Over the past few months, the Nimble Hippo has explored a number of topics at a high level to help big companies understand how to get started down the path to corporate innovation.

Nimble Hippo Radio will dig deeper into some topics with experts, and hear how they view the challenges and opportunities facing large global brands as they try to become more nimble.

The next several blog posts will dive deeper into each of the phases I talked about here, and the repeatable innovation process. This is where large organizations take their strengths – namely, process and governance – and apply them to innovation activities. By making this repeatable and transparent, the company can get better at it, refine it, and drive more value from the ideas generated. 

The first step of the repeatable innovation process is idea generation.

We’ve often heard that ideas are easy, but execution is hard. Rarely is this truer than when global brands try to innovate. There are endless ideas from employees, executives, stakeholders and customers on how to improve products, services and processes; about new markets to pursue and emerging trends to take advantage of. 

Two aspects of idea generation are really important:

  • Capturing ideas that are contextual to key business priorities
  • Connecting all the ideas together and coming up with hypotheses that can be tested

In this post we’ll focus on the first one only and move to the next one in the following week.

Capturing ideas

There are two ways that many organizations want to capture and align the ideas that their key stakeholders have and want to share. First is a digital canvas that allows the free flow of ideas on any and all topics. There are no restrictions on the number or types of ideas, and they are not necessarily aligned to specific business objectives, but every idea is captured and categorized so it can be worked on later. 

How to do this? For employees, the best options are something that works on mobile, on their intranet, or an idea wall in a prominent place (like the cafeteria), where people can fill out a simple form stating the idea, who it’s for and the problem it solves. No other details are required, and it should be optional, but not mandatory, for the employee to include their name or take part in further discussion.

It’s a good idea to incent people to contribute ideas, but often it’s not necessary. Employees are generally willing to share great ideas as long as the corporation makes it easy to capture them.

The company needs to be a bit more creative when soliciting ideas from people outside the company, such as customers, channel partners and other stakeholders.

Sending out surveys is a common method, but response rates tend to be low. Focus groups can work. My favourite way is to engage them in idea generation by actually giving them something to work on.

As an example, if I am a product company and I have a channel partner who distributes my widgets, I give them a corporate goal and see if they have ideas on how to achieve it.

Why would a channel partner help you? Well, you are their customer, so they want to keep you happy and continue to do business with you. You also have an opportunity to share the benefits with them, financially or otherwise. As I said earlier, you may have to be creative. 

Another option is to have a specific challenge that the company wants to solve. This naturally aligns ideas into key business priorities.

In this strategy, the company puts out a relatively specific problem and gives a timeline when ideas are to be submitted to solve it. It’s a good idea to encourage teams to work together so that they can generate a lot of ideas.

When I ran these types of workshops, one of my favourite lines was:

Ideas create ideas that create ideas that solve $100-million problems.

The first idea is rarely the one that solves the big problem, but it can spark a new thought that leads to another idea, and so on. 

To do this right, the problem has to be important enough to make it meaningful for employees, customers and stakeholders to put effort into it. It’s also important to incent people to participate. Small rewards can often increase the number and quality of ideas within groups. 

To summarize:

  • There is no shortage of ideas to improve the way organizations can do business.  To maximize these ideas, enterprise organizations need to be purposeful as to how they collect these from their employees, customers and partners.
  • Make it very easy to capture and categorize these ideas.  Involve customers and partners in the process by sharing some of the goals of the organization so they know how best to help.
  • Challenges are a great way to align ideas to key business priorities.  Ensure these challenges are meaningful and time boxed.
  • Rarely is it the first idea that solves the big problems.  Ideas create ideas so share the ideas people already have which will spark better ones.

Related post: Your team has great ideas, now what?

About The Author

Craig Haney
Director, Corporate Innovation, Communitech

Craig is leading the charge for corporate innovation in Canada. His work with Canadian Tire Innovations helped launch the LeanLab project at Communitech, helping large, non-tech companies become faster and more innovative by engaging with startups. As Director of Corporate Innovation at Communitech, his focus is to grow the ecosystem by exposing small companies to big problems they can solve for some of Canada’s largest players. Craig has an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technonogy (MBET) from the University of Waterloo.