How Can You Validate Innovation Ideas?


This is the fourth episode in our Spotlight Series – let’s get into how to come up with innovative ideas and how to validate them. Where do you look for ideas? Who is in the room to validate them? And we reveal our best practices for running an innovation workshop.

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Full Transcript

Erin Srebinski [00:13]: How do I collect innovative ideas on projects?

Josh Barker [00:16]: So this is a very interesting one because I think a lot of organizations, if they’re large, they have someplace to say, “Hey, here’s a place to submit new ideas. And so that backlog can be a good thing. It can also be a bad thing. It’s a good thing if you do it well and you can communicate. The biggest problem is communication back to the people that are submitting the ideas. You need to be careful with how you do this. Oftentimes if people don’t hear communication back – they will stop trusting the process because they’ll think it’s just going into the ether, right? And that their ideas don’t matter. Or if their idea isn’t chosen, they’re going to think that, I’m just not smart enough to think about innovation.

I think it needs to be some kind of submission process with a lot of communication backward. One way to collect innovative ideas, is really they have to have an innovation team or an innovation champion or set of champions. People that really have been trained in how to facilitate innovation workshops. So innovation workshops are a great place where you can invite people from different departments and generate cross-departmental ideas. Different people should be involved in each of these sessions. This gives everyone an opportunity to really generate new ideas for their particular department that might help them.

Then once those ideas have been generated you can have a prototyping workshop. And so that workshop could even help prototype rapidly some of those ideas. Taking them, if they’re digital ideas, even a step further with our prototyping team and prototyping those out. So that’s really how you can involve everyone is these workshops. They’ll feel like they’re a part of it. Because the idea is that you also want to create an innovative culture. It’s not just a submission form where they’re submitting their ideas and it’s going to the ether and they don’t feel like their ideas matter are valued.

These workshops help generate a lot of excitement. Right? And they help generate, “Hey, there’s actually something that could happen that could bring it to another step.” And there’s collaboration. There are a bunch of people working together rather than just these independent forms being submitted.

ES [02:30]: A lot of companies may ask, we have a ton of people, we have a ton of ideas in our organization. They all come in from different places. How do we evaluate these innovation ideas? How do we pick the right ones?

JB [02:40]: So really, I think this is a loaded question because I could probably talk for a good half hour or hour on just this subject alone. But a couple of thoughts here: a ton of ideas in our organization come from a lot of different places. So I think the first thing is when you’re establishing it kind of innovation practice in your organization is coming up with an understanding of an innovation funnel. How are people submitting ideas you know, if they’re coming from everywhere? How do you funnel them to a specific spot so that they can be organized? So you can evaluate these innovation ideas?

So in larger organizations, this is obviously problematic. Smaller organizations, you could do something as simple as a Google spreadsheet or, you know, something quick and dirty. But when you’re talking about organizations that have thousands of people, it becomes really challenging when you have a lot of these people having all these ideas. Right? You need to start thinking about: how can you distribute a lot of these innovative ideas to innovation champions within each of these groups? And then evaluating those ideas and then sending those ideas up to another kind of group that can evaluate them?

So evaluation is often done in a group of people. It shouldn’t be done in isolation and should be done together across multiple different departments. Where you can kind of present a case when you start to gather these innovative ideas together. You need to have the right factors in place to discuss why they believe it would have a certain ROI.

There are a lot of different mechanisms to validate these ideas. Usually what I would propose is something like a voting mechanism where everyone is involved in this. Everyone, meaning a small group of people. They get together in a meeting setting where they have all the ideas kind of posted around the wall. They have already been narrowed down from different departments. They’re doing similar exercises where effectively people get voting stickers. They get a limited amount of these stickers where they would put stickers on these different ideas. Some of them would be, “Hey, I like this idea. This is a really cool idea.” And another sticker, limiting to about three of these, defines those that would be the most successful.

Once you start voting and you start to go around the room, you start to see visually which ideas are the most worthwhile because they have the most stickers on them. Then you can start to take the ones down after this voting exercise and discuss them and start to flush them out more. So really, it should be a group exercise. Workshops done in isolation are not effective. One person does not have a clear view of the organization.

So you need almost some semblance of a leadership team being able to come in and help vote on some of these ideas. And again, it needs to become more of a final process because they shouldn’t be responsible for funneling all of the innovation ideas, because that could be a full-time job and it could be extremely overwhelming. They have other jobs, too. It needs to be some kind of formalized process where that load of doing that validation and in doing that evaluation of all these different ideas needs to be done by multiple groups before it’s a leadership team. There’s a very specific process that we would help companies do this. Reach out to City Innovation Labs if you’re interested. We can set up a workshop to show you the specific process, but it involves voting and involves a very formalized approach to validating these different ideas.

Podcast transcript edited for clarity and readability.

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