Running an Innovation Process – Part 4: Create valuable ideas

Sir Ken Robinson has a fascinating definition of creativity which is:

“Imagination is not the same as creativity. Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level. My definition of creativity is: the process of having original ideas that have value. To be creative you actually have to do something. It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions… You can think of creativity as applied imagination.”

Of course, ideas for business are straightforwardly an example of creativity. Or, as Ken Robinson has it; applied imagination.

The trick for us, as it is for Sir Ken, is to ensure that the ideas we’re creating have value: value for the business, and the consumer. We already know the idea will have value for someone – specifically the person who thought of it. There’s a reason why an inventor will often describe their idea as their brainchild. And as any parent will know, there’s no such thing as an ugly baby, so long as it’s your baby. Ideas can be the same. So in fact, we need to do two things: first, strip the idea of the inventor’s value; and second, assess how valuable it is to the business.

The actual creation of ideas, aka imagination – often regarded as the heroic element of new businesses – is in many ways the easiest part, and it’s one which is well understood, if not very closely observed. In his 1965 book, A Technique for Producing Ideas,1 James Webb Young explains more or less all of the techniques needed to go about generating ideas. And he does it in just 40 pages. So if you’re not sure how to generate ideas, you could do a lot worse than reading Young’s book as millions of other creative people have in the last half century.

In no time, you’ll have the participants gathered, whiteboard markers, post-its, and sharpies in hand. But when you do, remember to set a clear brief. All too often, we’ve seen brainstorms set free with a remit to think ‘big’, ‘outside the box’ and so on. Narrowing the domain will produce better ideas which better meet the needs of your business.

When we are creating ideas for things that a business might go on to produce, we will also need to quickly evaluate that idea to see if it might be a reasonable commercial success. To do that we must strike a careful balance between only favouring ideas which are very close to the business we already understand, and taking off into wild flights of fantasy that would operate in markets we’ll find hard to understand.

The first test for ideas may be surprising, and although a blunt tool, it is effective in finding that space between too easy and too hard. For those who’ve developed ideas, we simply ask them to choose which ones they like the most. When they know that the next step will be to develop the idea out, at which stage they will be presenting and defending their idea to the group, participants tend to quickly pick out the ideas they think most practical.

Checklist for moving on to the next stage:

  • A list of ideas or high level initiatives that have potential value.
  • A group of people that are excited by, and believe in, some of those ideas.

To make sure you don’t miss out on the next installation of our Running an Innovation Process series, sign up to our Future Architects of Innovation Monthly Bulletin.

If the wait is too much, you can find out more here. Our book, ‘Unthinkable’ is available for download today.

Missed part 1-3, check them out here…

  1. Running an Innovation Process – Part 1: How to set up the project right internally
  2. Running an Innovation Process – Part 2: Strategy and Context: Where do you start?
  3. Running an Innovation Process – Part 3: Building belief