Maybe ideation software isn’t helping

Ideation Platforms and Communication

Everywhere you look these days, there seem to be different kinds of tools and software to make it easier to listen to (and subsequently engage) your employees. Often this will be something cloud-based, promising “real-time feedback,” and/or “actionable insights,” etc. These are all common business buzzwords. All this stuff came about because the general belief is that the workforce is not engaged, and that millennials will want engagement and real-time feedback as they come to dominate the workforce. I’ve written about all this kind of stuff a gazillion times; here’s but one example.

The thing is: capturing the ideas from your employees is the easy part. Lots of people have ideas, of various range on the “good” to “horrific” scale. But it’s what you do after you capture the ideas that really matters — and that’s the part that can even further cripple engagement. 

Consider this:

The final lesson here is that real innovation requires clear communication and careful calibration of people’s expectations. With the right encouragement, people will submit ideas. But they’ll want to know that their “brilliant” ideas are given full consideration — and if they’re not chosen or implemented, they’ll want to know why. Managing these messages in a personalized way, when hundreds of people are involved, can be logistically challenging. But without this kind of feedback, ideation can be demoralizing, sort of like dropping an idea into a suggestion box and then being ignored. To counter this, the idea champions mentioned above also had the responsibility of providing quick “thank you’s” and feedback to people who sent in ideas. And for the ideas that were selected, the champions encouraged the originators to become part of the implementation team.

I think that’s a powerful paragraph for a couple of reasons:

  • When someone pitches a “real-time feedback” option, usually their logic is that “the old way” — i.e. the suggestion box — wasn’t working. But if you collect ideas and there’s no real process on the follow-through, then your new and improved approach is the same as your old approach you were trying to replace.
  • This emphasizes that innovation requires communication, which is not a common idea. Business leaders tend to view innovation as “a leader’s work” and communication as a soft skill you peddle down to the rank-and-file in trainings. In fact, you can’t innovate if you can’t communicate. Even Steve Jobs understood this in his own way.
  • Managing messages in a personalized wayis key for engagement, for job search feedback, for everything. No one really does it. Organic communication and respect for others are not necessarily at a premium in the working world.

To me, this is kind of a simple discussion: if you have an idea, you probably think it’s good, especially if you get to the point where you’re willing to share it. Maybe it’s terrible. But if it’s terrible in the eyes of someone else (a decision-maker), they have the responsibility to communicate to you — in a constructive way — what was not-so-great about it at this present time.

If you remove the communication from the innovation/ideation program, then, you’re basically back to the situation you were supposedly trying to fix in the first place.


Ted Bauer