We may be on the cusp of a whole new way of tapping the creative problem-solving potential of large companies, and finally making the phrase “idea management” a reality. This was Robert Tucker’s reaction to spending a day participating at an idea exchange of what he calls here “innovation managers”, although the work these people do in their respective organizations is so new that there is not yet a widely-accepted term to describe their occupation.

Brought together by Imaginatik, a Boston-based purveyor of idea management software, the dozen or so directors from WR Grace, Georgia-Pacific, Bayer, Goodyear and other companies spent the day discussing what’s working and what’s not in the fast-evolving craft of soliciting, selecting, recognizing and implementing ideas that ultimately drive profitable growth.
Idea management systems build on the notion that your rank and file contributor, whether in sales, R&D, purchasing or payroll, might just have an ingenious solution to a problem someone else in the company is struggling with, if only he or she is asked.

The idea of asking employees for their ideas is nothing new. Company suggestion programs have invited employees to submit ideas that save money, increase safety and improve productivity for over a hundred years. But idea management systems go much farther. By using the company’s intranet portal to appeal for ideas, the suggestion box is brought to the desk of the employee. And queries for help with specific problems can target select groups of people in the company the way upscale catalogs get mailed to affluent zip codes. Employees who see a problem posted on the company’s innovation portal can easily submit their ideas, whether they work in Bombay, Boston or Berlin.

And idea management technology enables managers to work with innovation directors to develop campaigns that solicit ideas from across the value chain: from customers, suppliers, advertising firms, think tanks, universities. The state-of-the-art today is the idea campaign, which commonly lasts only a few weeks, and then it’s over. Such campaigns are often launched using what Imaginatik CEO Mark Turrell calls Flash Sessions, where brainstormers are brought together in real time to play off each other people’s creativity, and spawn dozens of ideas that get posted for other problem-solvers to see and add to. Other campaigns might involve large-scale, company-wide events where everyone in the division is urged to submit ideas on topics like “how do we eliminate ‘I can’t believe we do this’ situations, or “how can we improve plant safety”?

One innovation manager from a petroleum refining company shared how he and his team seed their ideation events with ideas they’ve thought of ahead of time. They gather 20 people in a conference room with a router to each person’s laptop, and the ideas get projected up on a screen for all to see. These ideas in turn are posted on the division’s customized version of Idea Central. The innovation manager at SunLife Financial told colleagues that she gets the creative juices flowing by asking an easy question like “what silly rules exist in the company that should be gotten rid of?” In one meet-up of employees from eight regional offices of the company, 800 clerical workers all went on line at the same time to brainstorm ways to improve productivity by 10 percent. One rubber company innovation manager, who participated from Europe, told the group that “our best events are where we have an implementation team in place and the worst, where we don’t.” “The books all say that the review team and the implementation teams should be different, but we found that it’s okay to have the team do both.”

Intranet-based idea management systems, when combined with full-time efforts on the part of innovation managers, are achieving impressive results for their companies. Indeed, they are empowering significant changes in how organizations ideate – and their potential is only just beginning to be exploited.

This from Tucker on Innovation from http://www.innovationresource.com by Robert Tucker.