At Company X, the executive board meets under something of a cloud, and Paul, the chief executive, asks all the directors present a question. “We are losing market share. We need to innovate, and to offer new products and explore new outlets. Has anyone got any ideas?”
The silence in the boardroom is deafening. Directors give each other sideways glances, waiting for the bravest – or the most rash – to say something. Karen, the quality manager, clears her throat and mentions – diffidently – that she heard something about participative innovation at the last trade fair she attended. Peter, the head of IT, resorts to sarcasm. “Ah yes, we should go and check the suggestion box at reception.” Laughter erupts.
Do you vaguely remember that rectangular box, sitting collecting dust? The one that has been on the counter at reception or in the staff coffee lounge since the year dot. Obviously not. No-one has paid it the slightest attention for ages.
The suggestion box – it seemed a good idea at the time.
Fundamentally, the suggestion box actually was a good idea. In its old form, it was a real box into which employees could slide a slip of paper, anonymously or otherwise, to share their ideas for improvements about how the company operated, or could develop.
This suggestion box thus met the requirements of innovation and continuous improvement thanks to employee contributions, a rich seam of good ideas.
Naturally, the digital tools of the modern era enable us to go somewhat further. Terms such as “Suggestion box 2.0” and “Digital suggestion box” are being bandied around. But has the underlying procedure changed that much?
It is now possible to submit ideas using a computer, tablet or smartphone, onto an online platform. However, the issue is less one of collecting ideas (while innovation does nonetheless need to be part of corporate culture) than of processing them. Who picks up the ideas and how often? Who approves ideas, and based on what criteria? Are these willing and creative employees informed about what happens next? Are they galvanised for implementation?
This is the real issue with collecting employees’ ideas, because participative innovation has to be managed.
However, a suggestion box is not a system designed to manage, coordinate and implement, and it has too many shortcomings preventing the collaborative mindset from flourishing:
The only alternative to the famous suggestion box is an ideation platform.
An ideation platform is the prime solution for collaborative innovation and the only solution that ensures all ideas are always processed, entirely transparently. It can include everyone in submitting and improving ideas, and crucially, potentially culminate in practical implementation.
An ideation platform actually goes further than a suggestion box: it can be used not only to collect, process and analyse ideas, but also to make effective decisions, manage the actions to be undertaken, and communicate and showcase ideas with staff. In short, it serves to support the complete lifecycle of an idea, from birth to implementation.
An ideation platform is, as its name suggests, an online platform, made available in SaaS mode (Software as a Service), provided to company employees (and sometimes externally to customers, partners, etc.) which should enable ideas to be collected, assessed and managed, as part of a participatory innovation process or for idea campaigns.
It therefore incorporates real innovation management software, essential for the business which will then be able to support its collaborative process, provided that the platform can manage the key processes:
Take care, though, because the ideation platform will deliver a practical technical solution only if the company follows a well-designed and properly-organised innovation policy. The platform cannot be effective without clearly-defined governance, which alone can secure the buy-in of employees, who will play a crucial role as the source of the ideas.
The secret to becoming an innovative business lies therefore in the company’s ability to transform itself and instil an innovation culture in staff. Creativity must be built into the company’s DNA; it should be stimulated, its knowledge and skills managed, and the necessary change management anticipated.
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