August 11, 2017

The process of improvement always begins with an idea. “Think of an idea like money in the bank,” said Donna Greiner, author of The Basics of Idea Generation. “Once you acquire the habit of producing ideas… they quickly compound… Like interest on a bank account, your ability to generate ideas grows exponentially.”

“Ideas are the driving force of business,” said Greiner. “There are lots of companies that are great idea generators. In fact, success in business today is all about institutionalizing idea generation. 3M is a great example. They have a program that finances employee ideas and have set a specific percentage of revenues that must come from new products — thus forcing innovation.”

“The whole Internet economy is a hotbed of idea generation,” noted Greiner. “Just surf awhile and you’ll find an infinite number of new business concepts, structures, products.”

Ideas are a job requirement, contended Greiner. Each individual in an organization is responsible to use creative powers to improve the job and the company.

Yet many employees see themselves as “not creative.” Not so, Greiner insisted. We’re all capable of generating a multitude of ideas every day. We can learn techniques to make idea generation a simple, repeatable process. Greiner compared the thinking of many idea experts. “I found that everyone is using the same basic methods to get ideas,” says Greiner.

He outlined this five-step process to create ideas:

1. Create an “opportunity statement.”Even when ideas are generated to solve problems, it’s helpful to speak and think of the work of idea generation as an opportunity, said Greiner — because of the possibilities for positive, forward-moving improvement. Write an “opportunity statement” to define and establish goals for your idea-generation project.

2. Collect the raw material. Conduct a research project. Inquire, even consulting with “unlikely” sources who may contribute a fresh perspective, said Greiner. In the process, be open to new thinking — be curious about every possibility — and immerse yourself in the hunt.

3. Hold an idea workout. Away from the facility where participants usually work, if possible — outdoors, at a home, at a conference center. Use idea generation techniques. Example: Manipulate the information and materials at hand to generate more ideas — add something to it, take something away, make it bigger or smaller, reverse it, run it backwards, turn it upside down, speed it up, slow it down, turn it off or on, change it, combine it, break it into pieces, replace it, substitute it, make it stronger, duplicate it, make it the opposite, eliminate it. Ideas are a new combination of the familiar.

4. Evaluate the ideas. This is separate from the idea workout, done later. Switch your focus from generating a quantity of ideas to considering their quality.

5. Implement the ideas. Begin by selling the idea to others in the organization to get needed “buy-in” or support. Then, use the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) cycle and put the idea to work.

© 2017