The growing importance of idea management

Earlier this week, I alerted you to the fact that the Accenture Web site features a downloadable free chapter from the new book, “What’s the Big Idea? Creating and Capitalizing on the Best Management Thinking” by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak. I just finished reading this introductory chapter, and I wanted to share with you […]

Earlier this week, I alerted you to the fact that the Accenture Web site features a downloadable free chapter from the new book, “What’s the Big Idea? Creating and Capitalizing on the Best Management Thinking” by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak. I just finished reading this introductory chapter, and I wanted to share with you some key thoughts it contains on the growing importance of idea management:

First, the authors assert that the real implementers and champions of ideas and change within organizations today are not management gurus or consultants, nor do they tend to be visionary CEOs. According to the authors’ extensive research, the real drivers of corporate innovation are middle managers — who they call “idea practitioners.” These are the key people who have the responsibility of scanning multiple outside sources for ideas, trends and opportunities, who select those with the highest potential for adaptation and use their social capital to drive meaningful change and business process innovations.

So why is idea management growing in importance? Davenport and Prusak explain it like this: “More people are pushing more ideas at managers than ever before,” including innovation gurus, consulting firms and the relentless business press, which “substantially stokes the business idea marketplace.” Economic uncertainty and shareholder pressure for improved results also drive an openness to people and firms with ideas to sell.

But the accelerating pace of business today, combined with the growing pool of business ideas and innovative strategies, creates a dilemma for today’s idea practitioners: “If a practicing manager intends to capitalize on the rhetorical energy granted an idea by the business press and the idea propagation industry, there is less time to do so. This all takes place at a time when the management attention to deal with new ideas is increasingly scarce — because organizations get leaner and leaner, and because the information flow within organizations is ever faster. These trends put a premium on selecting the right ideas for an organization. There is little time for addressing inappropriate ideas.”

The authors also point out elsewhere in this chapter that idea practitioners must rely on their relationships with other managers within their organization and their “social capital” (their reputation among their fellow managers) to persuade others to support their ideas. This is often a long and arduous process, particularly if the organization’s culture doesn’t naturally support new business ideas. If idea practitioners trie to promote too many inappropriate ideas, they rapidly loses their social capital, making it increasingly difficult to “sell” others on future ideas.

Fascinating stuff — I can’t wait to read the rest of the book!

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