In today’s technologically advanced world–a world in which we more readily rush to purchase the latest upgrade at the drop of a product announcement–it’s awe inspiring to remember the innovators of our digital habits first began with a mere idea. But for business leaders, it’s important to recognize that invention isn’t born through one person alone.
There’s a myth around creative thinking that “light bulb moments” come from individual genius. That cultural and intellectual myth needs to be debunked. Good ideas are a result of process–the organization, collaboration, external influences, intuition, and commitment from people who are dedicated to solving a problem.
The lifecycle of an idea has four steps, which will lead any team to new ways of thinking:
Establishing a process helps teams focus on collective efforts and identify goals. According to The Aberdeen Group, which surveyed organizations with $10 million to $5 billion in annual revenue, most top-performing businesses have set processes that capture the knowledge shared through collaboration. They also have processes that facilitate collaboration for new product and service innovations throughout the entire development life cycle.
The same report found best-in-class organizations are 74% more likely to have implemented advanced collaboration tools and 75% more likely to have a platform that enables users to capture and disseminate content across the organization.
Advertising executive Alex Osborn, who developed the basic tenants of creative problem solving, popularized the term “brainstorming.” According to Osborn, there are four guidelines to building collaborative ideas:
- Criticism must be ruled out until a later point. During initial conversations there should be a commitment to no judgment, since the purpose of this group thinking is to generate as many varied and unusual options as possible.
- Freewheeling is welcome since it’s easier to tame down ideas than think up: the wilder the idea, the better.
- Brainstorming is a numbers game, so quantity is also desired. The plethora of ideas increases the likelihood of useful ideas.
- Never forget the power of combining your thoughts with others. Team members should suggest how diverse ideas work together to turn into better ideas.
The next crucial step to reach a good idea is to visualize the data or thoughts you’ve collected in your brainstorm or research. The better you are able to visualize information through graphs, charts, and other visuals, the more patterns will start to emerge and the more likely you are to find solutions.
There’s power in connecting the dots; relying on patterns will help teams utilize past knowledge for future projects. Not only does collaboration help top-performers succeed in today’s projects, they use it to inform future projects.
Bringing an idea to life requires teams to know their roles and perform based on their talents. Entrepreneur Glenn Llopis said, “Converting your idea into a reality requires you to help others understand your vision. Selling vision is much like selling change.”
At a certain point, there needs to be a passing of the torch between the ideation to the execution. This is why most good teams have one analytic thinker on board.
Ishani Aggarwal and Anita Woolley at the Tepper School of Business found that analytical thinkers are optimized for “execution tasks.” They often pay more attention to identifying the micro-tasks and essentials to accomplish set objectives. This type of person is the “agent of change,” the person who spins solid ideas to action. It’s also what makes diversity so crucial to a team’s DNA.
In this final stage of developing a good idea, one could learn the most from James Webb Young, an ad man from 1939 and author of A Technique for Producing Ideas, who advised creative thinkers, “Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest. Submit to the criticism of the judicious.”
—Jenny Rutherford is chief product officer of Bluescape, the persistent cloud-based platform for visual collaboration. Rutherford is also named one of Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Women of Influence for 2015.