Making ideas happen

2005

Whose role is it to look for new ideas? Every person should be looking for new ideas in the way he or she carries out his or her job – that’s easy answer. Seeking better, simpler, faster or cheaper ways to do something is everyone's business all the time. The same applies for heads of departments and divisions.

This is all part of the quest for 'improvement' ideas. There is no difficulty in understanding the process, even though this is not done as thoroughly as it could be. But what about really new ideas that might affect the whole company? Whose role is it to look for these ideas?

It might be the role of the research department to come up with new product ideas. But the training of scientists and engineers is not towards value creation. Technical excellence and achievement do not always translate into a value product.

Marketing is always sensitive to new ideas and always looking for new ideas - but these ideas are directed towards existing products instead of the really new ones. The strategy team are full of analysis and considered thought. However, new ideas throw strategy out of balance because of the huge amount of uncertainty involved. So whose role is it to seek new ideas? At the head of the table at the meeting sits the chief executive.

What the chief executive says is this: 'I believe we need some really new ideas. We may be a powerful and effective organisation but I do not believe we are making anything like the best use of our existing assets. Where can we get some new ideas?' Around the table the listeners are thinking different thoughts:

...'Here we go again with the same routine lip-service to creativity. Just make the right noises - nothing else needs to be done.'

...'You do not need to search for new ideas. They just arrive. Maybe you follow a competitor with a 'me-too'. Developing the market is a risk other people can take.’

...'Things are running smoothly. Why risk disrupting things with a new idea that is uncertain? Maintenance and problem-solving are enough as long as they continue to be profitable.'

...'This creativity and innovation thing is a fad. Evolution is not a matter of new ideas, it is a gradual process.'

...'We do not have to find new ideas. We need to listen to our customers and to do what they ask us to do. That is enough.'

...'Why be the first with a different idea? Let others develop the ideas first and then we just follow them. There is no macho necessity to be first.'

...'He can make noises about a new idea, but if someone came along with a new idea he would be too frightened to devote resources to it.'

...'We have heard this one so many times in the past.'

...'If you want new ideas then recruit more geniuses - and listen to them.'

...'New ideas are fine for a small start-up business, but risky for a large company. Anyway, a new idea will not really make much difference to the bottom line of a big business.'

...'So we want fresh ideas. Where are we going to find them?'

'Please God make me chaste - but not yet' is what St. Augustine was supposed to have said: In the same way a lot of executives would say: 'We really do need new ideas - but not just now.' There is a finance department, a legal department, a marketing department, a pr department, a production department, a human resources department so how about an ideas department?

Appreciating that the R&D department is not the same as an ideas department is the first step. You might ask the R&D department to come up with a glue which is immensely strong, but which could be reversed in a simple way - perhaps with radio frequency. Such a concept is one of value. How the concept can be put into practice is an R&D task. Value design and traditional R&D do need to be separated conceptually. They are quite different. In the case of particular individuals the two could overlap, but this depends on the individual, not on the structure.

The truth is that the majority of organisations do not have anyone whose business it is to consider the possibility of new ideas. I talk about the importance of a 'Concept R&D Department' in one of my books. Such a department could deal in value concepts. The department would identify needs, opportunities, market development, etc. The department would look to generate its own ideas or to obtain them from outside sources.

Corporations never pretend to provide all the material they need in-house – they have suppliers. Car makers purchase steel and buy electrical fittings and tyres. Why should ideas be treated so differently?

Because ideas only need brains for their production, there is a belief that having some brains around will produce all the ideas that are needed. Unfortunately this is not so. Creativity and value sensitivity are skills that need to be developed. As with any skill, some people are better than others.

Ideas Manager
Ideas should be treated as seriously as finance and raw materials. An organisation should appoint a senior executive as an 'ideas manager' for one month as an exercise. This person should be handed the task of determining how he or she would run an 'ideas department' if there were to be such a thing. It is this direct focus on ideas that is important.

If ideas come to be treated seriously, then the need for them and their potential value become apparent. It also becomes obvious that the usual way of just waiting for ideas to happen is not that efficient. Do you wait for things to happen elsewhere in business?

Assessment
It is not easy to assess ideas. They may be before their time. The market might not be ready for certain ideas. The value of an idea might not be perceived by the customers. The technical execution of an idea could prove more difficult and costly than first imagined. There are lots of uncertainties and risks attached to new ideas. Many are failures. But the history of any industry is a history of ideas and innovation. The market leaders are often those who discovered the next step forward.

If choosing the right idea is a difficult task, then is this task made simpler by having only a few new ideas, or by having many new ideas to choose from?

If there are only a few ideas it might seem easier to choose. But if there are lots of ideas, then you will more easily find one that fits your search profile.

If none of the ideas are exactly right, then choice is very hard. If an idea fits the search profile, decision is simple.

  • What does your organisation do regarding new ideas?
  • What is the track record of innovation in your organisation?
  • Where have the fresh ideas come from?
  • What efforts are made to secure a steady supply of different ideas?
  • How do you assess the new ideas?
  • Whose specific role is it to seek and to look after new ideas?
  • What is the attitude to fresh ideas?
Maybe a survey could give some broad answers to those questions. You can analyse the past, but you need to design the future.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono is a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.

Older Comments

The shape of new ideas is similar to old ideas. The old idea has a footprint only changed by one side blowing out moving out further or turning inward. Bottom line: change appears to be logical, only after the fact.

John Warner