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Idea Generation or Selection

Drew Boyd has posted an interesting item on Innovation In Practice.  In Ideation vs. Prioritization, Drew suggests that too much is made of the question of how to select the right ideas to pursue rather than how to generate lots of great ideas.  In fact, he argues that prioritization of ideas doesn’t belong in the innovation discussion.  Drew is both right and wrong in this position.

Where he is right is the notion that too much focus is often placed on idea management and selection at the expense of quality idea generation.  This decision making angst is not surprising.  With the low success rate of innovation experienced by most organizations and the high cost of failure, it is natural for people to feel great pressure to make the right decisions.  But if the ideas in the pile of options being considered are all of marginal quality, one can hardly expect good selection discipline to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  On the other hand, if every idea in the opportunity pipeline is high quality, well aligned with the company, and properly qualified, then almost any choice will lead to success.

This concept is a very simple, but often overlooked, aspect of innovation and business opportunity development.  Because people forget this principle, a lot of time, effort, and money is wasted on idea management solutions when the real issue to be addressed is the process of getting good ideas in the queue at the front end of the process.

This is where I think Drew’s view is off (at least if taken literally).  Selection should not be ignored in the innovation process; it is an integral part of innovation.  Innovation is not generating ideas; innovation is generating value.  Value is relative to the objectives of the company and metrics that map back those objectives.  Good, sustainable innovation practice incorporates the notion of objective targeting and alignment.

When innovation workers understand the metrics of concept validation and collect evaluation metrics along the way, implementing fast failure disciplines is easy, and ideas that survive to the program selection gate have a much higher value potential and probability of value realization.  Companies that have achieved a high performance innovation culture integrate these concepts in to their best practices and achieve these benefits naturally.