Manjit Rana, Managing Director and Founder of innovation consultancy, Ingenin Ltd, looks at why, despite the fact so many organisations have idea or suggestion boxes and their employees probably do have plenty of good ideas to contribute, these boxes are not over-flowing.
It may be worth stepping back and thinking about where ideas come from – In my experience good ideas generally come from being frustrated about a problem or process and typically arise from the person experiencing the issue, not a team of people sitting in an office brainstorming a concept.
Why do people come up with ideas when they are in the shower, lying in bed or whilst watching TV? Maybe it’s because they are not under pressure to hit their performance targets or answer the phone ringing next to them or get to the next meeting. If you want people to be more creative and innovative you have to give them the time and environment to change their behaviour – get them to think about something completely unrelated to their actual job.
No one ever feels like they have spare time to think about coming up with an idea. People get so consumed with putting out fires and chasing short-term targets that they don’t bother to record all the ideas flying through their minds.
Iconic brands like 3M and Google give their employees about 10% “free time” to experiment with new ideas. The software company Atlassian encourages employees to take “FedEx Days”, paid days off to work on any problem they want. But there’s a catch: Just like FedEx, they must deliver something of value 24 hours later.
In markets characterised by rapid change and a ceaseless quest for the faster, better way to operate, one of the most prized corporate attributes is innovation. The reason why the smartphone industry has developed so quickly compared to say the home insurance market is because consumers are not comparing the features on a contents policy, whereas the latest features are a primary driver for choosing one smartphone model over another.
The other issue we have working against us is that culturally and as a risk-mitigation-based industry, we like to identify every possible risk and design it out of the solution before launch – this often results in incredibly long gestation periods and overly complicated propositions.
Why do other industries and territories have more success? Maybe it’s because they work on the principle of Minimal Viable Products i.e. what’s the basic product or service that we can launch with to attract a consumer’s attention and then build on that using the feedback from the initial customer and market demands.
So if the best ideas are most likely to come from your customers, prospects, staff or suppliers, what are you doing to encourage them to share their ideas with you?
What do you do with the ideas that you’ve gathered?
People generally regard their ideas to be precious – they want to feel that if they are passing them on, the ideas will be looked after and developed on. That as the originator they will be recognised and potentially rewarded if the idea becomes a success. Don’t forget every idea “is worth millions”, no one comes up with an idea and says this is going to save the business £2 on every claim or increase our policy count by three new policies a day…
Nurturing those valuable ideas
• It’s easier to rip an idea apart than to develop it
• The phrase “can I just be devil’s advocate” can be used to make even the smallest barrier feel like an insurmountable issue. This is one phrase that should be banned from meetings
• Most meetings are set up ‘to review an idea’ which gives people permission to criticise an idea rather than get involved in developing it – setting up the meeting to see how the idea can be further developed is more likely to encourage positive feedback
• Early stage ideas can be very delicate and need the right environment to help them develop and flourish
It’s important when developing ideas to think about what problem you are trying to resolve and how it will fit and affect all the stakeholders. Creating a great app that could potentially save an insurer millions by streamlining the FNOL process won’t work if the consumer doesn’t have it on their phone.
Insurers are surprised at the lack of success for these types of solutions but they fail to think through the problem from the consumers perspective – I don’t wake up in the morning thinking I’m going to have an accident so why would I bother installing an accident app and besides, it’s not really the most exciting app to tell all my friends and family about is it?
The same goes for apps that claim to block my ability to make and receive calls and text messages as soon as I am doing over 10 mph – if the law can’t stop me am I really going to let my insurer take control of what I want to do?
Encourage people to go from idea to implementation
There was a great example where an insurer in India had been trying for years to create a paperless environment and nothing seemed to work. Until one department manager replaced all the desks in his area with worktops that were tilted at an angle causing the paper to just slide off. This was subsequently developed further and implemented across the whole office – had the idea gone to an ‘evaluation’ process it would probably have been killed off in the first meeting.
Expect failure – lots of It
Just as a venture capital fund might expect 80% of its investments to fail, so you must accept that most ideas - even those that are pursued to the fullest - will not get to see the light of day. But those that succeed will more than compensate for the failures.
Many businesses set up schemes to encourage new ideas, which then fail because they’re just too complicated. Never make it difficult for people to offer ideas, or for other people to act on them. If lots of people have to consider every idea, it will take a long time for anybody to actually start making improvements. For many large businesses, an opportunity comes and goes before senior managers even decide what they want to do. Make the process simple, and make sure that you review new ideas quickly. Innovation begins with an idea on how to improve something that may or may not be broken.
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