Defining and Prioritizing Idea Streams

Ideas have long been recognised as the primary source of innovation. Yet most companies still fail to distinguish the different kinds of ideas and how they impact innovation management. By knowing that each idea “stream“ is critical and serves a different/ sometimes competing purpose, the efficiency of innovation programs is significantly prompted.

In the following article, innovation consultant Jeffrey Phillips notes that companies develop at least three different “streams” of ideas representing distinctive perspectives and types. From his view, ideas should be prioritized according to the business’ strategic goals and the final purpose of innovations, as follows:

  • “Directed” innovation ideas address strategic business needs. Senior executives define specific needs or opportunities, and plan innovation activities leading to incremental or disruptive solutions.  These ideas are related to the core business and since they sponsor strategic needs, the executive team supports them by providing resources.
  • “Opportunistic” ideas solve diverse problems. These ideas occur to anyone, anywhere, inside or outside to the business. They happen without strategic definition and capturing them is key to show that anyone can contribute with ideas that may be potentially implemented.
  • “Research and discovery” ideas emerge as outcome of research. They result from the work of R&D teams or any other business function engaged in research (e.g. the marketing teams researching customer needs and expectations). These are the types of ideas most likely to produce real breakthroughs. However, they are also the most prone to scrutiny within the organization.

So how can you small or mid-sized organization decide which stream of ideas should come first? The most practical recommendation is starting a directed innovation program – solving challenges at strategic level – and later implementing an opportunistic idea program – collecting ideas generated by the whole organization.

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