Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Embracing Idea Management

Paul Williams argues on the Think For a Change innovation blog that many managers are resistant to innovation initiatives in general - and Idea Management Systems in particular - because successful new ideas will generate new projects, and are therefore perceived to create a drain on the limited pool of project resources. Williams writes:
Executives fear successful innovation programs because they look at their already overworked resource pool and wonder how in the world they are going to add more projects to the mix, even if they look extremely promising. This fear leads to risk avoidance which then leads to either complete inaction or very slow action.
A similar point has been argued by the Monitor group in a short paper that argues that as executive leaders pursue growth through innovation they venture into uncharted, risky waters - and potentially become paralysed by, or deny options for, change. Monitor proposes scenario planning as a useful tool to resolve the impasse, through exploring opportunities and consequences of a range of future scenarios and thereby informing the planning process for growth initiatives.

Williams argues that in poorly performing innovation programs the response to this fear of the consequences of change is to attempt to reduce the risk by pursuing a safe, incremental option:
One of the most common things I see when consulting on poorly performing innovation programs or in simply trying to embed a new idea management program, is the inevitable drift to slow decision making down, tweak the idea just a bit to reduce the risk, move forward with ideas that are "guaranteed" or "safe," or splitting resource time between innovation and lean programs . . . But to really leverage a successul innovation or idea management program, you need to occasionally roll the dice.
I don't believe an effective implementation of an Idea Management System will be particularly susceptible to the issues Williams suggests, as an effective Idea Management initiative will be properly funded with a budget for resourcing innovation initiatives above and beyond existing projects, and the Idea Pipeline itself would have checks and filters in place to ensure that the highest value ideas and innovations move to the front of the line for priority in relation to the limited allocation of idea implementation funding available. In addition, the idea of how an Idea Management system works and the benefits it offers is not difficult to communicate. Typically, both managers and employees back an Idea Management System initiative provided that executive management shows sufficient commitment to assessing and acting on ideas submitted.

But Williams' comments do raise a serious issue for consideration in relation to organizational innovation programs in general - and perhaps offer some additional warning signs for when a more systematic and rigorous approach to innovation such as through an Idea Management System is required.

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