Breakthrough ideas cannot be ignored if an enterprise is to be sustainable over time. The entrepreneurial role includes the process of ideation – forming and testing ideas in strategic planning, ad-hoc, and research and development activities. The process includes brainstorming and focus group sessions.
Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs use innovative ideas as an enactor of change to narrow gaps based upon wants and needs. Drivers of change include competitive, economic, environmental, political, regulatory, social, and technological trends. Ideas can be sourced from anywhere in an enterprise, especially from those on the “front line” through employee suggestion programs.
Opportunities for innovative ideas occur for both existing and new paradigms – assumptions, concepts, practices, and values regarding a community. In existing paradigms, ideas result from narrowing product and/or service gaps in markets; narrowing market gaps for products and/or services; narrowing gaps in product and/or service lines, functions, and features; and improving effectiveness and efficiency by reengineering current processes. New paradigms form from the development of new technologies, from structural reengineering – different methods of achieving the same result, and from strategic reengineering – changing the result.
It is essential for every enterprise to develop plans that address both development and reengineering initiatives to be sustainable. Strategic plans address both long-term direction and short-term initiatives. Tactical action plans address the deployment and execution of strategy in short-term steps. Operational plans address sales and production activities – quantifiable targets for markets, products, and constituencies in terms of growth, share, rates, volumes, quality, and satisfaction. Financial plans address the translation of strategic, tactical, and operational plans into financial targets for cash flow, income, and capital utilization.
Ideally, innovative ideas would be generated during planning activities. However, the innovation process is not linear. When breakthrough ideas occur, they can actually be disruptive to planning and deployment processes, and to markets. Ideas require scrutiny before being implemented, and feedback is also essential from the community.
New ideas can be examined during the next planning cycle if time permits. However, a “hi-spot” review project can be initiated at any time on an “ad-hoc” basis to determine the scope and impact of new ideas on current plans and associated programs. Ideas that merit further analysis can be examined in research and development activities.
Ideation is the process of forming and testing ideas in planning, ad-hoc, and research and development activities. The process begins with some candidate ideas for discussion, or with a “blank sheet.” Either way, the higher order effects often kick in during discussions that lead to either a “reshaping” of the candidates, or to the formulation of better ideas that would not have emerged otherwise.
The ideation process includes brainstorming sessions that are designed to identify problems and create solutions through spontaneous group discussion. Brainstorming sessions can be used to discuss ideas by bringing representatives together from different functions of the enterprise, and lead to the establishment of cross-functional teams for implementation. However, brainstorming sessions require strong facilitation in order to be effective based upon well defined objectives and goals.
Brainstorming cannot be performed in a vacuum. It requires input from posts that can be established to observe the behaviors of employee, customer, supplier, investor, regulator, and competitor constituencies, and listen to their feedback. Brainstorming also requires the use of critical thinking – the process of analyzing, evaluating, and applying information obtained from observations, experience, and communications.
Ideas which offer merit can be subjected to further qualitative and quantitative research. The qualitative research discipline attempts to understand human behavior; the quantitative research discipline attempts to explain behavior using models, methodologies, and tools.
Focus groups are a form of qualitative research, and are intended to obtain attitudes from samples of prospective or actual constituents based upon a group discussion with a moderator. In a focus group meeting, participants are asked to share their reactions, opinions, and recommendations regarding ideas and concepts. Focus group meetings provide an informal environment for discussion. However, their success is tied to the skills of the moderator in keeping the discussion on track, the feedback focused, and ensuring that certain members of the group do not dominate or influence others.
Whereas facilitators help individuals, groups, and teams achieve results, moderators encourage discussion.
The ideation process is essential to transforming innovative ideas into value for constituencies, developing new intellectual capital, and building a better educated team-based workforce. Intellectual capital developed from ideation must be protected.
Ideation is an “enterpriship” (entrepreneurship, leadership, and management) competency.
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