I have been humbled by the feedback that I have received on my book, Intrapreneurship: Managing Ideas within Your Organization. While all readers have provided me with interesting insights on how ideas are managed within their organization, a handful have gone further, asking me some (difficult) questions. I will tackle an easy question in this blog post – “Can you give me a few simple rules that I can use to get better at managing ideas?” Variants of this question were posed by several readers who could relate to the frustrations employees face when it comes to leveraging their ideas. Little over a year back, I was invited to keynote a Center of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation, and Process Control meeting held at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. My talk, Ten Rules of Leveraging Ideas for Innovation, will serve as the foundation for my five simple rules.
In this blog post, I will focus on the employee perspective; in a future post, I will share five elements that managers should pay attention to.
1. You are better served by generating a handful of ideas that you believe in and are willing to take risks on, rather than swimming in an ocean of ideas that are half-baked: We all love ideas and sharing ideas. We all think we have good ideas. Do not be scattered in your pursuit of ideas, and do not jump at every opportunity with ideas. Take a step back and evaluate all of the ideas that you have. Now, think deeply about which ideas you want to risk your career on, which ideas you would invest your personal resources into, and which ideas are fundamental to your value system. Focus on these with vigor. If you do not have a lot of ideas, then take time to think about opportunities (and problems) within your organization that you care about. Channel your creativity toward these issues in terms of generating ideas.
2. Generating ideas requires a balance between environments where we play and study: Move around, try new environments, interact with problems in new settings, and even have fun and play. Too often we stay fixed at our desks or go to the same conference room to hammer out solutions for a problem. Only on rare occasions is playing at work authorized (Think about your last retreat). To generate good ideas you need to study and play, and rotate between the two vastly different environments on a regular basis. Playful environments allow you think outside-the-box (or as though there is no box) and allow creativity to realize itself in emergent ways for exploration. Environments of study promote focus, deep dives into problems, and the ability to exploit knowledge. Oscillate between diverse environments when working on your ideas.
3. Ideas advocacy is more important than idea screening: You, and your organization, spend an inordinate amount of time screening ideas. There are project reviews, idea screening checklists, and even fancy spreadsheets to review the ROI of an idea. Take the time to stick your neck out for ideas. Advocate for ideas, communicate and endorse good ideas, and support the ideas of your peers. Advocacy is a critical capability when it comes to managing ideas, but it is lost in most organizations. Unless an organization builds a capacity for advocacy, good ideas will never move from the lower echelons of the organization to the top, or even from one unit to another laterally.
4. Do not dismiss ideas without experimenting with them: We are all experimenters. We experiment on a daily basis to guide our decision-making, learning, and actions. Yet, when it comes to ideas, we often dismiss them without a lot of analysis. We rely on our hunches and gut-feelings most of the time, resulting in incomplete analysis of an idea’s potential. Experiment with ideas, do not just discard them. Take an idea, frame a hypotheses (e.g. if we implement this idea, customers will be happy or our operational costs will fall), then conduct small experiments (e.g. gather customer feedback, prototype the solution), gather information and analyze it, and then arrive at conclusions about how the idea can be refined, improved, re-conceptualized (or even discarded). Making experimentation a natural element of how you work with ideas is fundamental to improving your success with managing ideas.
5. Diffusing ideas requires sound network management capabilities: The vast majority of an idea’s success (or failure) can be traced to the networks of the idea creator. Often good ideas fall on deaf ears, or the wrong ears (e.g. those who are envious and perceive the idea as a threat). Successful intrapreneurs have robust professional, and personal, networks. They are deliberate about the people with whom they network; they manage their networks as they would any other asset. They employ their networks to test out ideas, diffuse initial concepts, and even recruit investors. Good ideas seldom just get ‘picked up’ – they must be shepherded through the organization. Toward this end, it is vital that you have a network which can propel the idea forward, amplify as it moves from one desk to another, and garner more support. Managing your network is essential if you want to be successful at leveraging your ideas.
So, there you have it, five simple rules that will increase your chances of leveraging your ideas within your organization. Be disciplined, and do not despair if the first time you put one of these rules to the test, things do not pan out. Persevere and stay focused, and I am quite certain that the results will surprise you. Of course, you can get the entire scoop on how to succeed at intrapreneurship by picking up the book!
Kevin C. Desouza is the Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech and author of Intrapreneurship: Managing Ideas within Your Organization.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.