follows:

  • Strategy & Intent: Ensure all the above ideation vehicles are complementary and suited-to-task. Set clear goals and objectives and define your focus. A common understanding and precise definition of terms in your innovation vocabulary is essential. In addition, it’s important to have a common understanding about the types of innovation that are of interest – i.e. business model, business process, technology – and also the level of innovation that’s of interest – i.e. more incremental, tactical ideas and/or more disruptive, strategic ideas. Depending on your goals and objectives, you may want to focus more on one level of innovation or the other. It’s also perfectly fine to focus on both areas within an ideation session, since in many cases the goal is to come up with a set of ideas that can provide measureable business value regardless of whether they’re near-term tactical opportunities or longer-term, more strategic opportunities.
  • People: When preparing an ideation session, it’s key to target the right audience in terms of participants. Is this a shotgun approach where you’re looking for general ideas from a large crowd or more of a rifle shot where you’re looking for specific ideas from specific subject matter experts (SMEs)? Often, the key focus areas for your ideation session can help to drive the selection of the appropriate internal and/or external subject matter experts. In our innovation workshops, we’ve found that 5 to 10 key focus areas (i.e. categories for brainstorming) help to define the scope of the workshop and help drive the selection of SMEs with the appropriate domain knowledge. This selection of the key focus areas is typically done well in advance of the session with the client or relevant stakeholder.
  • Process: It’s important to realize that ideation is just the first step. Ensure there are owners taking the ideas to the next stage in terms of further exploration, screening, filtering, prioritization, and ultimate execution. The role of a facilitator running an innovation workshop or session should go far beyond simply facilitating the group and guiding them through an ideation session, and include responsibility for working with the appropriate stakeholders and individuals after the event to ensure the ideas identified and prioritized at the session can be used to drive strategic outcomes for the business. If your particular facilitators scope is narrower, or if you’re working with external facilitators, then ensure the appropriate hand-offs take place and there’s a suitable owner post-session who’s on point to carry the most promising ideas forward.
  • Technology: While it’s always in-vogue for some to downplay the role of technology, the fact is that emerging technologies are providing a foundational platform for next generation business models, processes, products and services. For perhaps the first time ever, according to this year’s PwC CEO Survey, the top transformation trends from CEOs all relate to Information Technology. As I mentioned in “5 considerations for adapting innovation programs for digital transformation,” the innovation program itself should be digitally transformed as well. For example, think about how the SMAC stack can enable stronger social collaboration, mobile access, improved analytics and cost-effective and agile cloud delivery. Think about how innovation processes can be re-designed to be more customer-facing and produce results within faster cycle times.
  • Continual Improvement: Build in a continual improvement process and capture best practices learned as a result of your innovation events and processes. Best practices can span the gamut from pre-workshop planning, to the actual conduct of the workshop, to post-workshop deliverables and follow-on. After running many sessions, you’ll find who know exactly how long various forms of ideation session may take and even how many ideas you expect to collect based on the structure of the session and the number of attendees. While the goal is typically the quality of ideas and not the quantity, having an estimate of the number of ideas anticipated can still be highly beneficial since it will inform you how long you may need to allocate to any subsequent steps such as voting. For continual improvement, it’s also important to measure, but to measure the right elements and not everything imaginable around your ideation processes. Measure only what will be useful to understand and act upon in the future.

Finally, you may remember the movie, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray wakes up day after day to the same day on February 2nd until he changes his behavior. To avoid your own “innovation groundhog day,” training and education should be a continual, available capability so that as roles change, and new hires come into your organization they can quickly get up to speed and understand the corporate innovation vocabulary and the range of options available to them in support of their innovation objectives.

By implementing a multi-modal ideation approach, with both event-based and ongoing ideation vehicles, your organization will be well-poised to maximize the innovation potential across your diverse ecosystem of employees, customers, suppliers and partners in a systematic manner and equally able to mobilize ideation sessions as, where and when opportunities arise.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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