Day in and day out, we’re all coming up with ideas at work and home as we go about routine tasks or during meetings and problem-solving sessions. There’s often a tendency to think that more ideas mean better results. But, typically, this isn’t the case. A focus on generating more, rather than better-quality, ideas might lead to slower decision-making and lower motivation to be creative.
In this blog, we offer you some tips for improving the quality of the ideas you generate and crowdsource, as well as some examples of where great ideas often emerge.
Why improve the quality of your ideas?
Once your idea campaign is up and running, with strong employee involvement and ideas pouring in, you may find that many of the ideas aren’t relevant enough to the problem you’re seeking to solve. It takes considerable time and effort to review every idea to find the few that are worth pursuing. Rightly so, you might conclude that you’d rather generate fewer, but better, ideas. As such, shifting your idea generation from quantitative to qualitative goals has significant merits. It reduces the time required to evaluate arguments, keeps participants more engaged with the problem at hand, and, ultimately, leads to better results.
With that in mind, here are some practical tips for running campaigns to attract high-quality ideas.
Carefully define the problem
Most companies and individuals aren’t short of ideas, but they often struggle with knowing exactly where to focus their ideation.
As Albert Einstein puts it:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes determining the problem, and 5 minutes on the solution”.
When a team knows exactly what problem to target, they have a much higher chance of coming up with workable solutions.
In generating ideas, a combination of three key aspects is at the heart of finding innovative solutions: discovering the problem, identifying it, and combining fragments of data (ideas, insights, facts) into a single concept to solve the problem.
An example from consumer goods multinational P&G exemplifies why defining the problem is the key to successful idea generation:
“Research showed that about 80% of consumers in India wash their clothes by hand. They had to choose between detergents that were gentle on the skin but not very good at cleaning clothes and more potent but harsher agents. With the problem clearly identified, in 2009 a team came up with Tide Naturals, which cleaned well without causing irritation … [it] has helped to significantly increase Tide’s share in India.”
- Harvard Business Review, June 2011
Use ideation tools and methods
Managing the idea generation process can sometimes seem like an overwhelming task. However, the right idea-development methods can structure and streamline the process and encourage focused participation from your ideators. Here are some valuable tools for effective ideation:
Crowdsource and run idea campaigns
Idea campaigns and crowdsourcing are both excellent ways of gathering ideas and insights from groups of individuals.
Idea campaigns typically focus on a specific topic or problem within an organization. They are structured initiatives that encourage employees or a defined group to contribute ideas related to a particular challenge or opportunity. Idea campaigns enable participants to propose broad areas of interest, add relevant research and data, and showcase their expertise. By running these campaigns, companies can collect huge amounts of valuable data that can be continuously analyzed. Importantly, by inviting all employees to participate, running an idea campaign clearly demonstrates an organization’s commitment to inclusivity.
Crowdsourcing is a broader approach that involves soliciting ideas, opinions, or solutions from a large and diverse crowd, which can include employees, customers, or even the public. Instead of simply generating ideas, crowdsourcing allows for a variety of insights and problems to be collected. Whether information is gathered from a small group in a physical space or from thousands of contributors around the world, crowdsourcing has the potential to be transformative.
Whether in a team or alone, brainstorming can be a powerful tool to help you break the routine and generate some brilliant ideas. This method helps you think outside the box using a variety of effective and interesting techniques for generating ideas, such as SCAMPER, Zero Draft, or Mind Mapping. Brainstorming is also attractive because it typically doesn’t require any preparation in advance. Just choose the technique you like and unleash your creativity.
Combine online and offline ideation
To generate better-quality ideas, try combining offline sessions with online idea-gathering platforms such as HYPE Innovation. This mix will allow you to keep track of your team's ideas, organize effective in-person workshops, and generate the best results for your campaign.
Remind ideators of the problem
If you’re using a crowdsourcing platform, always include the campaign problem on the idea submission form in order to keep ideators focused on coming up with ideas that are aligned with the campaign topic. An innovation manager recently shared an example of an irrelevant and impractical idea posted in a campaign seeking radical service concepts: "Move an ATM machine to my neighborhood because it takes me too long to get to one." Keeping participants focused on the campaign problem can significantly reduce the submission of ideas that lack value and increase the number of relevant, workable solutions.
Set upfront the criteria for idea selection
Don’t underestimate the importance of stating up-front the criteria for idea selection. Failing to do so can be detrimental because not defining the review criteria until after the idea submission phase can lead to uncertainty about the needs and goals of the campaign.
In addition to the campaign statement, a short description of the evaluation criteria that sets out what kind of ideas are being sought is important. For example, if your review process includes a cost-analysis component or if you’re looking for ideas that can be implemented within a few months, let participants know.
Choose a diverse audience for your campaigns
Collaborative innovation is built on the notion of seeking out wider perspectives at scale and in an efficient way. Having many different perspectives on the same problem is often the magic ingredient to igniting breakthrough ideas, so a varied audience of participants for your idea campaigns can be invaluable.
If you prefer to keep the audience selective, try to use campaign moderators from outside of the group. These moderators can ask questions that help to break down orthodoxies and challenge assumptions.
Automotive services company Casa Pellas runs a mixture of Kaizen campaigns for continuous improvement alongside radical innovation campaigns aimed at generating breakthrough ideas. For the latter, Casa Pellas tried a new approach to increase the quality of the ideas it received: The company asked that ideas only be submitted in teams, with a maximum of four people, with team members coming from different parts of the business. Casa Pellas expected to receive no more than 20 ideas; they ended up with 84.
To ensure high-quality ideas, the teams were asked to put together a business case for their ideas with the help of the company’s innovation team. “It was not shot first – aim later. It aimed first, with a business case, and then shot.” - Alvaro Castillo, former Head of Procurement at Casa Pellas.
The ideas were then filtered and a number of teams were asked to present their ideas to the innovation team, with finance and marketing resources provided to support the teams in building the business case for their ideas. In the final round, three ideas were selected for presentation to the company's CEO. The approach was so successful that Casa Pellas has continued to run radical campaigns in this way.
The quality, rather than quantity, of ideas is what really matters when it comes to effective innovation and problem-solving. The key strategies for achieving quality ideas include carefully defining the problem, using idea-generation tools such as campaigns and brainstorming sessions, combining online and offline idea generation, keeping ideators focused on the problem, setting idea-selection criteria upfront, and engaging a diverse audience. Organizations that apply these approaches stand to improve the quality of ideas, drive innovation, and achieve better results.