Ideas: Thousands of companies have this major asset – and never use it!

This post is published on the Blog of Qmarkets.

Whether you optimize your business, strive to win new customers, invent the latest product or simply try to innovate – ideas help. However few companies trust ideas of their crowd and the huge potential that they offer is wasted.

Have you got symptoms of idea bla-bla?

Many people dream of the next big idea – but only of this big and winning one. Other ideas are rarely welcome, since they threaten to disturb normal business without a clear way to success: idea bla-bla!

Since the 18th century breakthroughs of Immanuel Kant, rationality has been regarded as an important instrument which controls the mind, establishes borders, and identifies constraints. Our mind, combined with the power of judgment, leads to rationality. Creativity is for morons. But this view of creativity is outdated – our mind is not always rational.

Ideas are a powerful tool. The computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter says: “We like to view our thinking as rigorous and imperturbable. Something that leads us from truth to truth. Mathematics for this reason is considered as terrain of pure thinking. In reality mathematicians accept vague intuition and ideas as guidance. Only after this they argument rationally and close gaps. At the end they omit all the intuitive steps which leaded to the result.“ Analogies show us the way!

Six major problems of ideation – which ones do you want to resolve?

When accepting that ideas are a powerful instrument for day-to-day business people face a problem: how does creativity work?

Oftentimes a brainstorming is done, many ideas are scribbled onto a poster and contributors are happy with the great result. People do not realize that they could have achieved an even better outcome.

I collected six ways to spur creativity in your company and increase your business success:

Not enough ideas

The Nobel laureate Linus Pauling knows: “The best method to have a good idea is to have many ideas”.

Studies show that the number of ideas increases dramatically when people try to have ideas before they discuss with others. To relax and do something very familiar, like taking a shower, moving the lawn or go running on a well-know trail, makes ideas pop up in our minds.


The caveat is that we need to write down these ideas quickly in order to free the mind for new ideas. If not done, our mind is busy with keeping the idea we like – potentially better ideas are blocked, like in brainstormings.

Running a brainstorming session as favorite ideation technique to collect ideas is a mistake. It is important to give your crowd the opportunity to develop their own ideas independently.

Lack of discussion

Even if you collect ideas in a notebook, the next big idea most likely will not be part of your library. Great ideas are often a result of improving ideas.

Improving ideas happens often in discussions in liquid networks, as the author Steven Johnson calls it. One hears the idea of someone else and gets inspired to a new idea: we call this process idea synthesis.

But these discussions require rules to make sure that even ideas which sound awkward at first are also considered. Idea management software helps with idea synthesis, because different people can see ideas of others and the follow a discussion about it – anywhere and anytime. Two members of a group do not need to meet anymore to discuss and improve an idea.

Trusting experts

Once you have generated a lot of ideas you should select one or some of them for further consideration. Many people assume subject matter experts are the best source to decide upon the fate of ideas. This can be right.

But often it is wrong. Experts have to analyze the circumstances of an idea or a situation and judge whether their expertise is valid as the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein[1] showed

Other decision makers follow their own agenda – for example in stage gate meetings which decide about the fate of a project. For managers it can be more important to stick to a potentially weak idea than to skip it and support another project.

As Plilipp Tetlock and Dan Gardner show in their bestseller „Superforecasting the Art and Science of Prediction“, the crowd can beat most experts, except those who follow clear routines not trusting their own judgment.

If you are not sure whether the expertise of available experts suffices – run decision and prediction campaigns among members of your company crowd – your employees, your customers, or your partners. Their judgment is worth listening to it.

Missing implementation

You can have the greatest idea on this planet – but if it is not used it is worthless. There is no reason to collect hundreds of ideas without working with them – as done in many companies.

If you do not have the capacity to implement all of the good ones, select rigorously. It is vital to make sure your contributors see a reason to generate and discuss new ideas. As Harvard professor Teresa Amabile puts it: “success is the best motivation “- make sure some ideas are implemented – even if you do not like them – and every contributor understands that he was part of this success story.

Wrong measurements

Make sure you employ valid indicators to judge products or projects.

Financial measurements aren’t a good indicator in early stages but this is what most companies do. Instead many frameworks exist that allow for better judgments like “The lean startup” hypothesis of Eric Ries, the “Business generation canvas” of Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur or the CO*STAR methodology of EDG – even for products outside your home market.

The billionaire Marc Andreesen, the developer of the first internet-browser calls many financial measurements “Bullshit-Metrics“. For him, the number of users of a product is much more important. As long as this number is increasing quickly and the company promises to have innovations more often than once, he will invest. A practice Amazon also follows making founder Jeff Bezos one of the riches men on the planet.

Too much creativity

Last but not least – do not forget to come to an end. Truly creative people sometimes are so overwhelmed by opportunities that they could generate and work on ideas forever.

It is most important to take decisions and thereby limit ideation at a given time in every project in order to achieve progress.

This does not mean you should cease to be creative. Once you have learnt to have many ideas and work with them you will understand that this is impossible.

But companies need existing products and services to generate revenue and pay their creative crowd.


[1]  Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, The Power of Intuition, and Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making

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