Strange title coming from someone with every garlic-peeling, batter-whipping, coffee-making, food-chopping, slow-cooking, zucchini-spiraling gadget known to humans. I love tools—software tools, hardware tools, kitchen tools. Once you have a tool, you can say “ah…the job will be FUN! I didn’t “spend” unnecessarily, I “invested” in productivity—or transparency—or communication—or better coffee. Or Idea Management.
Problems arise, however, when tools become the end in themselves. Too often, when embarking on an innovation program, people gravitate toward obsessing about which software package to procure to support the new initiative. I was there. My role on the team was to evaluate and select the idea management system we’d use. I have to say, it was the one section of the project plan that proceeded according to plan: create requirements; contact vendors; track progress on the spreadsheet; procure solution. Check, check, check, and check.
So, now what. You now have a tool to support ideas. All you need is to convince your 3,000 or 30,000 or 200,000 employees to populate the database with all their ideas! Hmm. Surprise.
The tools are not the ideas.
Now you need to determine how and where to find ideas. You can run a contest. You can put post-its and poster board in the breakroom. You can have special events to stimulate ideas. You can have a great, generative workshop. (Contact me ASAP if you’re interested in this! Workshops are my thing! I love them more than kitchen gadgets.)
The tools are not the process.
You’ve sparked innovation and generated scores of winning ideas. Now what? A good tool supports the process of idea review, filtering, selection, and tracking through the lifecycle. But the tool is NOT the process. Who will review? Who will select? How will teams be brought together across functions to co-innovate? How do the brilliant ideas find their way through your organization and not die on the vine? You need a process.
The tools are not the culture.
Terrific. You have ideas. You have a process. You’ve figured out how to install the tool—and you may even remember the admin password to support it. Are you innovating? More importantly, are you encouraging people to be creative? What is your appetite for failure? How do you reward people who are moving off the beaten path to suggest or build something different? Are YOU contributing ideas? Or are you sitting safely in the mahogany office hoping the minions will come through?
Here’s a creative exercise to try: come up with ways to generate ideas, a process to build on them, and the culture that supports a transformation from idea to innovation. Now, look in your toolshed and see what you have lying around that already does the job. Anything? Okay, now you can go shopping!
Would love to hear your thoughts.