Innovation: great ideas need a place to hatch and grow (part II)

Today, innovation is seen as a core organisational function for business prosperity throughout all industries. But how can good ideas be developed?

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Hardly any company would fail to mention its innovation power to its stakeholders – its customers, investors and prospective employees. However, when asked how this crucial business function is organised in their company, many cannot point to a clear procedure. Ivan Malchev, an expert for ideation processes at Konica Minolta, elaborates on how to help good ideas to develop, streamline them and establish a culture of innovation supported by relevant technology.

Who is talking:

Ivan Malchev, Business Incubation Manager for emerging technologies at Konica Minolta.

Ivan Malchev is an expert in ideation and innovation processes at the Konica Minolta Business Innovation Centre and is based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Before taking his current position in March 2014, he was part of the global enterprise innovation team at Hewlett Packard. At Konica Minolta, he is now responsible for the development of innovative new products and services for the future portfolio of the company.

Ivan, you have been working on solutions for the efficient organisation of ideation processes for the last few years. Why is it important to organise ideas? Doesn’t this come naturally?

Ivan Malchev: Ideation is the very foundation for businesses to be able to innovate, and innovation is the catalyst for future business creation. Hence, all organisations claim it is one of their top priorities. However, in many cases, the question of a structured and supported process is left unanswered. It is a fact that knowledge, talent and ideas exist in every company. Despite this, ideas are often overlooked or not recognised or get lost in daily business, as their originators do not have the chance or tools to reach the right audience. We therefore in fact need to set up the right environment and facilitate the right culture to find these ideas and capitalise on them. This is why we need an organisational platform that supports a holistic culture of ideation and innovation within an organisation.

'Money never inspires new ideas'

Ivan Malchev

Can ideation be seen as a separate silo or function carried out exclusively by a small team within the organisation?

Ivan Malchev: No, it cannot. From my experience, you receive the best results when every member of the organisation contributes intuitively on their terms and brings their specific insights, know-how and perspective to the table. Further, expanding the sphere of participants beyond your organisation can prove to be a true game changer in ideation: you should consider involving industry experts, customers, suppliers or industry partners. It’s often surprising to see what an external perspective can set in motion. Therefore, there are quite a few points to consider when aiming to drive innovation in your company.

In other words, successful ideation needs management and guidance. How is this done? What is needed for this?

Ivan Malchev: Successful ideation starts with incentives for the participants to take part and continue doing so. To clarify: I am not talking about monetary incentives; in our experience, they have a limited short-term effect at best. Appreciation and recognition (ideally by senior stakeholders) are far more important levers that shape a true ideation-friendly culture in an organisation and foster long-term commitment of the participants. When it comes to the ideation process itself, it greatly helps to have a clear framework in place.

Does successful ideation need a starting point?

Ivan Malchev: Yes, the starting point is therefore to create communities of people – known as ‘circles’ – around a specific problem, task or challenge, define desired outcomes, set the timing and support the process for executive sponsorship to emphasise the relevance. This results in ‘setting up an ideation campaign’. Once interaction within this circle is sparked and ideas start to develop, the process itself becomes natural. Of course, this can be a fairly complicated process that needs to be moderated, and it can be really challenging to keep track of all the developments which happen online and face-to-face.

Is there a simple solution to support innovation processes?

Ivan Malchev: We at the Konica Minolta Business Innovation Centre were looking for a simple and easy-to-maintain solution to support us in our innovation process. As we were not able to find one on the market which met our needs, we developed our own technology platform. This concept turned out to be so effective and practical that we decided to roll it out for our customers.

What does your solution look like? How is it different from other solutions?

Ivan Malchev: With our platform, we are connecting people with different job descriptions, from different company branches – and even beyond – and with different cultural and professional backgrounds, creating communities to join forces in the development of ideas. With our Ideation Platform, we want to support our customers to capitalise on their innovation potential in the best way possible – after all, innovation is about the power of many. Hence, our platform is really easy to use and maintains itself without using up IT resources. It is suitable for organisations of all sizes, no matter if SME or global corporation. For us, this also doesn’t stop at the solution itself, but involves consulting and guidance on our part to really focus and accelerate the process of giving shape to your ideas. We share our experience and best practice expertise with you. How is an ideation campaign best set up? Who should be involved? Who are your sponsors? Why is it important to set defined timing for the campaign – and what timing makes sense, for example?

screenshot ideation platform

screenshot ideation platform

You just said, ‘innovation is about the power of many’ – so the solution has to be quite open?

Ivan Malchev: Yes, our solution is as open as our customers need it to be. We even provide the possibilities to incorporate the Ideation Platform into your own look and integrate it with your email system, for example. From a safety standpoint, our solution is uncompromising on security and data; by default, our solution is cloud-based and all data is stored on servers in Germany with the highest security and data protection legislation in Europe. In parallel, we ensure GDPR compliance. And if required, we can even implement a solution that runs completely on the customer premises.

To conclude: is managing ideation really worth the effort? When are ideas really worth pursuing?

Ivan Malchev: Ideation is never an easy process. You can roughly estimate that only 5–10 per cent of ideas make it to the actual project phase. It really depends on the challenge or project you’re facing. Generally, you can say that ideas which already contain a rough idea for practical implementation provide a sound basis. The ideas have to resonate with the corresponding community experts of the field it would be executed in as well as with the overall organisational strategy.

What is the most important part?

Ivan Malchev: The most important part is that it has a positive overall effect and actually makes sense from the customer’s standpoint. It is crucial to put yourself in the position of the customer and think about whether this is solving a problem or challenge for you. When you are able to tick all these boxes, you most likely have an idea that is worth progressing further. And let me say this: managing such ideas, fostering them, bringing them to life for the benefit of your organisation and, ultimately, social progress as a whole – this really is a fulfilling experience.

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