Coming up with ideas for products or sevices should not be a clean sheet exercise. Tap into ideas and concepts that have come before in your organization and find ways to use them to solve today's problems.
This article was written as one of the requirements to obtain the Innovation Mentor Certification at CIMp. The CIMp program is part of ivia, the Way of Innovation(tm), founded by the University of Notre Dame, Whirlpool Corporation, and Beacon Health System. Learn more at http://innovationcertification.nd.edu/
Those of us working in organizations striving to become more innovative typically put work in ahead of ideation sessions to make them as effective as possible. Insights are distilled into a design brief, and focused problem statements are written around customer requirements. We use related worlds, divergent thinking, and other lens-smashing techniques to help ideators come up with new ideas. But what about ideas that have already been generated within the organization? Could any of them help solve today's problem? Particularly in large organizations, dozens if not hundreds of brainstorming sessions have occurred over the years. Too often we do not tap into that creative brainpower in a big way.
Sonoco is a $5.4 billion global manufacturer of consumer and industrial packaging that is working to become more diligent about incorporating prior concepts into current ideation. We mine these existing ideas and look for those that are applicable to current problems. We have found that these existing ideas often "prime the pump" in helping our associates think about how to approach a new problem. Occassionally these prior ideas work as is, but more often they are building blocks to work from or help spur new ways of thinking.
We recently revised our innovation how-to guide and included the search for and use of existing concepts as an explicit step and an expected deliverable in the ideation phase of our innovation process. We are also building out a digital Innovation Knowledge Center that, among other things, will provide one place to house all existing ideas and concepts and store new ones as they are developed. As part of this Innovation Knowledge Center we have developed a hashtag system. We tag each new idea that is written up with key identifiers such as target market, any emerging trends consumer that it may fit, and expected benefits of the idea. This hashtagging step will greatly simplify future searches for existing ideas that can be leveraged for a particular application.
- Research shows that many people come up with their best ideas when they can build on the ideas of others. This approach is a way to jump-start that process.
- Ideas developed in the past that did not go anywhere may not have found the right application or may have been conceived before the organization or the broader market was ready for them. This approach provides another chance for a good idea to become successful.
- This approach multiplies the number of ideas coming out of ideation workshops.
Many large comanies do not have an idea management system in place that cuts across business units and geographies, such as we are buildling with our Innovation Knowledge Center. When such systems exist they are easy to mine, but in their absence some work will be required to find and hone existing ideas.
You will need to understand why existing concepts did not move forward, and gaining this knowledge will require some due diligence up front. A concept may not have moved forward because it infringed on competitive patents or proved infeasible or much too costly to bring to market. Be careful not to be too restrictive in screening out existing ideas, but you must have a process to exclude the ones that have been set aside for good reasons.
First, resolve to bring prior ideas into your ideation process. Then, figure out where to go to find these existing concepts. Tap into designers, illustrators, and those in your organization who make virtual or physical prototypes. These associates have often developed effective ways of filing away concepts they have worked on. Once you have some concepts in hand, think about how you can quickly screen them in order to bring the appropriate ones into ideation. Start introducing existing concepts into your ideation process and you will find it a useful discipline that will encourage others to do likewise.
Kimberly-Clark is a company that is focusing on this area:
Here is an example of the hashtags used in our Innovation Knowledge Center to facilitate mining of prior ideas: