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Advantages and Limitations of Idea Management Software

02.03.2015
Annie Mole @flickr (CC) https://www.flickr.com/photos/anniemole/5847138502

Even today, the online management of ideas still is met with scepticism. In fact, we regularly experience this in customer meetings. How can ideas be developed online when it's personal, creative exchange that helps bring them about? Does a workshop really give room to all the different perspectives and points of view? Are the required skillsets and experience present in the room? Can't this same thing be done through an idea management software? In this article, we will summarize our experiences with challenges and advantages of online and offline ideation management. Just a little hint to start with: A combination of both is ideal.

Advantages of Internet-Based Ideation Management

Time and Location Independent Participation
With an online idea contest over several weeks, you may reach a much vaster audience than with a workshop. Bringing all of the participants together for a meeting on one and the same day usually is nothing else than a lucky coincidence. There always is at least someone who will miss the workshop. However, if you do the same thing over the internet, over the course of several weeks, everyone will be able to make it. As there exists no dependence on a time or location, there are no excuses possible. In a workshop, you always have a challenge to fit the exchange and feedback within a short time span. Online, however, participants are able to engage time and again and let ideas grow step by step. Read the following article about this to learn more: "10 Reasons Why Open Innovation Is Prone To Failure".

The Insights of Introverts
Often times, participants who actively participate in the discussion are the only ones to share their ideas and to participate in group discussions in general. Yet, they usually are a minority. Particularly introverts with great ideas, may not necessarily want to participate; and they may hold themselves back in group situations. In an online process, their participation isn't bound by time or location. What counts is their expertise, which they can share in writing. This leads to many surprises, like the secretary asking the subject expert a critical question, or people from other fields coming up with great ideas. Online, there is less social pressure, and the participation barrier can be considerably lower.

The Quality of Ideas
Often times, an idea comes from one person. Ideas, however, require the input of many to mature into something more realistic and more feasible.

Many different perspectives are needed to achieve such outcome. Yet, a team, a department, or even an organization may often not have all it takes. In that case, bringing in an outside perspective can help to truly move things along. Be it the expertise of a colleague from another department, who solved a similar problem before; or that of partners from another company with much more expertise on a problem - bringing in additional help can help boost an idea.

Diversity of the Ideas
In a classic brainstorming process during a workshop, many ideas can be collected. But those ideas come from only one moment in time and are strongly dependent on both situation and participant motivation. In fact, you will be able to get even more ideas and experience how they spark additional suggestions if you put the ideation process online and give it several weeks' time. People can quite simply sleep over an idea. Hence, an online ideation process is like a joint expedition of several weeks, in which you develop a network of ideas (knowledge management). Our tip: Even in online processes, setting a time limit is advantageous. Generating ideas for months on end can cost a lot of energy, if you don't proceed to implement any of them.

Fight Resistance with Transparency
By using the internet, the entire ideation process is documented and, thus, becomes accessible by everyone at all times. Here, every participant can give feedback. Usually, innovation brings about resistance. Whatever one group may see as a great change may be considered a "threat" by others. In a participation-oriented ideation management process, resistance and tensions can be dissolved early on. In our experience, both of this works very constructively in online settings. With idea management software the whole process with all its discussion is nicely documented.

Bird's Eye Perspective on the Organization's Innovation Level
An online process allows you to measure your organization's innovation level very reliably. You see how active the members of your organization are, how many different perspectives (diversity) are expressed, and to which extend people innovate in your company. We at WE THINQ, for instance, use social network analysis,. From this bird's eye perspective, it is very easy to see how interconnected your organization is, or rather, if people prefer to work within their own team. Read our article to learn more about this: "How to evaluate open innovation"

The Limitations of Idea Management Software

Testing and Prototyping
You can very well discuss ideas and analyze different criteria in an online setting. However, it is difficult to put an idea into practice. Even good ideas need to be tested and proven. In this situation, prototypes often are a wonder weapon, as their creation allows for teams to see if they had the same idea on how solutions should be implemented. Or, if the first test subjects' reaction differs widely from what had been anticipated.

Resolve Tensions
In our online ideation processes, we almost exclusively see constructive contributions and, often times, an enthusiastic spirit. This doesn't come as a surprise, as people are asked for their ideas and feedback, which leads to intrinsic motivation in the purest form. No special remuneration can hold a candle to this. However, especially while implementing an idea with all its consequences, conflicts may arise. Innovation means change. And change can cause tension, which cannot always be resolved in discussions on the internet.

Commitment to Implementation
When a manager commits to really implementing ideas in front of everyone, this is a huge motivator. Of course, team spirit is invoked very differently in a direct exchange. Online, this is only possible through a clever storytelling and strong engagement of the managers. This is why we recommend a kick-off event, which is recorded on video, so all of the participants can re-watch it later on.

Atmosphere
It is without question that reaching the abundance of energy of a creative workshop with many participants, all enthusiastically working on ideas, is difficult in an online process. However, we regularly see a lot of enthusiasm in our ideation processes - especially during the last hours of a countdown, when people tend to discuss excitedly. Yet, the atmosphere never is as energetic as during an ideation workshop.

Online - offline combination

Our experiences show that combining online and offline ideation management is highly effective. One example is Nesta, who, by means of their Dynamic Demand Challenge Price, called for solutions on how to save energy in households Europe-wide. Through our idea management software WE THINQ, Nesta was able to mobilize in an entirely different way. After having analyzed and selected the best ideas, the initiators were invited to a Hackathon to collaborate and work out how the ideas could be implemented. Hence, the mobilization, first feedback and collaboration happened on the internet. Later on, people worked on the implementation in workshops. However, the process still was recorded on the internet.

Would you like to learn more about how to easily get your organization's ideation management going? We'll help you design a process to, step by step, learn ideation management and customize it for your company.

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