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Innovation Management

Ask the Right Question: How to Generate Valuable Ideas

Published By Guest Blogger

Every organizational culture (and sub-culture) has its own nuances — some of which may hold keys to getting your crowd to give you their best thinking.

Understanding these nuances will help you formulate the right questions to ask when it comes to tapping into the collective intelligence of employees. Asking the right question is the difference between generating valuable ideas that impact business objectives and ideas that don’t move the needle.

Here are a few ideation challenge questions that we have seen from Planview IdeaPlace customers recently that elicited higher than average rates of contribution and that customers felt generated actionable, valuable ideas.

1. Challenge question to an IT system operations community

“How can we create the ability for team members to allocate up to 20% of their time to developing tool and service improvements by June 2018 by finding ways to reduce the portion of time spent on production support by 33% (60% to 40%)?”

In this case, quantification in the question helps calibrate the community’s thinking and creates a target. Ideation in this context is presented as a considered and managed process, designed to achieve a specific measurable outcome. STEM communities tend to be encouraged by knowing the exercise is well framed and by having a calibrated target.

Secondarily, the nature of the question taps into intrinsic motivators. People who like to make sure things are run well and efficiently will be motivated to contribute. Likewise, those who want to create and invent, rather than manage, will have a place to do so. It’s a win for the company and a win for the individual. Besides, who doesn’t want their time liberated to work on something they find fun and rewarding?

2. Open to all – business growth challenge question

“How might we grow revenues over the next 12 months by attracting new customers and developing new types of products and services? We’re looking for ideas in the following categories: new logos & eco-systems and new products & services.”

This balanced approach starts broad with a how-to-grow-revenues question, which pulls the reader in by offering a very meaningful topic on which all can contribute. Then quickly, the question moves to a specific timeframe, focus areas (new customers and products/services), and categories. We know easily what types of ideas are sought.

The desired revenue outcome is not quantified by dollars, only time, which helps take the pressure off. Trying to think through a projected revenue analysis (or even shot in the dark) while also thinking about needs, wants, and market opportunities can be overwhelming.

3. Strategic initiatives – all ideas welcome

This challenge consisted of three concurrent questions:

  • Safety Culture: “How can we innovate to improve safety?”
  • Working Smarter: “What would help us work smarter?”
  • Affordability: “How can we reduce costs to our customers?”

These classic open-ended, brainstorm style, divergent questions are fun for large audiences where anyone can submit an idea that will truly make a meaningful improvement. They will lead to higher idea counts, which is proven to increase odds of actionable ideas.

The questions also implicitly enable and embolden the full diversity of the employee population (compelling ideas often come from the people on the edges looking in and making creative associations), as long as leaders with resources are seen to stand behind the exercise. The trade off is the work of sorting through the ideas and making decisions is increased, but crowd input and decision making tools as well as overall challenge process and content management – all established in advance – can make the workload more manageable.

Final thoughts

In summary, the keys to unlocking the best ideas are often found by spending time with various groups in the organization and observing the cultural nuances that make them tick.

Even better, spend time with leaders who are well engaged with their organizations and have an intuitive understanding of motivating employees, then craft your challenge question and communications according to their insights. Doing so could be the difference between having to pull hard to get valuable ideas and opening the floodgates through which ideas easily and naturally flow.

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Written by Guest Blogger