The idea engine keeps inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs in business. “Successful inventors accumulate over a thousand ideas in the course of bringing a creative concept successfully through the innovation process from an idea to market reality,” said professor of Engineering at Penn State, Jack Matson.
Ideas Are Not Enough
Why don’t we get more innovation? All in all, ideation is relatively abundant. Its implementation is more scarce. Many people are full of ideas but simply do not understand how an organization must operate in order to get things done, especially dramatically new things. All too often there is the peculiar underlying assumption that creativity automatically leads to actual innovation.
Whatever the goals of a business may be, it must make money. To do that, it must get things done. But having ideas is seldom equivalent to getting things done in the business or organizational sense. Ideas do not implement themselves—neither in business nor in art, science, philosophy, politics, love, war. People implement ideas.
The Haunting Specter of Irresponsibility
Since business is a uniquely “get things done” institution, creativity without action-oriented follow-through is an unfortunately barren form of individual behavior. Actually, in a sense, it is even irresponsible. This is because the creative man who tosses out ideas and does nothing to help them get implemented is shirking any responsibility for one of the prime requisites of the business, namely, action. By avoiding follow-through, he is behaving in an organizationally sloppy fashion.
Why Doors Are Closed
The reason executives so often reject new ideas is that they are busy people whose chief day-in, day-out task is to handle ongoing streams of problems. Constantly they are forced to deal with issues to which solutions are more or less urgent and the answers to which are far from clear-cut. It may seem splendid to a subordinate to supply their boss with a lot of brilliant new ideas to help the executive in their job. But advocates of creativity must understand the pressing facts of the executive’s life: Every time an idea is submitted to them, it creates more problems for them—and they already have enough.
Making Ideas Useful
Yet innovation is necessary in business and innovation begins with a proposal. What is the answer for the person with a new idea?
1. They must work within their situation. The executive is constantly bombarded with problems, which leaves little wonder that after a while they do not want any more new ideas.
2. When a subordinate suggests an idea, it is responsible for them to include an indication of what it involves in terms of costs, risks, manpower, time, and perhaps even specific people who ought to carry it through. That is responsible behavior because it makes it easier for the executive to evaluate the idea and raises fewer problems. Ideas are useless unless proven otherwise. The proof of their value is in implementation.
What is needed will vary from case to case, depending on the following factors:
Complexity of an Idea: The more complex an idea, and the more change and rearrangement it may require within the organization, then obviously the greater the need to cover the required ground in some responsible fashion when the proposal is presented.
Nature of an Industry: How much supporting detail a subordinate should submit along with his idea often depends on the industry involved and the intent of the idea.
Attitude and Job of the Person to Whom the Idea Is Submitted: Some bosses are more receptive to new ideas than others. The extent of their known receptiveness will in part determine the elaborateness of support a suggested new idea requires at its original stage.
From Creativity to Innovation
What often misleads people is that making big operating or policy changes requires also making big organizational changes. Vast machinery exists to get a certain job done. That job must continue to get the toughest kind of serious attention, no matter how exotically revolutionary a big operating or policy change may be. The boat can and may have to be rocked, but one virtue of a big boat is that it takes an awful lot to rock it. Certain people or departments in the boat may feel the rocking more than others and to that extent strive to avoid the incidents that produce it. But the built-in stabilizers of bigness and of group decision-making can be used as powerful influences in encouraging people to risk these incidents.
This would be done after the group has evaluated each idea and, preferably, spoken at length with its originator. Then when the idea and the necessary follow-through are passed on to the appropriate executive, he will be more willing to listen.
All of this is to say that you must flesh out your idea in a way that would be attractive to an executive with the resources to bring it to life. If you compile a bulletproof plan and know that it will provide value you can take your idea to someone with the capability to make it happen.