Is Idea Management Underrated?

by Sumit Roy [see Sumit’s profile here]


Because most Senior Managers believe that they already know how to manage ideas. Yet company after company does not get to see their best ideas see the light of day. They don't even know where they are.

Evidence that most companies don't know how to manage disruptive ideas is that they have so few disruptive ideas in the entire history of their companies.

Take stock in the industry you now work in. When did the last idea that disrupted your industry happen?

It's more likely that it happened from other companies not quite in your industry. Companies that have a culture of innovation.

It's more likely that Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon or Microsoft disrupted the way that your industry now works.

That's because these companies do have a carefully cultivated process of Idea Management.

It's what makes them one of the world's top innovators.

Very few companies can claim to have a clear process for Idea Management built into their operating systems.

Does yours?

Does every manager in your organization know it as well as they know the procedure for applying for leave?

I can always tell if a company is really well run by asking two questions.

•   What's your Crisis Management Policy?

•   What's your Idea Management Policy?

Now that companies have learned the hard way that crises can happen from the most unexpected quarters, especially now that the consumer is so empowered that one tweet could bring a company down on its knees, most well-organised companies do have a Crisis Management Policy in place. At least people know who may or may not talk to media when a crisis does happen. They also know how the facts of the crisis have to be escalated, who has to be informed, whatever the time of day.

But when it comes to an Idea Management Policy I am met with an embarrassed silence.

Some companies trot out a suggestion box scheme conceived in the last century that has suggestions that have never been seriously looked at. So much so, that the suggestions have dried out.

Others have processes like Kaizen or Total Quality Control or similar. But when I ask them what was the last disruptive idea that came as a result of that process, there's an embarrassed silence again. They then start apologizing that that "committee" has not met in the last month, the last quarter or the last year.

It's simply not considered a priority.

People are so busy running their business that they forget they need ideas for long-term sustainable growth.

I guess that's why the workshop I created for IIM Calcutta, for their Management Development Program, gets repeated demand. Every year IIM Calcutta invites me to run the workshop, often twice a year.

There clearly is a demand.

But I will be the first to admit that this particular workshop, developed for IIM Calcutta, has somethings wrong with it.

1.     The IIM C workshop is too short. Half-a-day. The participants just get a taste of what is possible. They don't get to become experts.

2.     The wrong people attend it. Mid-level managers are nominated. They rate the workshop very highly (which is why, I guess, I get repeat demand). But they fail to get their bosses to practice what they've been taught.

I do have a longer workshop. A two day one that I will be running in Jakarta on March 23 & 24.

That one works when the people who really have a say in how the company runs attend.

Works best when the thought leaders from Marketing, Production, Operations, Finance, HR, from the same company, all attend. Being a learn-by-doing workshop they not only take back disruptive ideas that they can put into action straight away, they take back an Idea Management Process that they can easily adapt to their own organization culture.

The trick, I have found, is to price it high. Then the junior managers don't get sent. And even if the middle-level managers do get sent, the seniors want to know what they got out of spending so much.

You see, the really senior managers who should attend believe that they already know all about Idea Management.

Or they feel embarrassed to admit that they could do with some coaching.

Or they are so busy being busy they don't have the time for ideas that will change the future of their company.