How to Run Ideation Campaigns that Generate Real Value

Idea campaigns are all based on the simple concept that the more people who contribute ideas, the better. It is sometimes also referred to as the democratization of ideation, or crowd-sourcing ideas. Releasing the creative potential in your organization will provide you with a powerful new resource that can take you into the future. But just believing in the benefits of democratizing ideation is not sufficient for running an effective and successful ideation campaign in your organization. A poorly constructed campaign can be a huge waste of time and effort, and set back the cause of innovation. The best ideation campaigns all manage to balance the free ow of ideas with just the right amount of process and structure.

The old-fashioned “write your idea on a note and put it in the suggestion box” is the most rudimentary form of gathering ideas from multiple people who are not sitting in the same room together. By understanding its shortcomings, we can understand what essential elements we need to add to run an effective ideations.

Shortcoming with the idea box

  • The idea box is too open-ended. It simply says, “Ideas” on the outside. Ideas are good, but ideas about what? Properly structuring the problem or the challenge you are trying to address with new ideas is the first step to running a good campaign. For ideations to be business critical, they need to be connected to strategic initiatives of the organization.
  • The idea box lacks transparency and offers no collaboration opportunity. With an idea box, you have no idea what ideas other people are submitting, because you cannot look inside the box. If people could see the breadth and richness of others’ ideas, it would spur new thinking and help the next person to think of a better idea that builds on the ideas of others. Many innovations are two or more ideas brought together, rather than a new one.
  • The idea box is a totally static device. It sits there on Monday, and it is still sitting there on Friday (with a bit more dust on it). Maybe there are more ideas in there after a week, but unless you open it, you won’t even know. And no one really has any emotional incentive to contribute an idea, because nobody else is reacting to their contribution. A proper feedback loop is crucial for us humans to want to keep submitting ideas and contribute to the future of the organization.
  • The idea box is in one location. Your organization is usually not. The chances that you get your best ideas when being close to the box are also fairly small. The best ideas might come to you when you’re at the gym or driving home. Or when you are in the Singapore office, but only the New York office had an idea box. Shoot!

The idea box does not allow iteration. 

Everyone who has worked with idea exploration (vs. execution) knows it is not a linear process, quite the opposite actually. Several iterations are often needed and you need to cluster ideas, test them, and go back to collect new ideas. The idea box is not a very flexible format for iteration. It is more like a black hole.

These are a few fatal flaws of why the idea box often fails. RIP idea box. Fortunately, we’re living in a time where there are better solutions and expertise out there on how to succeed with bottoms-up ideation campaigns to power the direction of your organization.

How to Run Ideation Campaigns that Generate Real Value

A good idea ideation campaign should have the following:

  • A well-structured challenge. Something that people can get their minds around, and framed at just the right level. If the challenge is too high a level, creative thinking will be all over the place. If it’s framed at too low a level, it will be very concrete but may cut o non-obvious paths to new solutions.
  • The possibility to build on one another’s ideas. Its best to share ideas with everyone. This will help build excitement and awareness, as well as spur new followup ideas from others. You can accomplish this by posting ideas physically, or more appropriately with a geographically spread-out team, virtually. Mechanisms can be the organization’s internal website, email updates, or by using a digital platform for this purpose.
  • Closed feedback loops. As an ideator you put time and energy into submitting your idea. Of course you want to know what happens with it. You want feedback – is it valuable for solving the challenge or not? How will the organization proceed with my idea? You need to be smart about how to set this up since it can be a tedious process if the volume of ideas are large. But it’s absolutely crucial in fostering an innovative culture.
  • A mechanism that allows the submission of ideas at any time, from anywhere. Ideation is not a linear process and ideas come at the most random times. By running ideation campaigns over longer periods of time and through a digital platform, participants have more freedom to participate when it suits them. This means that participation and engagement increase.
  • Global collaboration. Global is the new local. The web and digitalization bring completely new ways of collaborating across borders, that is fantastic for our ideation campaigns that generate value. By having people from different countries, teams, and backgrounds collaborate, we benefit from a greater diversity of ideas.

Taking ideas forward

Collecting ideas is fairly simple, but what really matters is making something out of them. To do this, you need a clear sponsor with resources to spend on it and a proper process to cluster ideas, connect hypotheses to the clusters, and design experiments to test the hypotheses. Only after this process do we have data and learnings to make informed decisions on which ideas to move into our project portfolio for further development.

All organizations can innovate, and good ideas can come from anyone. Successful organizations figure out how to do ideation for future business ideas in parallel with running their core business. We encourage you to unleash the creative potential from all players in your ecosystem, including employees, partners, and customers. But you can only be successful if you try. Start by running a pilot campaign, learn lessons, and scale it up the next time.

This blog post was Co-authored with Peet Van Biljon and originally posted in Innovation Leaders magazine Pointers June Edition (