Friday 8 July 2011

The Ideas sausage machine, or the ideas conversation?

sausage_batch_oneHow do you generate ideas in your organisation?

Here are two approaches - the suggestion scheme, and the conversation approach. I prefer the conversation approach.

The standard suggestion process is the sausage machine. People are invited to volunteer ideas via a suggestions box or via an online portal. The ideas are gathered, evaluated by a team, sorted and sifted, and a percentage are implemented. There may be a monetary award to encourage participation.

The conversation approach is where ideas are actively sought in a project team, a department, or a community of practice.  This can be done as part of a post-project review, a community meeting, or through online discussion and collaboration. The ideas are discussed within the team or community, are improved theough discussion or combined with other ideas, until a good idea becomes great. If the team or community has the resources they implement the idea themselves. Otherwise they escalate the idea until they find someone to approve it.

I think there is merit in the ideas sausage machine when you want to get ideas from a very wide range of people; as a crowd-sourcing mechanism. But for creating ideas within a company, I prefer the conversation approach rather than the suggestion scheme, for the following reasons.
  • The conversation approach is proactive, rather than reactive. You ask for the ideas, rather than waiting for them to emerge.
  • In a conversation, feedback is instant. In a suggestion scheme, you may wait weeks or months for feedback.
  • The best innovations come from a combination of ideas, which is possible in a conversation, where ideas can spark off each other and form something far better (see here for example). In the suggestion scheme, each idea lives in isolation as a single sausage. 
  • The community or team can implement the idea, if it's small enough, or support it if it needs to be escalated.
Here's an example of an idea being implemented - a small idea, but a good one.

A team on an offshore oil rig was reviewing recent activity, as part of a regular review process. One of the things they reviewed was a recent near-accident. A member of a boat crew had been unloading a supply boat, and the materials needed were at the back of the boat, far from the unlading bay. He had to clamber over piles of pipes to reach the supplies, and a pipe had rolled against his leg, trapping (but luckily not breaking) his ankle. The team decided that it would be better if the boats were loaded in the same order as they were unloaded. "So how could we make sure that happens?" they asked. One guy had the bright idea of putting a webcam in the boat loading dock, so they could supervise the loading from the rig - many miles away. The team liked the idea, bought the webcam, and solved the problem. The idea was sought, supplied, discussed and implemented very quickly - no need to wait to be reviewed and approved, even if anyone had thought to submit it in the first place.

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