Measuring the Velocity of an Idea

Doug Collins - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fomenting a Culture of Innovation before They Leave

Organizations seek to foment a culture of innovation. The currency of the realm—the realm where innovation is prized and pursued—is ideas.

Ideas. The number of ideas conceived. The number of people creating ideas. The number of ideas brought to fruition—that see the light of day. The societal and economic value of the ideas.

People expend a lot of time and effort fomenting this culture. Challenges abound. Old ways die hard. The pace frustrates people. Some—the very ones the organization wants to keep—seek other venues in which to realize their potential for leadership through their practice of collaborative innovation.

As one acquaintance—a former manager in a Fortune 500 organization, now managing his own start-up—observed, “I managed a lot of people in my former role. With that, I realized at some point that I was never going to be in a position to call my own shots.”

A critical question that clients raise with me is, “How might we promote our practice in order to retain the best minds of the Millennial Generation?”

How many new businesses are formed out of frustration with the existing business?

How Fast Does Your Idea Go?

In the context of the process step of the collaborative innovation blueprint, people measure three factors when trying to gauge the health of their innovation culture (figure 1):

  • The number of ideas created in response to an inquiry or an invitation to contribute
  • The number of ideas that resolve themselves on the back end (e.g., that become a new product or service)
  • The societal and economic impact of the ideas that realize their potential—the economic return

Figure 1: measures tied to process

Organizations worried about retaining their staff also measure how the innovation practice affects employee engagement.

The metrics make sense when it comes to understanding the present state of the innovation practice (i.e., a pulse taking). They do not, however, suffice in shedding light on the impediments the organization faces in fomenting a culture of innovation.

People who pursue the practice of collaborative innovation also want to measure the velocity of ideas: the speed with which an idea is captured, evolves, is trialed, and is ultimately resolved.

For example, let’s consider the day in the life of an idea in the context of the blueprint’s process.

Inquiry phase. You pose the critical question. How quickly do members of the community respond in kind with their ideas? Slow speeds suggest a lack of engagement, overall, along with a less than relevant question.

Exploration phase. People contribute ideas in various levels of maturity. The community contributes insights, turning promising ideas into compelling ones. Slow speeds suggest a lack of compelling ideas—something inhibits people from realizing their creative potential.

Resolution phase. The community reconvenes to decide which ideas to pursue and the means by which they pursue them. Slow speeds here suggest a lack of alignment. People can judge the attractiveness of an idea relative, only, to where they see the organization going—and the means by which they get there.

Concept phase. The innovator tests their idea and observes the results, good, bad, or indifferent. Slow speeds suggest a lack of shared understanding of what constitutes success—or a fear that taking the idea further challenges the power structure.

Implementation phase. The organization presents the concept as finished work to the intended audience. Slow speeds suggest a weak go-to-market capability.

Achieving Terminal Idea Velocity in Innovation Management

Organizations that embrace the need for speed sponsor events such as hackathons to free people to move as quickly as possible in forming and pursuing ideas. One company, Atlassian, is known for hosting Fedex Days, where their people deliver their ideas in usable form over one night.

New venture arms and accelerators serve, too, as an acknowledgement by the organization that idea create and pursuit outside the core business, while important to the future viability of the firm, takes too long to pursue within the context of the incumbent organizational structure.

Saturn eats his young, unfortunately.

Closing: Measuring Ideation Success

How might you sketch a velocity vector for an idea in your organization? What might the graph tell you about the health of your practice? How might you find causality between the speed of your flow, your level of associate engagement, and the retention of your employees? Figure 2 offers a starting perspective.

Figure 2: resolving the forces affecting the velocity of an idea in your organization

Innovation HR guy commented on 23-Oct-2014 08:57 PM
I love this article, thank you for posting!

Organization capacity to move ideas through the phases is also something to pay careful attention to. Have you experienced tying the innovation velocity concept to waterfall process or anything like this that gets at unlocking innovation capacity ?
Doug Collins commented on 02-Nov-2014 08:22 AM
Great question -- no, I have not. The thought that occurred to me was more around "big data" -- extracting many data points from their original context and seeing what they might tell us, overall. Here, I wondered what we might learn from extracting the data about an idea's velocity, taken over many ideas.

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