How to manage ideas effectively - without discouraging your team.


Ideas are food for innovative organizations. If our team is not engaged or does not care about their work and the mission of our company they will not participate in generating ideas to improve and beat the competition.

It’s often said that “there are no bad ideas”, and this is conceptually correct but we all know that it’s impossible to only have good ideas. This phrase is used to invite all members of an organization to participate and contribute to improving and building better tools and processes.

Of course, not all ideas are good, or even fit our OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). And we might have so many good ideas from our organization it's impossible to work on all of them.

So while we want everyone to ideate and participate we can not realistically dive deep into all the ideas. We need solid systems and tools to create a thriving and active flow of good and not-so-good ideas.

Being genuinely for idea generation

Although it sounds good to say we have an organization with an open idea pipeline many companies don't carry through this to an effective implementation. It's not that we don't mean it, but building a healthy idea flow is not as easy as it sounds.

If you’re not going to use any of my ideas then why should I even bother?

And leaders need to genuinely believe that more ideas from our team will make the whole organization more innovative and successful. Not having conviction from the leadership will cause a conundrum where team members continue providing ideas and very few of the ideas are actually accepted by management.

It’s also not a secret that a large number of ideas or proposals by "management" are also not good and eventually fail, often slower than they should! But since the management have final say on decisions, specially when it comes to allocation of resources and funds they pick what seems to be the right move, in majority of organizations.

A solid idea management and experimentation system will help every team and organization perform better.

A simple hack: Change the conversation from Personal to Experiments

One key change I've seen work is to start by looking at all ideas as potential experiments and run them thru a disciplined process. Not a months long process (might be needed for very large investments or non-reversible decisions) but disciplined, data-informed and faster.

It's important to train ourselves and our team to structure ideas correctly and more completely. This is why the Amazon narrative (Six Pager) style of idea communication is so effective. Although a typical Six Pager can take from weeks to months to complete it is possible to expedite the process significantly using the right tools. The best idea management process will have multiple steps in collaboratively guiding the team through structuring their ideas in progressively more complete flow with grading and yes/no gates along the way.

A robust idea management system is not rocket science! Many teams try to implement this but the tools become a challenge because using Word, Excel, Powerpoint, email, Slack, SMS and one of more task management and other tools add so much "tool overload" to the team and and data-friction to the entire process it ends up being a zombie. Key is to use AS FEW TOOLS AS POSSIBLE.

This way the entire process will seem (be) more objective and will empower the whole organization to contribute. It’s a way to take the “personal” out decisions in a large majority of cases which is a significant improvement over status quo. Humans get emotionally attached to their creations, even if only an idea and handling rejection is a huge challenge for most of us. And we are not even aware of this in majority of cases. So instead of spending time and energy on un-measurable ideas and conversations let the experiment and data help. Release personal tension too.

Here's an example conversation in a typical meeting:

Mary: we are starting to see new customers from areas outside our key local market, how should we handle this?

John: we need to expand to New York to capture more market share. (multiply by 10 or more depending on the number of attendees)

Mary: that's a great idea John why don't you complete the "level-1 Idea Form" and we'll see how it stacks up for an experiment.

John: awesome thanks Mary, I'll definitely do that.

Notice how adding the word experiment immediately brings out the inherent risk in all new ideas. This is not to discourage people from vocalizing their ideas, actually the opposite. But forming the thought into a potential experiment, along a good idea management system, will significantly increase the quality of good ideas in the org, and make it actually possible to consider and evaluate all ideas to some degree.

Using this technique significantly reduces number of ideas people just say without thinking about the details, and increase number of quality, thought-thru ideas - this is what a win-win situation looks like.

And by the way: we should absolutely START WITH OURSELVES! Before expecting your team to get good at this method we need to practice it ourselves. We need to learn and teach by showing rather than just telling. And also expect (actually encourage) to be called out when we step outside the guidelines as even if we're the CXO.

This is precisely what we are aiming to do at Experinator and would love to work with your organization to share our lessons. The more experiments you do and the faster each experiment, the more competitive you will be.

Do you believe in the power of experiments? We are looking for great team members to help take Experinator to the next level. If you are passionate about helping teams and organizations ideate better, make better decisions and become master experimentors I'd love to hear from you.