Your Idea Pipeline

Robert Brands's guest post on innovation.

Robert Brands is a smart cookie. We started chatting about a year ago after the release of his interesting book, Robert’s Rules of Innovation™ (Wiley, Spring, 2010). In this guest post, he discusses tips for keeping that innovation pipeline flowing. With that, the soapbox is now his.


If even one percent of new ideas succeed, the payoff can be huge. A steady stream of ideas is what fuels innovation, so one of Robert’s Rules of Innovation imperatives is Ideation, or the idea management processes.

On any new product development team, it is up to the leader to facilitate ideation sessions. The goal of these sessions is to produce a regular supply of new ideas. In order for these ideation sessions to be as effective as possible, it’s valuable to include members such as:

  • the sales team
  • people who interact directly with customers
  • maybe even a few select customers themselves to offer their insight into the meeting

These brainstorming sessions should be held regularly, say two to three times a year. It’s ideal to include a diverse group of people–perhaps from customer service, engineering, or production. This does several critical  things:

  • It creates a setting ripe for creative ideas
  • It minimizes the chances of group-think.

The process should be structured and repeatable. All ideas should be written up on the whiteboard or flip chart, then recorded and stored for future reference, with absolutely no ideas dubbed as bad. Negativity causes fear of judgment, which can seriously hurt the Ideation process and any chance of new and original ideas. Remember, good ideas can come from anywhere, so the more diverse your team and the more removed they are from their usual environments, the better for developing ideas essential to Innovation.

Ideation and the management of the ideation process pack the front end of the New Product Development funnel with a wealth of viable concepts. This portfolio approach anticipates the fact that some concepts will pan out, while others will be dropped. Here are some tips on ideation:

  • Focus, focus, focus. Remember that depth is better than breadth for quality idea generation. Drill down and maintain focus.
  • Prioritize ideas. And keep your eye on areas that enhance perceived value, improve customer relations, and capitalize on competitive opportunities.
  • Store best practices. And be sure to reference them regularly. Remember, also, to create a database of ideation session “discards”—used in combination with other concepts from the group’s “toy box,” there might be the makings of a winner.

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You can reach Robert at his website.

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