Are You The Great Idea’s Grim Reaper?

lego figures of grim reaper

When it comes to innovation, there is good news and bad news.

The good news is that one single person can come up with a great idea. The bad news is that there could be two dozen others waiting to take that idea, kick the bejayzus out of it and throw it in a ditch.

Writing on The Economist blog, Scott Berkun proposed companies measure their idea approval index (or IAI) to see just how tough it can be to get a good idea approved. One example is a blogger who wants to make some changes to his site. He is the only person who works on it, so his approval index is 1. In a big company, however, committees get involved. As Berkun explained:

They bring it to their monthly senior idea review committee (10 people). The committee suggests they run it by the Innovation task force (8 people), who have some concerns they want addressed before they’ll approve, which takes weeks. Finally they show it to the group manager who loves it, and asks them to present it at the next executive strategy meeting (6 people), where the idea is praised, but never receives funding due to other priorities. Idea Approval Index (IAI) = 24 .

His thesis is that this number should be lowered if organizations ever want to progress innovation. For those worried about loss of control, he suggests:

If you want more progress, or faster exploration of new ideas, you want to lower the approval index. If you want more predictability and stability, raise the index. If you want both at the same time, lower the index for getting projects started, and raise it for getting projects out the door.

Meanwhile, Harvard professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, has five tips to help people navigate the IAI maze by working on your credibility to help you achieve important goals.

1. Show up: Digital is great, but face to face is vital.

2. Speak up: But do it intelligently. “It doesn’t matter who runs the meeting; the de facto leader is the one who frames the debate and articulates the consensus,” Kanter said.

3. Team up: People perform better in teams.

4. Look up: Don’t act on or appeal to self-interest. Great leaders aren’t merely efficient, Kanter said. “They are able to find grander goals that help people look up to see the big picture and set their sights higher.”

After reading Berkun’s article, I tweeted the url. Among the responses was one from John Conoley (@johnCEOatPsion), CEO at Psion Teklogix, a Canadian company forging ahead with a major open innovation initiative. Although it is a very tough number to measure company wide, I asked him if Psion keeps track of its IAI. The firm doesn’t measure the index but he thinks it’s on a “downward trend.”

Conoley said Psion’s open-innovation site, Ingenuity Working, “socialises issues/ideas prior to potential decisions.”

Image courtesy of Minifig / Thom on Flickr.