There are a number of reasons why creative ideas fail to become innovations. Sometimes it is because the idea, which seems brilliant in concept, is flawed in application. More often, the problem is that organizations invest in creative ideation initiatives (often called “innovation initiatives”), such as brainstorming events, idea management, ideas campaigns and the like, but fail to invest in implementing the most creative ideas that come from those initiatives.
Indeed, you have probably experienced this typical scenario: a company invests in generating ideas via brainstorming events that involve a lot of highly paid managers and researchers. A number of promising creative ideas are generated. Sometimes business plans are developed. Sometimes prototypes are built. Sometimes not. But, at some point between the identification of a promising idea and beginning to implement that idea, the idea is killed.
There are many reasons why creative ideas are killed, however, almost all of them have to do with risk. Implementing a new idea is perceived as risky and people in the company do not wish to undertake that risk. So, the idea is killed. Needless-to-say, investing in a creative idea generation initiative in order to generate creative ideas you will never implement is an expensive method of accomplishing absolutely nothing.
Unwillingness to implement creative ideas is not only a weakness with companies, individuals have the same problem. Imagine a young person applying for a job with Levi Strauss & Co and having the idea to write her CV (résumé in US English) on a pair of Levis jeans and sending it to her perspective employer. Such a creative approach to applying for a job would almost certainly stand out and grab the attention of the hiring person. It could very well result in an interview – particularly if the company values creativity as Levi Strauss does. Or it could result in the CV imprinted jeans being promptly rubbished as ridiculous (note: I have no idea how Levi Strauss would react in this scenario). In my experience, most people who had such a creative idea would be unwilling to risk carrying it out.
Such a waste of creative time, energy and money does no one any good and makes the world a more boring place than it could be.
In order to help individuals and organizations more rationally plan the implementation of creative ideas, I have looked at why ideas are not implemented (at the organizational level and individual level) and have drawn up a Creative Idea Implementation Plan (CIIP). You can even download an Creative Idea Implementation Plan template and accompanying cash-flow template (see link at the end of the article).
Before you implement your idea, you need to describe it in detail. Separately, you should describe what makes the idea special, that is: what is the unique selling point (USP)? Once you have done this, ask yourself how you might push the USP even further in order to make your idea even more special.
Benefits and Risks
The next step is to do a simple risk versus benefits analysis. That may sound complex, but might simply be a matter of drawing up a table with a column labelled “benefits” and one called “risks”. Then simply lists the benefits and risks in their appropriate columns. If the risks are greater than the benefits, you need to rethink your idea and focus on greater benefits. Review your USP in particular.
A stumbling block is something that can stop, damage or destroy your implementation before it is complete. Early stumbling blocks, such as getting approval from a notoriously conservative committee, lack of budget or risk adverse managers can kill a creative idea at an early stage of its implementation. To prevent this from happening, you should list all of the possible stumbling blocks that exist between now and the successful implementation of your idea. Then look at each stumbling block and indicate how you will deal with it. Being prepared for stumbling blocks not only makes it easier to get past them, but also impresses the people who are responsible for the stumbling blocks. (And most stumbling blocks are caused by people!)
Speaking of people, make a list of people – as well as organizations and groups – who should be involved in your implementation. These may be colleagues who will buy into your idea, making it easier to sell to top management or they may be designers who will build a prototype to demonstrate your idea. A complex business idea often requires the involvement of numerous people.
Implementing the idea may include the necessity of gaining authorizations from one or more bodies. Authorizations may include approval from people in your company, licenses from government offices and certificates from professional bodies. If an idea is in a new area, it is best to research relevant government regulations – you may be in for a surprise. For example, here in Belgium, licenses and regulations that apply to a restaurant depend on whether or not it serves potatoes!
Calculate the costs of implementing your idea and what is the likely income. For most business ideas, you will probably want to prepare a cash-flow table to calculate the costs and income over time (you can download our template, see end of article). If you can demonstrate a cash-flow with minimal outlay and a large reward potential, you will find it significantly easier to convince people to buy into your idea.
With all but the simplest ideas, you should draw up a list of milestones that must be achieved along the way towards implementing your idea. For example, a new product idea might require a business case, a prototype, market research, product testing, etc. In addition, milestones can be good points for determining whether or not to continue with an idea; or for considering modifications to the idea.
Very often, when considering implementing a creative idea, committees will water down the idea and make it less risky. Unfortunately, removing risk from an idea is the same as removing creativity. A creative idea with its risk removed is often a mediocre idea. A better approach is to go ahead with a risky, creative idea, but to have an escape plan. For example: if the idea does not meet certain milestones within a determined time frame, you agree to stop it. If sales do not reach a specific target after one year, you stop it. And so on. Predetermining an escape plan mitigates risk and ensures you or your company will not continue to throw money at an idea that eventually proves unlikely to meet its potential.
A communication plan clarifies who should learn about the implementation, when they should learn about it and how. A communication plan may also indicate who should not know about the idea implementation, particularly at the early stages. For instance, if you are working on a breakthrough idea, you may want to keep it secret as long as possible to prevent your competitors from learning what you are doing. On the other hand, you might want to communicate about your highly innovative idea immediately in order to be recognized as the first moving innovator behind the new idea.
Even if you are implementing a personal idea, communicating it can help give you the confidence to see it through to completion. Moreover, discussing the idea with friends, family and colleagues may provide valuable input about how to make the idea more innovative.
The last step of the implementation plan is the step by step action plan. This will describe every step you take, how long each step will take and what should be achieved. It will incorporate much of the information above. Indeed, by compiling the information above first, you can better develop a cast iron action plan that increases the likeliness that your idea will be implemented effectively. And that is what turns a creative idea into an innovation.
A final note, CIIP is a new document – let’s call it CIIP version 1.0. I would like to hear your feedback on how we can improve it and make CIIP version 2.0 an even more useful innovation tool.
Jeffrey Baumgartner is the founder of jpb.com, makers of Jenni innovation process management software. He also edits Report 103, a popular eJournal on business innovation. Contact Jeffrey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.jpb.com/