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Beyond the Suggestion Box    [Date Added : 09/27/2005 ]
John Gabrick, writing in DM Direct Newsletter, believes that everybody has a good idea. Companies thrive and survive on good ideas. Those who place a priority on generating and acting on good ideas frequently assume market leadership.

However, corporations allow good ideas - indeed, not-so-good ideas as well - to merely exist within the structure. They're treated as "wisps and allowed to float unchecked." Gabrick observes that companies often fail to consider ideas as a business asset and fail to care for them as they would other assets. In today's hyper-competitive business environment that can be a multimillion-dollar mistake.

Companies owe it to themselves, their stockholders and their customers to consider turning the collection and development of ideas into an innovation management process, just as they would any other business operation.

Innovation management, however, is typically one of the last business processes within an organization to be systematized and computerized. Unlike other business processes, innovation can be highly difficult to manage, mostly due to the challenges associated with creating the ideal environment in which to foster innovation. Organizations that can capture the elements of innovation and systemize them create cultures that can outlast all other competitors.

However, creating this culture is no easy task. It begins by creating innovation marketplaces, integrating multidisciplinary views into the innovation process and encouraging early data capture and decision-making. In practical application, the basic tenets of innovation are sometimes hard to implement, but the results are well worth the effort.

In practice, for all the difficulty in creating an innovative environment, the rewards are even more spectacular, such as industry-beating profitability, growth and stock performance, not to mention employee career enhancement and personal satisfaction. Without a doubt, innovation is a purely human quality that can be nurtured and coaxed to bear fruit on behalf of the organization. This explains why innovation - radical innovation - is perhaps the only way to maintain competitive advantage in this fiercely competitive world.

Innovation systems are also highly sensitive to disruption. People are not typically judged on how well they innovate. Although the concept is difficult to embody in software, careful understanding of the cultural and political aspects of the organization will lead to higher and sustained participation on the part of the inventors. There are companies responding to this new practical view of innovation management with software that empowers businesses and their employees with the ability to manage their innovation assets or commercialization assets - intangible assets - under similar demands as their physical asset counterparts.

Considering the nature of the innovation process, one of the most critical aspects is building a process that is respected within the organization. People look for consistency and respect in everything they do, from the law to how they deal with their children. Universally, if a person believes that he or she is being treated fairly and the process is fair, even if the outcome is not what he or she wanted, it is possible to still feel satisfied with the result.

The process by which innovation is captured, managed and mediated must be equally respected. If employees believe their ideas are judged differently than others or if they never receive feedback, they lose respect for the process and eventually stop participating. The leading downfall of "idea collection" applications is that there is a huge turnout for the first couple of months, and then the submission rate slowly falls until it is near zero.

To offset this, people must believe that their submissions are beneficial to their own goals in addition to the organization goals. (Think of the "what's in it for me" syndrome.) By nature, people don't usually like to waste time on activities with little or no obvious personal benefit. How do people decide that something has a benefit? They receive clear, timely feedback about their input; they perceive that success is attainable based on merit and not based on politics; and success results in positive reinforcement in the form of recognition, participation in the success, job security and financial well-being. Management must listen and respond to all high-quality suggestions - it's critical for repeat participation.

The majority of individuals do require some guiding principals to use to spur new thinking. Management support is also needed to outline and clarify the strategic goals of the organization with regard to its business objectives. A methodology of communicating these goals to the company at large should be established to reinforce the stated direction of the company. The market-facing groups must also have the ability to broadcast the voice of the customer to the company, focusing the innovative process on real and tangible targets. Providing a mechanism that cultivates this type of communication creates that "innovation community" environment enabling the full use of the creative talent and tacit knowledge within the organization.

Categorizing an innovation management system according to its functionality and architecture in an organizational environment helps an organization decide what system of innovation management is right for them. When the system needs to be deployed to a large audience, the employee's experience, expectations and requirements are broad and, consequently, the application must accommodate all possible situations. Depending on the view of innovation and its relative importance within the organization, there will be a natural equilibrium with respect to software complexity.

A successful system, capable of handling those business processes, must incorporate software, methodology and approach, and be able to provide companies with an upfront understanding of opportunity areas, enabling refined workflow, capture, catalog and evaluation of innovation assets, incorporating all relevant views (i.e., legal, technological and business) into the process. The result is better overall understanding of innovation assets of all types, properly cataloged, valued and propagated downstream into established commercialization and IP docketing processes.

(extract of "Innovative Management: Beyond the Suggestion Box," DM Direct Newsletter, September 2, 2005. Copyright 2005 DM Review and SourceMedia, Inc.)
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