Why you should get rid of your suggestion box (and what you should do instead)
The famous suggestion box can still be found in many organisations. It’s a classic innovation mistake. While its principle is understandable, the system itself represents a very poor way of handling ideas and will seldom lead to suitable ideas.
The suggestion box is often introduced with the best intentions. As a plain way to show that every idea is welcome. Unfortunately, it’s precisely this lack of focus that makes the introduction of a suggestion box such a bad idea.
The absence of focus ensures that you will end up with all sorts of ideas for a broad range of subjects. This will make it extremely difficult to select and judge the ideas. Apart from the fact that you’re comparing apples with oranges, it is often unclear who is ultimately responsible for the follow-up on an idea.
A suggestion box often does more harm than good to your innovation process. Nothing is being done with the ideas, the ideas that are being submitted are about “unimportant” topics and the evaluation process takes a dreadfully long time. Often the person responsible for handling all the submitted ideas is overwhelmed by the abundance and diversity of the ideas. Consequently, he or she has no idea where to start and many employees never hear back after submitting an idea.
Employees will get the feeling that they are not being taken seriously. Their motivation and goodwill will vanish and they will think twice before sharing another idea. In the end, they will lose faith and turn into innovation sceptics.
The suggestion box often leads to a chaotic and inadequate process, and ultimately stifles innovation. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy. The only thing it will lead to is demotivated employees and dissatisfied management.
Of course collecting ideas can be done in a much smarter and more efficient way. The solution: idea management.
Saving and managing ideas is extremely important. Especially nowadays, when the process of innovation is getting faster and faster. Obviously, it’s a no-brainer to capture innovative ideas. Even when they cannot be executed right away, groundbreaking ideas will turn out to be useful. Oftentimes these sci-fi suggestions become useful and feasible over the years.
With innovation, timing is everything. You can always use your idea management software as a time machine. Just go back in time and use the ideas that were once futuristic, but are now feasible because of transitions in the world of law, technology or human behaviour.
An idea management system is much more than just an archive of ideas. It’s a way to make use of the knowledge and know-how from within the organisation. People can share their ideas, contribute to each other’s suggestions and vote for the best proposals. Especially if your organisation operates in several continents it’s important to know what has been thought up before. You want to prevent spending time, money and resources on solving a challenge that has already been tackled by another department. Let alone making the same mistake that has already been made somewhere else.
Besides filling your innovation funnel with novel ideas, you are making it clear that innovation is necessary and fun. Everybody’s contribution is important. People love to collaborate and often become motivated to participate when they receive positive feedback from their peers.
When you’re setting up an idea management system, it’s important to take a few things into account. To get the best results it’s advisable to work with ‘topics’ and ‘challenges’.
If people have ideas that don’t fit any of the categories, you can just tell them to share these ideas with their supervisor. All the other ideas that do fit, should be posted and collected within the idea management system.
By creating groups on specific theme’s (sustainability, lean, customer service, internet of things, NPD, etc.) you can involve people around important issues. This way people with the same interest and expertise can build on each other’s ideas. Another advantage is that you can make people responsible for specific topics. A ‘topic owner’ is responsible for the selection and implementation of the ideas.
The implementation of ideas is the best way to show appreciation. People will be most motivated and enthusiastic about innovation if they see that something is being done with their ideas.
You can also introduce an “idea manager”. Someone who deals with the gathering of ideas and who manages the ideation process. He or she can choose to use Gamification to reward active users. The idea manager also makes sure that the contributions are valuable. A comment that says “Great Idea!” is not very useful and should not be rewarded. The most productive users can be made visible on the platform to stimulate active use.
This is obviously the most important category. By asking for specific ideas you will make full use of the creative potential of your organisation. You truly involve people in the innovation process and because you are setting up concrete objectives it will be more likely that you will end up with useful ideas.
A ‘challenge owner’ can make clear what kind of ideas he or she is looking for. Ambitious ideas or ideas that can quickly be implemented, high-tech solutions or low budget approaches, etc. A challenge can be a particular problem or a specific quest.
Training Courses Creative Thinking
An idea management system is excellent, yet not enough. You also have to train people in creative thinking and educate them in how to turn crazy suggestions into feasible solutions. As you can imagine we advise organisations to train their employees in creative thinking. Not just because we offer these services ourselves, but because people who are familiar with creative thinking are a lot better at coming up with original ideas.
Of course the same applies to Creative ThinkTanks. Sharing ideas digitally is not a replacement for offline thinking sessions. They have different benefits. Offline thinking sessions create energy and engagement and are likely to produce much more creative ideas in a very short period of time.
Last but not least, it’s advisable to share mistakes. You want your organisation to learn from failed ideas. You want to encourage people to experiment, so failing should not be punished. Instead, learned lessons should be shared. Sometimes failure itself can even lead to innovative new products or services.
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