drawing of a dome
PHOTO: Mounzer Awad

Ideas are among the most important resources in a company. But they are rarely treated as such. 

All companies have well-defined workflows and systems for marketing, sales, human resources, and so on, but few have similar processes for generating and acting upon ideas. Idea management is not yet a part of a company’s standard tool box.

That’s a shame, because ideas are what move businesses forward. In today’s fast-changing markets, stagnating is basically a death sentence, so continually moving forward has never been more important. 

In a Huffington Post blog, Peter Arvai, co-founder of Prezi, a cloud-based presentation software company, wrote, “The average life span of S&P 500 companies has fallen from 61 years, in 1958, to just 18 years today. In order for us to be successful in this environment, we have to build a culture of ideas within our companies.”

Arvai got it right: The best way to make sure your company is not run over by some twentysomething tech heads from Silicon Valley is by always improving and moving in the right direction. And the way to do that is by making ideas a natural part of your workday.

When engaging in idea management, keep in mind the following three points.

You Don’t Need to Invent the Next iPhone

Idea management is not necessarily about coming up with new, industry-defining inventions. If you do make a breakthrough, great. But it’s just as important to generate ideas as a way to continually improve processes, adjust methods and fine-tune products.

Working with ideas is a way to prevent you from getting stuck in your ways. It’s well established that humans don’t care much for change and, therefore, some people tend to stick to current processes, even if they are not ideal.

When Uber, Airbnb and Netflix came along, we all thought we embraced change because we attended two-day workshops about disruption and said “innovation” and “digital” a lot. But when a colleague suggests that we move the weekly all-hands meeting to 9 a.m., we still refuse.

It’s true that working with ideas can lead to radical innovation. The tech products that have changed the market in numerous fields during the last decade were all once simple ideas. Someone is going to make the next groundbreaking invention, and it might as well be you.

But working with ideas is also about incremental innovation and embracing change in everyday work life. And that sort of change might be more scary because there is no excuse for not implementing it tomorrow or next month. But that’s also what, arguably, makes this type of everyday innovation even more important than the disruption-level innovation — the everyday innovation is rarely a long shot. It’s something that can improve your business right away.

One thing is certain, though: You won’t invent anything groundbreaking or improve any everyday processes if you don’t work with ideas on a regular basis.

Related Article: Why So Many Large Companies Stink at Innovation

Build a Culture of Ideas

In order to work with ideas effectively, you need to make it a priority every day. It’s not enough to have a one-hour brainstorming session each Wednesday. Ideas need to be part of your company’s culture.

Building a culture of sharing and developing ideas starts with open communication and inclusion. The more you engage your co-workers in the idea generation process, the more comfortable they will feel about getting in on the action themselves. As a bonus, if employees feel that their ideas are being heard and that they are allowed to be creative, their overall levels of motivation and commitment will improve.

Another part of creating this culture is to let employees contribute with ideas that are not directly related to their daily tasks or even their fields. People are not robots. Even though Brian from HR doesn’t have any sales experience, he might be able to offer a different and useful perspective on new sales methods. It should be clearly communicated that sharing and developing ideas across departments is considered a good thing.

Furthermore, it’s important to create a sense of purpose by stressing the importance of ideas. New ideas are supposed to turn into concrete value for your company, and they are supposed to affect the bottom line. Therefore, taking time out of your day to work with ideas that are not necessarily related to your daily tasks should not just be tolerated, it should be encouraged.

Related Article: Organizations Need to Cultivate Poets, Not Mushrooms

An Idea Is Worth Nothing if It Isn’t Acted Upon

Sometimes, the road from raw idea to real-life action can be a bumpy one. But it’s important to not abort the mission before the idea is fully developed and implemented. Doing so will not just rob you of whatever value the idea would have created, it will also mean that the time spent developing it was wasted. That’s just bad business.

Obviously, not all ideas are good, and sometimes you need to give up on an idea because it’s simply not going to work out (you will often realize this early). But the point is that you should not ditch an idea unless you are confident that it’s a bad one. An idea should never die because you didn’t have the time to follow it through or because it was easier to stick to the status quo.

After all, you can have a million great ideas, but they are worth nothing if they are not brought to life.

When implementing an idea, make sure that it ends up in the hands of the right people. Have a clear action plan for who is going to do what. Follow up regularly and make adjustments if needed. Sound familiar? It is. Because implementing an idea is just like implementing any new strategy, process, product or initiative.

And that might be the best way to look at idea management. An idea is not some mystical phenomenon. Sharing and developing ideas simply means finding more and better ways to improve your business — every single day.