Choosing the Right Platform

How far would we have come without good ideas? Forget missions to the moon, the internet and the evolution of mobile technology; your business is much the same, without ideas, progress stops.

However having good ideas is not enough, it is the facilitation of good ideas with the right people at the right time that brings true success to progress. This is the journey we take to explore how we facilitate a place good ideas will make a difference within your organisation and it doesn’t need to be all bells and whistles.

The choices are fairly simple when it comes to idea programme platforms, you can select from the main four options:

  • Suggestion box – paper based
  • Online form + email
  • Online form + database
  • Social community

However picking the right one can make all the difference to the success of your scheme, so let us explore what each platform is and the high level benefits and limitations of each.

Paper Based
A suggestion box held within an office where employees/customers can complete a standard form and submit using the box. Ideas are collected and assessed by the ideas team or set of evaluators.
Benefit Limitation
A highly visual & physical space within the business to submit ideas Only accessible to staff based in the office
Easy submission process for office-based employees Increased admin required to capture and process ideas
Physical record of each idea Higher result of repeat ideas as limited visibility
Online Form + E-mail
An online form held on the internet/intranet where employees/customers can log on 24/7 to share their idea and have this sent directly to a dedicated ideas email account.
Benefit Limitation
Accessible for any employee/customer with computer access High volume of emails to keep suggestors and evaluators connected and updated
Easy to document the idea within an online form. High level of admin to capture all the details you need to pursue the idea and follow-up
Online Form + database
An online form connected to a database which allows suggestors to view other ideas, check the progress of their own idea and hold all the details in one location.
Benefit Limitation
Increased exposure to ideas being looked at in the business Suggestors are unable to add their thoughts to other individuals ideas
Ability to track ideas with ease Repeat ideas are reduced
Ensures all information is contained and updated in one system Can be expensive to build/buy and implement an effective solution
Social Community
An open forum for suggestors to share ideas, add comments and vote on their favourite
Benefit Limitation
Ideas can be shaped into a tangible business case Highly voted ideas can be dismissed by the business leading to dismay from the online community
Suggestors, evaluators and senior managers can build connections in an innovative and open environment Additional checks are required to ensure the right behaviours are being demonstrated
Option to open the platform to the wider community including customers and suppliers Can be expensive to build/buy and implement an effective solution.


However, it is not a one size fits all so here are a few simple questions you can ask which might help determine a good fit:

  • What budget do you have?
  • How can you integrate the software with existing corporate IT systems?
  • How do you expect employees/customers to access the site – computer / mobile app?
  • What analytics should be built into the platform for easy tracking and analysis?
  • Do you want to allow employees/customers to discuss and shape each idea?
  • How will you communicate the progress of ideas and to what timelines?

Just remember having the most advanced platform will not improve the quantity or quality of ideas by itself. The platform is a tool to capture and process ideas and still needs effective marketing, communications and project management.  However having an effective platform can provide a forum to shape ideas into tangible benefits, reduces admin burden, increases visibility of ideas and evaluations and in these days of social media, can prove essential.

Employee Engagement – Why bother?

Employee Engagement is one of those topics that sparks a variety of views and perceptions. On the one hand you have those who support it and see the benefits of investing time and money in improving employee engagement within their organisation. On the other hand you have those who see it as a waste of time and energy, with very little business benefit.  However, given the current economic environment, when organisations are looking to reduce business costs and overheads, many are seeing employee engagement as a key enabler.

So, how does employee engagement work?

Consultant organisations will tell you there are a number of ‘drivers’ to show organisations how they can go about engaging their people and how it can be measured. Examples of common key drivers include:

  • Understanding the business strategy and objectives
  • The relationship between the employee and their line manager
  • The leadership skills of senior business managers within the organisation
  • How employees are recognised and/or rewarded
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities and how these fit with business strategy
  • Employee pride in the organisation and how they are treated

Key drivers are normally measured via surveys; carried out by independent research organisations to ensure anonymity. Statements are used to assess the extent to which employees agree or disagree with them. Scores are then given against the responses to provide a baseline for each driver. Future surveys use the same statements so that a comparison can be drawn to measure any improvement or decline in engagement.

How does an organisation go about engaging its employees?

It is vital to do some benchmarking of other successful organisations to understand how they have approached employee engagement and the resources involved in supporting their initiatives. The idea is not to copy, but to take inspiration, as essentially you will need to go with an approach that supports the values and culture of your own organisation. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Most importantly, the organisation must be prepared to take the results of any survey seriously; being open with the workforce on the results and trying to involve as many people as possible in developing actions/improvement plans to help improve the organisation and move forward. The organisation must also be prepared to make any necessary changes in order to meet the expectations they have set out to employees.

How are changes made as a result of any survey communicated?

The internal communications team play a vital role here. They ensure any business changes implemented, as a result of employee engagement, are communicated effectively and efficiently to the organisation at large. It is important to monitor these communications, to ensure that their messages remain consistent and do not getting fragmented or diluted when communicated down the line. This increases the value and integrity of the survey and any subsequent focus-group activities, ensuring that employees understand that ‘they said and you did’.

Who should lead employee engagement?

Human Resources (HR) are normally the enablers of this type of initiative but essential there must be buy-in from senior leadership down through the entire management structure, to avoid line managers resisting any actions coming from the first set of survey results as well as any future support for improvement.

Is there a right way to do it?

There is no right or wrong answer on the approach to employee engagement, but one thing is important to remember in ensuring any success; it must support the overall business and people strategies of the organisation in order to be truly effective and trusted by the workforce at all levels.

If all this is in place, how does employee engagement improve the bottom line?

Firstly, research will show that engaged employees are less likely to leave an organisation, so recruitment and training costs are reduced.  Secondly, they are less likely to build up high absence rates, so sick pay and temporary cover is reduced. Thirdly, they will also be more productive, thus increasing output and profits and reducing overtime costs. Finally, they are more likely to support change and help the organisation move forward to meet the changing requirements of the markets in which they operate.

Engaged employees generally feel more in control of their work, their career and their future job prospects and have a good relationship with the organisation’s management community. All this, quite simply, improves the bottom line profits!

How much does all this cost?

This will depend on your starting point and the time and effort needed to kick-start the process and activities. Normally there is a cost to setting up an engagement survey and for carrying out further surveys. There are also costs in employees attending workshops or focus groups as part of action planning, but these costs should be self-funding from the improvement in the bottom line.  One thing is clear, for most organisations, this is not a short-term fix. In most cases a timeline of around 2-4 years (depending on the size of the organisation) is required to embed employee engagement in to everyday life and reap the business benefits.

So, is it worth bothering with employee engagement?

If you search on the internet you will not have to look far to find details of numerous studies carried out by consultant organisations on the benefits of employee engagement. All of them will confirm there is a link between an engaged workforce and an improvement in business bottom line profits of between 5% to 20%.

Remember, it does not matter what size organisation you work in. Employee engagement can be just as effective in small organisations as large ones if it is carried out seriously and with the full support of management at all levels of the organisation.  Most organisations in the FSTE Top 100 will have an employee engagement strategy in place, supported by funding and resources. Most will have changed many of their practices as a result of issues highlighted by their employees and corrective actions implemented to improve engagement.  Certainly they will all have looked at employee engagement as an enabler to business performance and would have tailored their approach to support their organisation’s business strategy and vision.

*Alan has over 30 years’ experience in the management field having spent the last 15 years in Human Resources and currently as an HR Director for Thales.

Idea Evaluation by James Shewry

I am sure your business is buzzing with creative ideas on how things can be done better from “the new product that we need to start selling now” to “the new coffee machine that our employees just cannot continue without”. Whatever the idea, there needs to be someone to sit down and work out – is it tangible? Right for the business? Sustainable?

This is where your much needed support comes in the form of the ‘Ideas Evaluator’, ‘Expert’ or ‘Specialist’, the person that turns dreams into reality. Without good evaluators we have suggestors that feel like they are not being listened too, and frustrated senior leaders asking why do we need an ideas programme?

So how do you go about selecting an evaluator, working with them and keeping them motivated.

Selecting your team

The first area to consider is structure. You can either form an ideas panel, bringing together the key business areas to review and debate each idea or have individuals across the business to evaluate and feedback on progress. Each option has its own merits however the selection of these individuals will determines success. Getting a good evaluator is no easy exercise, they need to demonstrate:

  • Passion and openness to new ideas
  • Fair and Open-Minded
  • Power to influence change
  • Good Communicator
  • Active and timely with responses
  • Can handle good and bad ideas
  • Experts in their field
  • Strong supporters of the innovation programme and committed to its success

Evaluators should be true role models within the organisation, they are keen to engage with all employees to make a difference and understand that ideas matter.

A Match made in Heaven

Once you have found your evaluators, you will need to work hard to support them by providing all the tools they need to make their role simple, effective and dare we say ‘fun’. Make sure you run through some of the highlights so they know what to expect:

  • How many ideas will they see each day/week/month?
  • How quickly to provide a first response and then follow up responses?
  • How they will receive the ideas?
  • Whether they can speak directly with the suggestors
  • Where they go for additional information?
  • What action they take if it is not an idea they can review?

Once they have all the guidance needed they will be ready to receive the bounty of ideas to be reviewed, prioritised and progressed.

Why do I Care?

As time progress it will be vital to keep the memento going to keep your evaluators engaged. If you have a particularly bad period or host of ideas that are not up to scratch this can take its toll on any passionate evaluator. You can use the following solutions to address issues that may arise:

Issue Solution
More important things to do. Make sure your senior leaders have ideas high on the agenda so this will influence your evaluators and create an innovation culture. If they are really passionate, ideally you could write the evaluation role into the individuals job description / objectives.
These are all the same ideas It can be frustrating if your evaluators are seeing repeat ideas; why not have a gatekeeper to vet the ideas before they reach your evaluator.
Higher priority changes take precedent If it’s a great idea work with the evaluator to build a strong case, the more insight they have the better position they are to access the idea and prioritise it.
Is this making a difference? Some evaluators might not get to see how ideas are making a difference. Make sure you keep them in the loop as you do with the suggestors.
No budget/resource Some ideas need to be backed from the top, make sure the good ones are not being lost due to the limitations of the business area in question. If it’s a good idea make sure the right people get to see it.

Each evaluator is different and some will require more attention than others. By building a strong relationship you can work together to ensure that ideas stay as a high priority and both suggestors and evaluators see the impact that innovation can have on the business.

To Reward or Not To Reward – That is the Question?!

For those of us who run ideas programmes within organisations, the decision ‘to reward or not to reward’ can be a tough one. Financial reward can be a key motivator for some, however there is much evidence that when we are looking at the creative process, financial benefit does not always provide the best incentive.

One of my favourite clips on this topic is by Dan Pink, which I have watched and recommended on numerous occasions and whilst not directly related to ideas management, brings up some great points in an easily digestible format. He talks about how processes requiring higher cognitive function which, I would argue being creative does, is less to do with financial motivators and more related to truly believing in a higher purpose. So if you haven’t already taken a look, I recommend you accessing it here.

However in reality, does this really translate? Do we still focus on financial rewards and in practice do they actually work? We asked some innovation corporate leads to share their experience…

Tammy, Innovation & Adoption Programme Manager, West Midlands AHSN, NHS
There are many pressures facing NHS staff today and getting them to engage in activities outside their clinical duties can be challenging. However, without engagement with our staff and patients it is almost impossible to seek out improvements and adopt new initiatives and innovations. It is for this reason that we spend a lot of our time looking to engage and reward people for their involvement. To add to this, there are great financial pressures on the system so we have also had to be quite innovative in our approach and not rely on pay-outs to get results. In my various roles I have tried everything from Blue Peter style badges, certificates, interviews, award ceremonies and small financial rewards, all of which have had a variable response suggesting that not everyone wants a physical award.

One of the greatest lessons I have learnt is that understanding people’s motivations is a great way to understand how best to engage and reward someone. Some people just want to see improvements in care for their patients, some to save money to invest in more equipment and others a big glitzy award for their office. Being able to understand what motivates someone is a great start to being able to engage someone, get results and reward them in a manner that is meaningful to them.

Michael, Head of Ideas Management, HSBC UK
When I took over idea management for HSBC there was a well-established process for rewarding ideas – cash awards up to £5k, plus additional incentives which included places at overseas conferences and additional holiday entitlements.

I removed all awards and introduced a bronze, silver and gold programme where the user received a certificate and vouchers to the value of £25/£30/£50 to match the award level. I expected a backlash of angry emails and whilst I did receive a few the majority of people welcomed the change as without realising it, the previous award process deterred a lot of people from submitting ideas as they didn’t feel their ideas were big enough to justify the awards being offered.

As a result, we saw submission levels rise and a large number of quick wins were implemented which led to an increase in employee engagement and provided an introduction to a new ideas process incorporating continuous improvement.

Jayne, Continuous Improvement Engagement Coordinator, RICOH UK Products Limited
Ricoh Telford have operated a suggestion scheme for all employees for over 20 years. The scheme offers a combination of both small monetary rewards (enough to buy a coffee) and recognition, which is just as important.

Monthly recognition is delivered by the senior management team, with the annual awards, where over 100 employees are invited to an event, being presented by the MD, highlighting the importance of ideas and the employees to the organisation.

The focus on visible recognition, which also includes displays dedicated to the winners over the last 10 years, has led to strong engagement with over 75% of our employees contributing ideas on an annual basis.

Innovation Lead, Telecommunications Company
Reward comes in many forms for our people – knowing that they have made a difference by improving a daily task, the customer experience or effected a change to a product/service is something people often tell me is the reason why they shared their ideas in the first place. Then having work colleagues know their idea has been implemented is all the recognition they seek.

That said we do offer rewards for most campaigns we run, whilst having the latest iPhone or a tax free cash award is a great way to drive up employee engagement and the volume of submissions, it does not guarantee quality ideas.

Campaigns that are focussed on a particular theme, with a clear ask and senior sponsorship usually generate the best ideas and outcomes for the business, irrespective of offering a reward or not. But, it’s always great to make the call to someone to say they are to receive a reward for their idea, which when publicised – generates even more ideas!

Alan, Head of HR, Thales
When thinking about Reward & Recognition (R&R) it is important to remember that one size does not fit all. For instance, in today’s multi-cultural workplace managers must understand cultural differences. Some cultures do not consider recognition as appropriate and working hard and doing well should be part of your normal job.

If you are considering giving money, think about someone in the latter part of their career, money may no longer be the motivator. That said, research tells us that it is the act of thanking someone that has the most positive and lasting impact, more than any money or gift. Someone taking time out of their day to go and thank someone for a great job is probably all it needs.

So whether you do choose to reward or not to reward, think about following some golden rules:

  1. Know your people: Seek to understand individual’s motivations and cultural backgrounds to provide the right motivators
  2. Align rewards to the corporate culture / values
  3. Encourage Senior Management involvement with recognition
  4. Consider a range of options for rewards (i.e. money, gifts, experience days, additional annual leave, training etc.) to appeal to the majority of people
  5. Give people a reason to submit their ideas – the higher purpose, ideally aligned to the organisational goals
  6. Take the time to say ‘Thank You’ – it maybe all that’s needed

Pause for Thought

Reflection: Today I went to the funeral of a friend’s husband who passed away long before his time.  Appreciate this may not be the most uplifting way to start an article, however it certainly grounds you in the present day.

It started me reflecting on how living in the moment, really being present, is such an important skill – both in life and work.  We are always looking to the future with forecasting, projections and trying to predict the next big thing. And whilst by no means am I saying that is wrong, I do challenge if we truly take time to grasp the here and now. I wonder, would it benefit not just our well-being and our relationships but the creative process too?

Definition:  I guess the term attributed most commonly to ‘being in the moment’ is Mindfulness.  One definition refers to Mindfulness as being attentive to the present-moment experience, while taking a curious stance without judgement or reactivity (Segal et al. 2002).  Mindfulness is also closely related to a Buddhist practice, where it is characterised as an attitude of open-minded curiosity with an intention of kindness and compassion.  Both definitions perfectly link Mindfulness to the process of creativity which starts by being curious and both supporting and nurturing the ideas of others.

Relevance:  The concept of Mindfulness seems to be everywhere these days.  When researching this article, one reference1 stated that in 2014 an Amazon search returned 2000 books on ‘Mindfulness’.  A search today returned 30,000 hits, thus demonstrating the exponential interest in the topic.

Rational:  Psychologists often use Mindfulness techniques to improve well-being, with the beneficial effects being linked to the reduction of stress and anxiety.  Increasingly, the applications of these techniques are being used within the workplace with positive results.  A 2013 study by Leroy et al2 concluded that Mindfulness enhances engagement at work:

  • directly, by making people more attentive and focused and
  • indirectly, by enhancing people’s internal awareness,

all of which generate higher levels of authentic functioning.

The link between Mindfulness and engagement seems to be well researched, but what about the link to creativity and innovation?

There is actually a plethora of research linking employee engagement to innovation.  A meta-analysis of research in this area completed by Dr. Venkoba Rao in 20163, highlighted that as far back as 1978, Katz, D. & Kahn, R. identified that employee engagement leads to innovative behaviour where the employee goes beyond individual roles to collaborate with colleagues and make suggestions to improve the organisation.  Sundaray (2011) also noted that engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and will often be fully immersed in their job resulting in creativity and innovation.

The Gallup Organization, a widely recognized name in employee engagement, indicates there is a direct cause and effect relationship between employee engagement and organizational innovation.  Think of employees as the single most important factor in the innovation process. It tends to be employees that elicit, develop and modify the majority of ideas.  So having an engaged workforce directly benefits the creative process, innovation capability and ultimately the success of an organisation.

If Mindfulness can lead to greater employee engagement, by default, the practice of Mindfulness within an organisation should lead to a more innovative culture. In the world of innovation, an individual’s curiosity leads to an idea.  This idea needs support from team leaders, supervisors or management to get an evaluation of its potential.  Nurturing from those implementing this new change is the added ingredient for a positive outcome to the organisation.  Mindfulness by the suggester, evaluators and implementers to their roles and responsibilities is key to the success of any innovation process.

Additional Benefits:  In addition to the engagement piece, Mindfulness helps us to be more proactive by fostering the ability to isolate a problem and focus on the specifics of a challenge, which, in turn, helps us apply improved problem-solving techniques. This curiosity and open awareness often lead us to discover novel approaches to the solution, highlighting even more potential links between Mindfulness and the creative process.

As if the above were not sufficiently beneficial, Mindfulness has also been shown to help with diversity in the workplace.  It helps to create an environment in which employees can avoid judgement and process their emotional responses to sensitive topics like race, gender, and ethnicity.  Having a more diverse workforce, with a greater range of experiences and perspectives, brings a richness of thinking to the creative process.

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the Centre for Investigating Health Minds (Madison, Wisc.)6 also found that Mindfulness changes how the brain actually functions. His studies found that Mindfulness improves cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovation, well-being, emotional regulation, and empathy.

Corporate Promotion:  The weight of evidence for using Mindfulness techniques within the workplace is strong and growing.  In this context, Mindfulness could certainly help towards developing the innovative culture of an organisation.  It is no wonder that many organisations are actively promoting the benefits of Mindfulness to their employees and offering programmes promoting it.

When thinking of the most innovative organisations, Google is likely to be within the top few.  For several years they have been offering employees a ‘Search Inside Yourself’ programme which teaches self-awareness through meditation (much akin to Mindfulness) and encourages participants to reflect rather than react.

Intel also began offering its Awake@Intel Mindfulness program in 2012 in which over 1,500 employees have participated.   In addition to a reduction in stress, participants, on average report a two point increase (on a scale of 1 to 10) in having new ideas, insights, mental clarity and creativity6.

Individual Promotion:  So whilst it may not be intuitive in a world where we are continually trying to do more with less time for the organisation to invest in a corporate training program, you could still encourage employees to take a few simple steps to improve their Mindfulness and just pause for thought.  These steps could include but are not limited to7, 8:

  • Taking time at the start of the day to concentrate on your breathing
  • Encouraging employees to focus on one activity at a time
  • Take a short walk during your lunch break
  • Take regular short breaks throughout the working day to mindfully stretch or breathe
  • When talking to someone actively listen to what they are saying
  • Try something new, such as sitting in a different place at a meeting or going somewhere new for lunch

Pause for Thought:  In summary, Mindfulness seems to have many positive benefits for both the individual and organisation and the link between Mindfulness and improved creativity and innovation seems to be growing in evidence.  Whilst we may not necessarily have the authority to embark on an organisation-wide program, we can all benefit from adding some Mindfulness practices into our day.  So why not start now?  Close your eyes and just concentrate on taking 5 deep breaths in and out – with practice, who knows what more you could achieve?


1 –

2 –

3 –

4 – Williams, R. (15 August 2014). Why reflection and “doing nothing” are critical for productivity. Financial Post

5 –

6 –

7 –

8 –

Was JFK right?

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”  John F. Kennedy

Well, I am not saying JFK didn’t have a point and clearly the best ideas should endure. However, working in the field of idea management, I can attest that ideas can wither and die and quite frankly be crushed and dismissed with ease. So, in some sense, I am going to have to beg to differ!

Recently I was in conversation (that’s to say I thought we were having a conversation) with someone who has been in the idea management space for a while now.  But when I spoke my opinion and offered  we were already trying some of the ideas he was suggesting (in fact not only trying but further developing those ideas),  I got told and I quote; “You are the perfect idea manager, been there, done it and not willing to listen”.  I was quite annoyed with that.  I have always considered myself open to new ideas.  And, as he was clearly irritated by me, needless to say the conversation ended fairly swiftly after that point.

However it does just go to illustrate how vital communication is.  Using the right words at the right time is critical for ideas to develop.   Plus, understanding the purpose of the communication can really help you to react appropriately.  In this instance, the individual concerned just wanted to demonstrate how knowledgeable he was and quite happy to deliver a monologue with no intent in engaging in two way conversation.  The throw-away comment about how idea managers are not interested in ideas allowed me a “lesson learnt” moment.  It started me thinking, that contrary to the JFK quote, how easy it really is to ‘kill’ ideas with a misjudged word or statement.

Now I am not saying it is bad to kill ideas, in fact it is an essential part of active idea management.  Within learning organisations, every idea is an opportunity to test an assumption, failures are embraced and act as a true learning experience.  However it is how you go about killing ideas that makes all the difference to the outcome and whether preventing ideas developing is intentional or unintentional.  Comments, and the individual managers who make them, as I see it can fall into one of three camps:

  1. The True Idea Supporters – Those who set out to actively support ideas, motivating and encouraging employees through their words and actions
  2. The Neutral Ones – Neither supporting nor preventing ideas, however by not actively encouraging ideas and often through just the sound of silence, people are likely to get take the hint that ideas may not be welcome and slowly but surely the volume of ideas will die off
  3. The Idea Destroyers – Having no time for employee ideas and suggestions and no problems that need others to solve

We probably all know individuals who sit in each camp.   But beware!  Even those of us who would like to be seen as idea supporters can be guilty of slipping into the other two camps occasionally.  When work gets busy, deadlines are looming, our in-box starts to build up – it is then that ideas may slide to the back-burner and our responses become delayed.   This lack of communication can give the air of neutrality or worse. The impact that has on the idea submitter is to not bother next time and to advise your peers not to either.

When you think how fragile a young idea is, how we need to nurture those first shoots, you can appreciate just how easy it is to prevent the seeds from germinating or let them wither over time or swiftly stamp them out with your size 10 boots through a poorly chosen phrase.  So what phrases should we avoid using at all costs?  Here are a few I have collated along with the perceived impact by the submitter.   There are so many more.  And if you are honest, you too may admit to having used one or more of these at times?

  • We tried it before and it just doesn’t work
    – Can’t bother to see if anything has changed since last time
  • You haven’t thought that through
    – Not very bright, are you
  • We don’t have time for that
    – You were not too busy to come up with the idea
  • You’ve got to be kidding
    – Treated like a joke, but you are not laughing
  • This isn’t your area of expertise
    – You aren’t that smart
  • That’s against company policy
    – Maybe company policy needs a review
  • You can try if you want but I doubt it’s going to work
    – Go ahead, waste more of your time
  • It’s against our standard operating procedures
    – Which one and why
  • Good luck with that
    – Don’t expect my support
  • We don’t have the budget
    – We are slaves to the budget, nothing new will ever happen
  • We have invested too much to change now
    – Keep digging that hole
  • Good idea but…
    – Don’t want to invest the time
  • I don’t think of you as a creative person
    – You think the idea isn’t mine

Sometimes no words are needed.  A look of disinterest, a roll of your eyes or a misplaced giggle is enough to send the idea into oblivion.  Now don’t get me wrong, there is no such thing as 100% implementation rate in any idea management scheme.   So it is not only inevitable, but necessary that some ideas do not get implemented.  Many will be dismissed at the initiation stage and some further down the line – hopefully helping us learn valuable lessons for the future.

For a good idea to succeed it is going to need a lot of time, resources and attention.  So, by default, even some good ideas may need to be culled.  Importantly it’s how you do it. The positive intent behind your action and the language used can makes all the difference to your future success.

So before you “kill” an idea, first acknowledge receipt.  A simple thank you can be enough in many instances.  Next engage your curiosity, explore and above all ensure you understand.  Ask questions to gain clarity.  Remove your bias and be consistent in your approach, having criteria with which you analyse each idea.  If the idea doesn’t match up, then above all, provide timely feedback to explain why.  An idea that has been rejected today may yet have value in the future.   Archiving those ideas and reviewing periodically may well be worth considering.

Finally, allow me to paraphrase another quote from JFK – “Ask not what your country (employees’ ideas) can do for you, but what you can do for your country (employees’ ideas).”  Whilst you cannot predict how people will react, the next time someone comes to you with an idea choose your words carefully.  Take the time to be supportive.   You never know; you could just be discovering the gem of an idea that will last a lifetime!


The Premise:

For those of you who are not a BBC viewer, W1A is just a postcode.  However, for those who tuned in at 9.00pm on 18thSeptember, a new series of W1A was screened – a parody of life and work at the BBC.

What’s the relevance to innovation and what am I twittering on about?  Well the associated PR consultancy, Perfect Curve, has been renamed ‘FUN’.  The philosophy of ‘FUN’ is that “everyone in the building is happy. It’s a happy building because a happy person is a creative person and a creative person is a happy person, so that’s FUN”!

OK, so perhaps you need to watch the program to get the full meaning (complete with silent disco celebration).  But whilst this may be a spoof – are they actually onto something?

Personal Scepticism:

Working for many years in a global corporation, I can genuinely say that having fun was not a priority.  Maybe more so when I started 20 years ago, but definitely less so as the years went past.  So is ‘fun’ something we should take more seriously and does it encourage the creative process?  Tradition dictates that work is not supposed to be fun, that’s why it’s called work.  However when we are asking individuals to be creative at work, does having fun help?

Actual Examples:

Google and LinkedIn have gone so far as to make playing games a part of the workday. Google has a rock wall in their California base.  They encourage employees to use it on company time. Other Google-approved activities include beach volleyball and bowling. LinkedIn has similar policies, with ping-pong and foosball games available during the day.  I am pretty sure, if asked for an innovative company, many people would cite both these organisations.  So, are they onto something?  Or is the link between having fun and being creative too ambiguous?

Survey Says:

The Great Place to Work Institute asks tens of thousands of employees to rate their experience of workplace factors, including, “This is a fun place to work.” On Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, produced by the Great Place to Work Institute, employees in companies that are denoted as “great” responded overwhelmingly (an average of 81 percent) that they are working in a “fun” environment.  Perhaps the evidence grows?!

Science Indicates:

But is there any science to explain the theory?  I could find little in terms of actual research linking fun to creativity.  However, it is a fact that when we have fun we often laugh.  And laughing, just like exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which have the ability to make you feel good.  When endorphins lock into opioid receptors, they block the transmission of pain signals and also produce a euphoric feeling.  Whilst there may not be a proven link between endorphin release and increased creativity, feeling good and happy would theoretically help you approach tasks with a positive intent. This approach leads to a willingness to get involved, seeing multiple growth possibilities, rather than just problems and challenges. Plus, in the work setting, enjoying the company of your colleagues and having a shared purpose, solving problems and being ‘up to something’ together can in itself bring a level be fun.  Thus raising energy levels driving further engagement.  Laughter creates bonds between people.  They approach tasks with a positive frame of mind and are more likely to embrace ideas.

On the downside, you could argue that time spent having fun would decrease time spent working and therefore decrease productivity.  However it is known that taking a step away from the problem you are trying to solve can lead to new avenues of thought.  So too, taking a little time to have a laugh with a colleague could potentially offer positive creative benefits.  Generally you are interacting with others when you are having fun, having shared experiences, which could potentially lead to sharing and developing ideas.

Chicken or Egg:

But is it having fun, per se, that increases creativity or is it being in a positive environment, where taking risks is accepted and people feel empowered to share their ideas, so fun itself is a byproduct of being fully engaged?  We all know that culture and the cultural norms of an organisation clearly have the biggest impact on all aspects of work, including creativity.  But much has also been written, including several articles on this site, about the benefits having the right physical environment can bring.  Your environment could help create that fun feel.  Examples being the use of bold colour schemes or as recently witnessed during a trip to some offices in Dubai – the chair swings.  Some may say, “What nonsense!”  But maybe it just provides some space and time to think and to look at things from a different perspective, which, after all, is what drives the creative process.  Perhaps a fun environment can engender a sense of belonging and a desire to contribute more, thereby encouraging the creative process.

Back to Basics:

When you think back to when you were a child (for some of us that will be easier than for others!), fun often happens when you are playing games.  This could partly explain why gamification has become an increasingly important part of the workplace and innovation process itself.  Besides the pure enjoyment, games can stimulate emotion, logic and reasoning.  Many of the dedicated ideas platforms incorporate elements of gamification, voting on ideas, building on the ideas of others and being rewarded with ‘badges’ by achieving certain levels of activity to encourage further engagement.  All tapping into our sense of childhood fun to stimulate the creative process.

Consider Pitfalls:

However, beware of the work place ‘forced’ fun which can be tedious in the extreme.  I remember one incidence within my corporate life where we endured 45 minutes of ‘smile’ therapy at the start of a sales conference.  Holding your hands in front of your face, walking around the room, then at the sound of a bell removing your hands and smiling at the person in front of you.  I am sure on paper this sounded good, but in reality it is time I will never get back and did nothing for the group’s energy and creativity, although we did all get to have a good moan!

The Beginning:

So whilst we may not all have a climbing wall in the office, nor be a fan of forced fun;  it is worth thinking about how we can all inject a little more positivity and, dare I say it, “fun” into the working day.  Try starting slowly at first.  Take a walk and talk in the sunshine, conduct a meeting in the garden, leave mini-surprises on people’s desks to bring a smile to their face first thing in the morning, or maybe even look at updating your physical working environment.  Whatever you decide to do, surely it’s about time we all started taking ‘fun’ in the workplace a little more seriously.

Post Script:

(I’d wager the researchers had “fun” testing this theory.)
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy,
it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are,
the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm.
Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef,
but the wrod as a wlohe.
Amzanig, huh?

Millennials and Entrepreneurship

Most of the people I know who work in the idea management and/or innovation space are in their thirties and beyond.  We may employ the younger generation, often into junior roles as they start their career but do we really cater for their needs and listen to their ideas?  Is it any wonder that an increasing number of millennials are venturing into entrepreneurship, with the thought of flexible hours, being their own boss and not being constrained by traditional red tape and process?

Whether innovating the next best-selling product or building an online business, millennials are fast becoming the generation of business thinkers, wanting more creative fulfilment than the traditional 9 to 5 can offer.  As a forty something, I know my limitations on this subject, so who better to share their wisdom than an actual millennial – Lauren Bargiacchi, who has been working with ideasUK this summer before embarking on her final year at Cardiff University…

Who are Millennials?

Generally, it is accepted that those born between the early 1980s to the late 1990s are considered millennials, also known as Generation Y. So what is it about this generation that makes them more innovative and business inclined? Contrary to the stereotype that millennials are lazy individuals who were born with silver spoons in their mouths, the majority of millennials are extremely hardworking and economically conscious; wanting to make their mark on the world while also caring about social and environmental issues such as ethics, rights, and sustainability. Commonly, millennials are also career confident, with a desire to contribute and a thirst for flexibility in their careers.  These characteristics mean millennials are turning to entrepreneurship to generate a more creatively fulfilling career.

One of the most famous millennial entrepreneurs, Mark Zuckerberg, has built an online empire estimated to be worth more than $70 billion, after launching Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard University back in 2004. In 2015, 52,000 millennials followed in Zuckerberg’s footsteps and set up their own businesses before even graduating university, with a further 15% of undergraduates planning to set up their own company on graduation. Nolan Bushnell, an entrepreneur and engineer, said “the true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer” and this seems true of the millennial generation.

Moreover, a study, conducted in 2016, highlighted that 85% of millennials understand that entrepreneurship, while offering a chance to be your own boss and work more innovatively, is at large, a huge gamble. Not only are millennials willing to take that risk in order to embrace more creative pursuits, but they understand the risk and are prepared to fail, learning from the process.

The Changing Workplace and the Rise of Social Media

Technological advancements, global change, and cultural and political shifts have ultimately affected not only the types of jobs available, but also the way in which we work. In a time where we are being told to work longer hours and that being constantly exhausted and overworked is glamorised, millennials are looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. Millennial entrepreneurs are driven by their need for flexibility both creatively and through the ‘way’ they work.

Moreover, growing up in the digital age, I, like many other millennials, are guilty of constantly being online across a variety of platforms. While this can be our downfall, not looking up and sensing what’s actually going on around us, it has also enabled millennials to utilise these channels to market and promote their businesses. Constantly being attached to our phones, can be a benefit for employers too, as a study found that 89% of millennials who own a smartphone regularly check their email outside of the normal working hours.

With the rise of social media, it has never been easier to start your own business. YouTube sensation, Zoella, who has over 11 million subscribers, has used social media to build a globally recognised brand, with products ranging from her published novel series, ‘Girl Online,’ to her range of lifestyle and stationery products.

What Does This Mean for Organisations?

The millennial generation, defined by the digital revolution, ignited a wave of cultural and organisational change, and it is this change that companies need to acknowledge. In such a progressive business environment, things are constantly evolving, and so must organisations if they want to appeal to the millennial generation and ensure their long term survival.

Millennials have their finger on the pulse of current and future business trends. Organisations should be aware of how millennial’s social media expertise, combined with their strong work ethic, can help create a more diverse and innovative conversation that ultimately helps keep organisations forward-looking, enabling them to continually flourish and remain informed.

While not all millennials will launch into entrepreneurship, the majority share fundamental character traits that prove them to be a hard-working and progressive generation, looking for greater flexibility within their career. So the question for organisations today is, how can you attract and support the millennial generation who in turn can apply their digital know-how and ambition to improve your organisational culture and performance?  Or will you just get left behind?

What makes a good idea great?

You need to solve a problem or have a novel concept.  One starts by defining the “what” you are attempting to solve or accomplish.  This should be communicated in plain language, spelling out the meaning of any acronyms used and succinct, yet complete, as possible.

All the projected benefits should be identified.  They become the “why” of your idea and serve as the primary motivation to move forward.  Enumerate key components – the “where” and “when” – needed to implement.  Be sure to include any specific skills and expertise required to move the concept to fruition.  This “who” can range from yourself alone, to an acknowledged expert, to an established team, to consultants, to a blending of any of these resources.  And finally the “how” is mapped out in a plan that sets milestones and measurements.

Now ask and address these questions before proceeding to the next step:

  • How familiar are you with the strategy of the organization?
    -Does this idea support the strategy?
    -Have you used the current “buzz” words/phrases?
    -If not in support of the strategy, can you still defend the idea?
  • Have you properly edited the submission?
    – Has the idea been reviewed for spelling & grammar?
    – Has the content been reviewed for completeness?
    – To what level of understanding is the idea written?
  • Have you emphasised both the pluses and minuses in getting this idea implemented?
    – What is the most unique part of your idea?
    – Why would someone turn down this idea?
    – What sections of the idea were most difficult for you to describe?
    – Have you offered to communicate directly with the evaluator(s)?

This will certainly make your idea look good.  But what makes a good idea, great?  Organisations that promote innovation within the workplace, such as ideasUK, Ideas America, Zentrum Ideen Management and Ideas Arabia host annual competitions to recognise and celebrate truly great ideas developed by individuals and teams within their organisations.  One organisation, who knows what it takes to deliver winning ideas is Dubai Customs.  Not only have they won the ideasUK Idea of the Year competition for three years running, but also the first ever global award.

What makes a good idea great – Dubai Customs

‘Winning is a great feeling, but knowing that our ideas have made a real difference, within our organisation and to the wider community, is what really drives us to achieve even greater success.  Whilst we may not always win, we always strive to deliver the next big idea and there are a few things everyone can do to help turn their ideas into the next big thing:

  1. Challenge – The first and most important step is to clearly identify critical challenges to solve.  Where are the biggest pain points within the organisation and where can the biggest difference be made?  Without a well-defined and researched challenge or opportunity, your idea will not be as powerful as it could be.
  2. Vision – You must then have a clear vision of how you want to solve your challenge.  Whilst ‘blue-sky’ thinking is all well and good, to be able to focus your thoughts towards achieving a goal will certainly assist with idea generation.  Ultimately it is far easier to receive support for your idea from management, colleagues and the wider community if your idea also aligns with the organisation goals.
  3. Project Plan – Treat your idea as if it were a project and develop a full plan, complete with attainable goals and milestones along the route.  A clear process and step-wise approach to the implementation of your idea will ensure you stay on track and help you monitor progress.
  4. Sponsor – When you believe you have found a game changing idea, try to identify and gain at least one senior leader who will act to support you.  A strong internal sponsor can help you overcome many obstacles and significantly shorten the time taken to realise your goals.
  5. Communication – Be sincere when communicating with others to build credibility and encourage others to get involved.  Develop an ‘elevator pitch’ to describe your idea, highlighting what you are trying to achieve, why you are doing it and the steps you are taking.  Include the potential qualitative and quantitative benefits, to connect with people on both a practical and emotional level.
  6. Commitment – You need to be completely dedicated to ensuring the implementation of your idea, often working extra hours beyond your day job to ensure your idea is not just implemented but the true benefits of your idea are realised.
  7. Motivation – If working in a team, always recognise the role each individual plays.  As a team, celebrate the milestones and small successes throughout the process.
  8. Belief – Of the utmost importance is to really believe in your idea as well as in yourself and your team.  It’s that unwavering belief in your vision that will ultimately ensure your idea is not just good but great!’

It is when the conceptual “what, why, when, where, who, and how” are detailed through a practical approach that includes challenge, vision, project planning, sponsorship, communications, commitment, motivation and belief that a good idea gets better and a better idea becomes great.   So, what’s your idea?  Let’s make it a great one!

How to make brainstorming work for you

If two heads are better than one, as the adage goes, would not three heads be better than two and so on? If you answered yes, then you are already a proponent of Brainstorming – simply getting a few people together to generate ideas. Brainstorming was a term popularised in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination. Born out of his frustration with employees’ inability to develop creative ideas individually for ad campaigns, he began hosting ‘group-think’ sessions resulting in a marked improvement in the quality and quantity of ideas. Thus, the brainstorming session had been born.

Today, brainstorming is part of our business vocabulary. I am sure you have all been involved with these types of sessions experiencing varying degrees of success. Whilst brainstorming itself is a very creative process, it is neither self-sufficient nor guaranteed to succeed. When hosting a session, as with any other meeting or project, planning is critical to success. To run a fruitful brainstorming session, here are the key steps to consider….

Step 1: Question – Why you are doing this in the first place? What is the core purpose? Which problem(s) are you trying to solve? How will this assist in achieving the strategic direction of the organisation? Where can you make the biggest difference – to the business, customers or employees? How can you address the biggest pain points or capitalise on new opportunities? Indeed, is a brainstorming session the best way to achieve the outcome you desire?

Step 2: Resources – What resources are at your disposal. Have you allocated a budget for the session, not just in terms of a meeting room, but the cost of employees stepping away from their day job? Now is also the time to think about implementation. Ideas, however good, often require resources to be implemented. It is best to ensure there is budget allocated upfront. Remember, ideas without implementation are just a waste of everyone’s valuable time!

Step 3: Environment – Think about where the session will take place. Your aim should be to create an environment which encourages participants to create, explore and develop ideas. A board room with fixed table and chairs is not conducive to creativity. Does your budget allow you flexibility to book an alternative venue? Is there outside space you can use? How can you adapt your surroundings to prevent people from feeling constrained by their normal work environment? Cushions on the floor for seating, flip chart paper and crayons, balloons, clay, coloured paper – bring out the playful and creative child in everyone.

Step 4: People – Who needs to be involved very much depends on the problem you are solving. A very technical, specific problem, may seem to only require your technical experts. However the more diverse your participants, the more diverse the ideas you are likely to generate. So think about how you encourage participation from a range of disciplines, perspectives and experiences. In terms of forward planning, don’t stop with the participants, now is the time to identify whom will be evaluating and implementing the ideas, plus enrolling the senior leaders who will support this initiative? Voluntary involvement is always superior to compulsory attendance. The glue holding the entire exercise together is a trained or experienced facilitator who is neutral to the problem and the participants.

Step 5: Timeline – Think of a brainstorming event as a mini campaign and put a timeline together. If you are just getting a couple of people together, this may not be so necessary. But if you wish to include individuals from multiple teams, you will need to think about the timing of the event ensuring to avoid or embrace key calendar dates. Also consider what targets to set in terms of timelines to review and implement ideas. This is especially helpful in setting expectations for all involved.

Step 6: Communication – What communications are needed in advance of the event. Can you circulate any background reading – the problem statement perhaps – to allow people to start their thought process in advance? Remember, some people need time to digest information to be more productive. If the brainstorming session is part of a wider campaign, how does it fit into that overall campaign? Take care to communicate this relationship appropriately. Think about how you create some excitement around the session, encouraging people to sign up and get involved. Have your communications appeal to your whole audience by avoiding acronyms and technical jargon where possible. When their use is unavoidable, be sure to explain jargon and spell out acronyms.

Step 7: Rules – Although it may sound counter-intuitive when you are hosting a creative session, it is worth setting some ground rules which you run through at the beginning of the session. We are not talking war and peace, just a few statements to set expectations such as:

  • All ideas / solutions are welcome no matter how absurd they may first appear
  • No immediate evaluation of ideas or evaluative comments
  • All views are entertained and counted
  • No negative comments are to be made during the session
  • Explore and capture details for each idea fully before moving on

This not only helps to nurture the process but also ensures everyone gets an opportunity to have their ideas heard. Remember, it is not just the quantity of the ideas you seek, but also their quality.

Step 8: Tools – There are many techniques for helping the creative process and I am sure you will have your favourites. With a well-crafted problem or opportunity statement and some enthusiastic participants, special techniques may not be required. However it’s always worth preparing a few options to reignite the process should it stall. Taking a brisk walk outside for a few minutes can help to get the blood and thoughts flowing again. Think too about the appropriate tools to capture ideas and ensure you have time to review each idea before the end of the session. When evaluating at a later date, you are then better able to understand what has been recorded – potentially a huge time saver for the project!

Whilst I appreciate this is not rocket science, following these simple steps to plan your brainstorming session should help deliver the positive results you require. After all, Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Why should brainstorming be any different?!