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Innovation – Campaign based idea management

In the previous article I discussed creative thinking and touched on some idea generation techniques.  There is much more to say about idea generation techniques, both in a group- or individual sense, but I will cover that in a later article.  Before going into the details of the benefits of using an idea management system, as indicated in the previous discussion, I first want to create the platform for that discussion by looking at the benefits of using a campaign based idea management model as opposed to the suggestion box approach.
Suggestion scheme based idea management
Many companies’ first venture into the field of idea management is a suggestion scheme based on the old fashioned suggestion box. However, computers have replaced the box. Suggestion schemes are sometimes ad hoc, using a central e-mail address where ideas can be sent for consideration. Other companies invest in building or buying purpose built suggestion scheme software.
Unfortunately, such systems are not very effective and tend to fail after 12 to 18 months, based on research done by Jeffrey Baumgartner. Baumgartner has found several reasons for this, which I am sure you can relate to: There is no structure to idea submission. As a result, the person or team in charge of the system is overloaded with suggestions. Because each suggestion has to be analysed individually, the workload on the team is tremendous. Often, the people in charge cannot process the ideas in a timely fashion, giving the impression to idea submitters that the company is not really interested in their ideas. Owing also to the lack of structure, a large percentage of ideas are not relevant to current business needs. This results in a high rejection rate.  There tends to be a high level of repetition. The same ideas are submitted over and over again and they must be repeatedly rejected. If an early submission of the idea is implemented and the submitter rewarded, later submitters feel that they have been cheated of credit for their ideas.  Factions within the organisation can hijack the system for political, rather than business reasons. This can be done through their submitting large numbers of ideas to support their political agenda, such as launching a project that will give their division resources – even when the project is known not to be viable commercially. Fortunately, there is an approach to capturing employee ideas that is highly effective. It is based on the well-established principles of creative problem solving (CPS) first devised by Alex Osborn in the 1940s.  
Campaign based idea management
Baumgartner recommends that a superior alternative to the suggestion scheme model of idea management is the campaign based model of idea management. In the campaign based approach, instead of openly soliciting all ideas, the company launches short term campaigns to solicit ideas on specific issues or problems, for example: “Ideas for new product features that will make our widgets more appealing to young home-owners” or “How can we improve the product documentation in order to reduce customer support demands?” Campaign based idea management offers two huge benefits over the suggestion scheme approach. Firstly it forces people to think about, and focus their innovation on, strategic business needs.  This business need should be carefully constructed – as per my previous article on how to frame an innovation challenge.  Secondly, it motivates employees to participate by providing specific, time limited challenges. Compare the demands: “give me an idea” and “give me an idea on how we can improve our marketing strategy” and it is easy to understand why campaign based idea management attracts more and better ideas.

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