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Why multiple perspectives matter: ideas are like balls

The biggest mistake one can make in Idea Management is to assume an idea is finished. This especially goes for new ideas: in all their purity and beauty it is tempting to keep ideas as-is and set them up for evaluation right away. However, it is unlikely you possess all required information to be able to estimate its true value. Better yet, chances are you will never possess complete information. In this blog post I explain why ideas are like balls (yes, balls), and what you can learn from this in relation to managing ideas in your organisation.

Imagine the following situation:

Two people are sitting across one another at a table. At the center of the table lies a mysterious ball. The person that first notices the ball says: “There’s a ball on the table”. He continues describing his discovery as “shiny and orange”.

The person sitting across the table is now also aware of the ball, looks at it but is puzzled by the other’s description: “I’m sorry, but that ball is completely white!”

A discussion follows.

While they accuse each other of being colorblind and what not, a coffee lady walks into the room. In order to settle the debate, they ask her to sit down and describe what she sees.

Guess what? The ball is half orange and half white.

Ideas are exactly like the ball from the example. On your own, you simply cannot get a full understanding of the ball because you will never be able to see it in its entirety. Assuming your organisation gathers ideas in order to turn the most promising ideas into innovations: what can we learn from this with respect to managing ideas in your organisation? Two lessons:

bal1Lesson 1: An idea submitter does not have all information…
It does not matter how extensive the description of the idea submitter is. Even if the idea submitter has taken the effort to walk around the ball, he has never seen its entire surface at one glance. On top of that, there is still a chance his perspective is biased by wearing colored shades (subjectivism) or because of color blindness (a lack of knowledge).

Lesson 2: … and neither do you
Just like the idea submitter you don’t have all information: so don’t judge or evaluate an idea right away. Before you decide on whether to do something with the ball – e.g. develop it into a new product or process – or not, there is more to explore. Start by enriching the description of the ball (idea) by adding other people’s perspectives. The more (and better) perspectives you have gathered, the stronger your estimate of the idea’s value will be.

Tips for acquiring additional perspectives
In order to get a more complete perspective of the idea, reduce subjectivism, fill white spots and better assess an idea’s value, start with the following:

1.   Make visible and accessible
bal2Make sure the idea is visible to others: put it somewhere it can be stored, viewed, discussed and enriched for a period of time. For large organisations it is best to use a dedicated Idea Management System for this. The idea and therefore the system should be accessible to everyone within your organisation. Make sure it is a user-friendly platform where barriers to participate are as low as possible. In addition, you can roll out the red carpet by making use of Single Sign On so potential enrichers are automatically logged in.

2.   Invite others
Once the idea is made visible and accessible, you need to draw in other people to enrich the idea with their perspectives. Your target group can consist of the entire organisation or a more specific subgroup such as a business unit. You could even invite individuals or parties from outside your organisation such as business partners, suppliers or knowledge institutes to participate and share their perspectives. Wherever the potentially valuable knowledge lies, you need regular and quality communication to bring ideas under the attention of the group. This way you increase the number of visitors that may have relevant knowledge and experience to enrich the idea with their perspectives.

3.   Activate to share perspectives
Visitors and potential visitors may need a little extra stimulation in order to actually share their perspective in enrichments, we call this: crowd activation. On the one hand, several features of the idea management system can activate a crowd such as notifications, reminders and smart social features like recommended ideas based on earlier contributions. On the other hand: a tool – no matter how good – is just a tool and cannot do everything for you. Idea Management is about people and people appreciate being addressed personally. Our best advice: train and employ a Challenge team to spur activity in an Idea Challenge setting and get the most knowledge and experience from your organisation. Put extra effort into finding people that have specific experience or expertise to contribute to the idea.

4.   Stimulate thinking in possibilities
Idea killing statements such as “that ball can never be used for racket sports” and “that ball will be too heavy/small/expensive/…” are the worst things that can happen to an idea’s enrichment process. Other potential contributors read them and may feel inhibited to share their perspective in a new enrichment. In order to keep it positive and constructive, try to turn it around by asking appreciative questions: “Are there ways we can make it work with a racket?”, “What could be redesigned to make the ball lighter?”Dream and imagine playing with the ball together: What sports could it possibly be used for? Can it be used on a field? a court? Do you need complementary items such as a racket to use it? Does it bounce?

Once the idea has been enriched with all knowledge and experience available in the target group, you will notice everyones understanding of the idea has grown. Now, you will definitely be better able to assess the idea’s true value and make decisions based on that value.

5. Take it to the playground and put it to the test!
Once all possible perspectives have been gathered, don’t think you are there! You still only know what the ball looks like while it is on a table. If it looks promising enough to invest more time and effort into it, it is time to get it off the table, to the playground and see how it actually works!

Don’t forget to take some people with you to that playground! Their perspectives matter!

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