35 Things You Need to Know About Business Innovation and Ideation

Stuart Sinclair - August 9, 2018

Great businesses are built on ideas, and grow through innovation. So, what do you need to know to gather ideas, turn them into reality and to build an on-going culture of  innovation?

Let’s start with one caveat. Innovation is a powerful and effective way of building employee engagement. However, it is only one of a number of essential ingredients. Without considering the broader employee engagement requirements, and putting a comprehensive strategy in place, it is highly likely that any ideation and employee innovation program will fail.

Here’s our ‘briefing’ on the elements (ingredients) you need to be aware of before you start - and to inspire you if you’re already on your way.

1 Ideation: meaning and definition

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ideation is simply “The formation of ideas or concepts.”(1) The secret of successful ideation is how your business asks for and acts on those ideas and concepts.

(1) Oxford Dictionary definition of ideation


2 Business Ideation

In business, ideation is the process of gathering new business improvement ideas through techniques such as brainstorming, work-shopping or suggestion schemes. The usual aim of business innovation or organisational ideation is to gather as many ideas as possible, and then select and progress the best of these ideas through to implementation.

3 The 21st century suggestion box

Suggestion schemes still enable you to gather focused, targeted ideas that matter to your employees. They’ve evolved from dusty boxes in the corner to smart apps. So anyone can submit a suggestion to the idea box, when it strikes, and that idea can be fed into your ideation and innovation system.

A failure to innovate can hinder the success of any organisation. That’s why we  created our own innovation white paper – to help you flourish in an  ever-changing economic climate.

4 Idea generation

Generating ideas is not always a problem. Making sure they don’t disappear into a black hole of indifference is. Employee communication apps are an efficient method for idea submission. Ideas can be discussed, rated, and progressed to implementation with full transparency and due credit to the creator of the idea.13

5 Creating continuous improvement

If ideation is a catalyst, continuous improvement is about delivery. It involves continually improving all the functions of your business from procurement to customer services and beyond. For continuous improvement to work, there needs to be a innovation system in place that continually inspires, processes and delivers meaningful changes.

6 Defining innovation

Innovation is the spark of invention coupled with the process of delivery. As speaker Paul Sloane says: “Creativity is thinking of something new. Innovation is the implementation of something new.” (2) Innovation starts with spotting a need or an opportunity, be it a different approach, a new process, or an improvement.

(2) What is innovation? 15 experts share their innovation definition

7 Innovation and employee engagement

Employee driven innovation succeeds best when considered part of an employee engagement strategy. Employees who are not engaged are highly unlikely to contribute to your innovation initiative. So, when launching an employee innovation program, ensure you consider these essential ingredients:

  • Recognition
  • News
  • Feedback
  • Company information

These elements feed and sustain both ideation and employee-driven innovation.7

8 What is innovation management?

According to Gartner consulting (3) innovation management is: ”A business discipline that aims to drive a repeatable, sustainable innovation process or culture within an organization. Innovation management initiatives focus on disruptive or step changes that transform the business in some significant way.”

(3) Gartner - Innovation management

9 Types of innovation

In general there are 2 types of innovation; disruptive innovation and incremental innovation. Which type you choose depends largely on your organisation’s capacity and ability to receive ideas, formulate them into action, and deliver change.

10 Disruptive innovation: great expectations

Disruptive innovation (or radical innovation) takes the established order, the usual, the expected and turns it on its head, fast. According to the Harvard Business Review(4), disruptive innovation is “A process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.” Think Uber, Dyson, Netflix, Virgin

(4) Harvard Business Review - What is disruptive innovation


11 Incremental innovation

Incremental innovation takes things slower. That doesn’t mean it’s not radical, just gradual. The World Bank Group’s Innovation Policy Platform suggests that: ”Incremental innovation concerns an existing product, service, process, organization or method whose performance has been significantly enhanced or upgraded.” (5)

(5) The Innovation Policy Platform - Radical and Incremental Innovation

12 “What If” innovation - the third way

“What If” innovation is more a state of mind than a method.

  • What if our new product was the best on market?
  • What if we could make our services the best in the world?
  • What would that sound like, feel like, work like?

In other words, what does success look like?

13 The innovation process

Any innovation process needs to be robust, engaging, sustainable - and focused. From initial idea submission to final implementation, the innovation platform must be transparent, resourced, managed and monitored, so that success can be repeated and mistakes learnt from.13

14 The No.1 idea generation technique that works

There are plenty of articles on how to generate innovations and ideas, but which techniques actually work? The most straightforward method is a Challenge, a business-focused request to solve an issue or think outside the box. It can be to a defined User Group, or company-wide. Above all, it should be open to discussion, collaboration and within a system that converts the best ideas into actions.

15 How to use an innovation challenge

Some of the greatest scientific and engineering achievements came as the result of a competition. The 1714 Longitude Act offered large financial rewards for a way to determine longitude at sea. The winner was a self-taught clockmaker.(6) Use Challenges to find that clockmaker in your business, wherever they may be.

16 Innovation in the workplace

Building a culture of innovation in the workplace requires a commitment from management to recognise its importance, manage its processes, and celebrate its results. As one researcher found: “Simultaneous improvement of performance and quality of working life is possible under certain conditions such as the participation of employees in innovation and change projects.“ (8)

(8) International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management 2010 • “Workplace innovation for better jobs and performance” Frank Pot, Institute for Management Research, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands


17 What is open innovation?

Open innovation enables everyone in your organisation to have the opportunity to contribute their ideas. That doesn’t mean that everyone should suggest ideas on everything and anything. Focus ideas through creating challenges that target specific concerns, or issues that are time-dependent, or open only to preselected groups with relevant skill sets.

18 The role of feedback in open innovation

The best innovation management and ideation systems include opportunities for feedback. A study into what stopped employees contributing ideas found that: “The two most commonly mentioned factors were management’s lack of follow-through on idea submissions and a lack of feedback on why ideas were not accepted.” (9)

(9) Feedback and Follow-Through: Cornerstones of Innovation * *Bruce D. Fischer & Matthew Rohde, Elmhurst College * American Journal of Management vol. 13(3) 2013 *

19 The importance of recognition and reward

Putting forward ideas can be a daunting experience for employees. By integrating systems of recognition, employees can be confident that their involvement is welcomed and valued. Recognition starts with acknowledging where ideas originated, and continues right through beyond implementation to the final results analysis.19

20 Let me tell you a story

Celebrate the successes that come from your innovation and ideation programs by sharing their story across your entire organisation. As Stephen Denning, former Director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank says: “There is no single right way to tell a story”. However, his guide to effective storytelling is a good place to start! (15)

(15) The 7 Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

21 Innovation funnel, not innovation tunnel

Based on a development funnels model used in manufacturing, (7) an innovation funnel filters out impractical and inappropriate ideas. It retains the best to be planned, costed and developed to implementation. Poorly managed innovation management systems can be perceived as dark tunnels into which idea disappear, never to see the light of day again.

(7) University of Cambridge - Innovation funnel

22 Sifting and shaping: creating a culture of innovation

Once ideas have been generated, your business needs to be able to determine the best ideas to take forward at that time. Open discussion, peer to peer ranking, and interdepartmental collaboration in a virtual workspace creates a safe space for innovative ideas to be examined, explored and expanded.

23 Idea software: plan to succeed

To ensure your ideation initiatives work, you need to create a communication plan. Think how you will:

  • Publicise your Challenge
  • Communicate with those who take it up
  • Share insights and assessments
  • Monitor the progress of each idea

Cloud-based apps are perfect for this, allowing always-on access in any location.

24 Idea networks: bringing skilled people together

If your innovation challenges require specific skill sets and knowledge, create an idea (ideas) network. An idea network is a group of colleagues in your organisation with similar skills but who have not worked together before. By bringing them together in a virtual network, you can tap into a wealth of of knowledge, experience and skills boundaries.

25 Dealing with a tsunami of ideas

When launching (or re-launching) a suggestion scheme, your organisation will be flooded with a tsunami of ideas. Not all will be appropriate or relevant for immediate attention. An Idea Bank (10) allows good ideas that are just not right for now to be stored, and revisited in times of ideas drought.

(10) BT - Idea Bank

26 Idea development: less is more

Is the best way to get great ideas to get lots of ideas? No! What is important is the ability to reliably identify the good ideas through a system of star ratings, comments and discussions. The more popular an idea is, the more likely it is to succeed when finally implemented.25

27 Idea fatigue

Through continual encouragement of ideas, your business runs the risk of idea fatigue. Ensure that your business paces its requests for ideas. Too many at once, and the system might be overwhelmed. Too few, and ideation may stall. This is why ideation needs to hand over the baton of delivery to innovation management.

28 Innovation and idea management transparency

Efficient innovation and idea management relies on transparency, enabling participants can see the progress of their idea from initial submission to final implementation. This also creates an ‘audit trail’ for each idea that can be monitored and analysed to inform future ideation and innovation techniques.

29 What is continuous innovation?

At UC San Diego, (12) they define continuous innovation as “The ongoing, gradual evolution that occurs in our activities, operations, and creations… It drives organizations forward one project, change, and idea at a time.” Note the word ‘gradual’. ‘Gradual’ creates great products and services, not one-offs.

(12) UC San Diego - What is continuous innovation

30 Sustaining innovation for busy businesses

In an interview for the HBR (11), Cheryl Perkins of Innovation Edge suggested: “It starts with having a very clear, articulated strategy. Once you’ve defined that strategy, make sure you have the right model, talent, and people focused on it.”

(11) Harvard Business Review - Sustainable innovation

31 Communication, communication, communication

A key pillar for continuous innovation (and sustainable innovation too) is on-going communication. Your business need to tell colleagues about progress, milestones and, yes, set-backs. Information on activity breeds further activity and triggers inspiration.30

32 Ideation techniques for teams

In-person ideation sessions are a proven way to bring teams together to brainstorm new ideas. However, if unstructured, they can sap energy and stifle creativity. Kevin Namaky (13) suggests 29 activity ideas, including “Platform Ideation” and “What would Brand X do”.

(13) Innovation Excellence - Innovation Activities for Your Next Ideation

33 Put your suggestion box online - now

If you do nothing else towards innovation and ideation this year, put your suggestion box online. This enables your employees to add suggestions when inspiration strikes, whether commuting on the train, at work, eating lunch, or at home.

34 One small step: suggestion box to ideas management software

From using a simple suggestion box setup, it’s a natural step for employees to embrace idea management software that enables them to do more, such as rate, comment and collaborate on ideas. The learning curve is reduced without dimming their enthusiasm.

35 Rinse and repeat: the innovation cycle

The innovation cycle should be “A repeatable process that results in the creation of a novel process, product, service, or business model that has business value.” (14) Or, as Steve Jobs said on his return to Apple after a 12-year absence: “The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.” (15) The rest is history.34


(1) Lexico - Ideation, Definition

(2) IdeatoValue - What is Innovation?

(3) Gartner - IT Glossary: Innovation Management

(4) Harvard Business Review - What is Disruptive Innovation?

(5) The Innovation Policy Platform - Radical and Incremental Innovation

(6) Wikipedia - Longitude

(7) University of Cambridge - Innovation Funnel

(8) International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management 2010 • “Workplace innovation for better jobs and performance” Frank Pot, Institute for Management Research, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands

(9) Feedback and Follow-Through: Cornerstones of Innovation * *Bruce D. Fischer & Matthew Rohde, Elmhurst College * American Journal of Management vol. 13(3) 2013 *

(10) BT - Ideas Bank

(11) Harvard Business Review - Sustainable Innovation

(12) Blink - What is Continuous Innovation?

(13) Innovation Excellence - 29 Innovation Activities for Your Next Ideation

(14) Iowa State University

(15) Forbes - The 7 Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

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