Where Did the Ideas Go?


It is a question heard around the world. Where did all of those great ideas really go? Like you, I find it intrinsically satisfying to share ideas that can improve how we carry out our work. But, while this exchange of ideas is a fundamental component of knowledge work — bringing those ideas to life can prove challenging. Many of us have the opportunity to share ideas; whether in team meetings, off-site conferences or brainstorming sessions. But, what really happens to all of those promising ideas once collected?

While we place great emphasis on innovation in today’s world of work — the fact remains that many worthy ideas will never see the light of day. I would venture to say that many organizations have a back-log of great ideas, languishing untouched and undeveloped. Ultimately, we likely do a good job of generating ideas. But utilizing them effectively — well that can be quite a different story.

Forward progress is just as much about managing the ideas we generate, than any other element in the dynamic. Many worthy ideas fail to become reality, because we fail to utilize a process robust enough to properly select and implement them effectively. In many cases, we are stymied as to how to wade through that mountain of collected ideas.

One key problem is the tendency to view idea management as a spontaneously occurring event — when in fact, we need to employ a winning process to ensure success.

A few topics to consider:

  • Build trust. In the cultural scheme, if there isn’t an adequate level of trust within the working team, it is nearly impossible to evaluate ideas effectively. To begin evaluating ideas, the stage has to be set for an open and honest discussion. If we are wary of bucking authority and voicing all sides of the story, we can land in trouble. Pixar calls this cultural element the “Braintrust” — the notion of offering an “unvarnished” opinion to move idea development along effectively.
  • Complete a postmortem. Carefully consider worthy ideas that never reached their full potential — what caused this to happen? Was the idea not properly communicated? Inadequately defined roles in the field? Lack of data concerning value? Use this information strategically, going forward.
  • Connect ideas with mission & vision. An idea floating in the stratosphere can have little meaning to the work your organization completes. So, offer context, to properly identify idea potential. Attempt to connect an idea with desired end-states that align with company mission and vision. How can the idea provide a route to valued goals?
  • Narrow the field. At some point we have to focus on the ideas that are worthy enough to devote valuable time and resources. For that to occur, you must develop selection criteria relevant to your team and the situation at hand. (For example, ideas that meet an urgent need or those with the greatest potential to impact customers.) Without these criteria, you cannot move forward. (See other selection techniques here.)
  • Don’t look for a single “winner”. One trouble we encounter with idea management, we tend to narrow the focus quite quickly to one path — when it’s likely there is more than one great idea circulating. One idea really does not have to “win”? You can often combine ideas, to enhance product development or service improvement.
  • Capture potential value. To drive your idea home, take the time to draft a “business case” which adds dimension and clearly outlines future cost and benefit. As discussed by Microsoft, this can serve as an integral step in the evaluation process.
  • Find an owner. Yes, just like people, ideas need guidance and care to develop fully. So identify an owner — and make this choice by aligning with interests and passion. Offer the role to a team member who believes in the idea, and can envision its potential.
  • Give things time. Great ideas have the potential to turn the normal state of affairs “upside down” and trigger a powerful emotional response. As discussed here, ideas need to be fully digested before we can act on them effectively. Take this into consideration when planning any implementation phase. A little patience may be entirely in order.

What at strategies are you utilizing to manage ideas and bring more of them into the fold? Weigh in here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and workplace strategist. She also writes at Linkedin.


Friday Catalyst: A new way to look at great ideas – The slow hunch

You might think that all ideas come from quick moments of inspiration. Here is another way to look at the birth of great ideas:

Facebook: Will Its Culture Survive?


Like you, I am fascinated by Facebook. Not by the foresight of their young founders to tap into the power of “connecting” — or the billion people who utilize the platform. I am fascinated by how they have structured their work. Their rebellious approach to product development (discussed here in Venture Beat’s post “The Hacker Way and here at Wired) has catapulted Facebook into its more recent evolution as a publicly traded business.

History tells us that things will likely change for Facebook going forward. Ten years out — I cannot help but wonder if their unique culture will continue to survive fully intact. With mounting doubts concerning the future, things can begin to shift.

It seems that the essence of Facebook lies in how they approach the development their products. For those unfamiliar with the process, they subscribe to the “Hacker Way” — a disruptively innovative development philosophy. The process flies in the face of the conventional wisdom concerning product development. At the core, the method emphasizes quick turnaround, where “multiple iterations and improvements” are completed on an “as you go” basis.

There is no long suffering, or protracted process before testing a new idea. They implement first — and perfect later.

More of how Zuckerberg described the method:

“Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”

The process in itself, is aspirational. However, publicly traded organizations exist within a larger system of checks and balances. With Facebook’s evolution into a publicly traded organization, it’s external system has become decidedly wider. Along with this, comes the possibility of pressure to change their ways and conform. There has already been speculation that they may acquiesce to more traditional development timetables, which could signal trouble that their unique culture is in danger.

Some other cultural concerns:

  • Intended mission. As stated in his letter to investors, the initial impetus for Facebook was to connect people socially. He admits openly, the idea was not originally intended to be a business. As such, their founding orientation and purpose, differed from other businesses, who begin with the notion that there is a defined product to sell. This fact can exert pressure on the organization.
  • Retaining passion. Cultivating code is one thing — but maintaining a passionate workforce is another. How will Facebook keep their employees “hungry” to create products, a year from now, or five years from now? Will the mindset of the employee group evolve in response to the changing status of the organization? Will the level of challenge present in the content of the work remain motivating? As organizations grow, this often becomes a looming challenge.
  • Tolerance for failure. Most highly innovative cultures such as Facebook, have a higher tolerance for failure as compared to more traditional organizations. They also have a collected mindset to support that tolerance. Will investors continue to embrace the philosophy, as well?

I am anxious to see how this culture evolves going forward. Any predictions?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Organizational Structure and a Culture of Creativity


Please note: I am re-sharing this 2011 post with updated links. What are your thoughts? Please weigh in.

There has always been pressure in workplaces to perform. However, the quality and measure of that pressure has evolved significantly. With greater emphasis on ideas and innovation, organizations find themselves wondering: How can we stay on the cutting edge? How can contributors apply their unique strengths to help organizations do so?

While many organizations have explored strategies to facilitate cultural changes that enhance creativity — in practice, they vary considerably in their ability to do so. Many organizations have the potential to increase creativity (mindset and motivation). But, this often requires an accompanying adjustment or redefinition of organizational structure.

Where creativity and innovation are concerned, an organization’s “form” may need to adjust to follow this desired function.

Without needed revisions in structure and supporting processes, positive changes are difficult to realize.

Work swarming and structure.
Organizations are beginning to make the connection between structure, creativity and innovation. One example, is uniquely represented in Valve’s Employee Handbook. Valve — a game developer located in upstate Washington, works with a flat organizational chart that allows talent to flow freely toward the work. One  basic tenet, is the belief that ideas have tremendous value — and deserve to be explored by those who have interest in their development. As such, employees are not completely limited by reporting structure and are free to gravitate toward the projects where they can make the greatest contribution. Projects are rarely assigned, as employees determine how they dedicate their time based upon skills and interest.

Work swarming, a process quite similar to talent utilization at Valve, is not unlike the spontaneous mechanisms borrowed from nature. Discussed previously by Gartner, swarming emphasizes an organic flow of energy toward specific, needed tasks. You’ll find examples of work swarming operating in other workplace cultures — for example, in hospital emergency rooms. Ultimately, elements of swarming allow resources to focus upon a task of real importance or potential value. A dynamic often not realized in traditional, mature organizations.

Work swarming has the potential to encourage both creativity and innovation. However, there is often a general hesitancy to move away from the prescribed roles within traditional hierarchies. As such, contributors remain in their designated lines of work. Common sense does tell us that Valve’s method won’t work perfectly for all organizations. However, we could adapt processes so it might be utilized.

Unlock the mindset
Within traditional organizations, job descriptions and reporting relationships prescribe specific activities and relationships. But to encourage creativity and innovation, it would be advantageous for employees to have the opportunity to function outside the realm of their “day-to-day” routine — a “hybrid” solution. Not unlike the 70-20-10 concept pioneered at Google, employees would feel free to explore new projects, ideas and trends. Employees could be allowed to “unhitch” from the organizational hierarchy and work flexibly for a percentage of their time. In this way, employees could contribute to worthy projects in which they have interest; new ideas are explored and employee engagement can be enhanced. Talent would flow toward projects which have the potential to support, or possibly transform an organization.

The implementation of swarming components would require a clearinghouse of information concerning trending ideas, initiatives and team opportunities — possibly through an internal crowd sourcing platform — and the available talent. In this way employees can make decisions concerning where to spend their time and team leaders could identify contributors who have both the interest and skill set to join.

There are certainly logistics that would need to be addressed to modify an organizational form or structure, in this manner. However, in the case of creativity and innovation — changes to enhance these processes may prove a worthy endeavor. Moreover, contributors could find the challenge and learning experiences they require to stay happy and engaged.

Note:  A form of this post has been previously published at Talent Zoo

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Crowdsourcing for the Rest of Us

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In today’s world, how do small to medium sized businesses leverage cutting-edge tools to improve day-to-day operations? Answer: Borrow the strategies of the big hitters such as  InnoCentive and Proctor & Gamble, then adapt them to meet your needs. One relevant example: crowdsourcing and it’s really just about listening.

Crowdsourcing is all about opening the lines of communication, forging new connections and gaining a new perspective. The concept may sound intimidating — but it is simply about listening respectfully and utilizing the information to move your business forward.  When implemented correctly, it can offer you information that can help business evolve effectively.

Your customers and crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing can augment your overall customer strategy. The process can not only offer a needed layer of protection when tracking a developing product or service problem, it also has the ability to collect customer ideas for future improvements. Starbucks, Cadbury and Toyota are a few of the companies gathering customer input, with links on their websites to gather ideas and feedback  — a strategy that any business can implement.

Other common social media platforms provide targeted crowdsourcing opportunities. Consider posting a question on your company Facebook Page, include a poll on your blog concerning options for product updates, or post an informational video on Youtube (you’ll get plenty of comments). You can also utilize your Google+ Brand Page to hold a hang out with your customers and explore ideas relevant to your business plan. Whatever the topic you choose to explore, be sure to keep the “call to action” simple and try not to overwhelm your customers in the process.

Get Creative
Organizations of all kinds, are connecting with their customers through crowdsourcing. Sweetgreen’s novel “New Years Resolution” campaign focused on developing a link with customers. By collecting resolutions through post-it notes at their physical store and on Twitter, customer relationships were forged and strengthened. You can utilize crowdsourcing to include your customers in your developing business story, whatever the topic.

Crowdsourcing within your organization
Crowdsourcing is not only about establishing a rapport with your customers, it can also open a new communication channel with your employees. It is possible to crowdsource just about anything within your organization — including ideas to solve inefficiencies within a department or a function. Have budget constraints? Want ideas on how to save money wisely? Pitch the question to your employees, as they are the experts concerning the day-to-day operations of your organization.

Does your organization routinely utilize teams to develop new ideas and solve problems? Social engagement platforms such as Jostle, offer opportunities to implement crowdsourcing within your day-to-day operations, by facilitating new connections and communicating current topics, challenges and opportunities. Essential elements for internal crowdsourcing. The platform provides opportunities to document team formation in response to ever-changing business needs. As explained by Brad Palmer developer of Jostle, “The idea is to connect people by encouraging the discovery of those within the organization. This facilitates cultural knowledge that can positively enhance effectiveness and extended teamwork.” As such, this information allows employees even somewhat removed from the work at hand to serve as a potential contributor or problem solver.

Before you shrug off the notion that crowdsourcing is inappropriate for your business — give the idea just one more thought. Implementing the process could offer you the needed edge to catapult your organization forward.

Check out this crowdsourcing infographic.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Contact her practice at marlagottschalk@comcast.net.You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The ”Catch 22” of Organizational Structure, Talent & Innovation


Photo by LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

At first glance, organizational structure may not appear to be an exciting concept.

Yet, an HBR post discussing how established organizations just can’t seem to keep pace with start-ups in the innovation arena — has caught my attention. It seems clear that the innovation dilemma has a fundamental relationship with the traditional elements of organizational structure, and how those elements develop and solidify over time. One key system which affects the potential to innovate: How organizations secure needed talent.

Structure and Maturation
As an organization matures, many systems within the traditional structure can become rigid. Communication channels become formalized, salary levels are set. On one hand, organizations become a safer and more secure place for employees. But, unwanted by-products such as inflexibility come along with this territory. Ultimately this affects how talent is sourced, limiting the ability of a maturing organization to effectively evolve and innovate.

Ideally, the talent equation begins with leadership and the work at hand, where leaders have the responsibility of translating vision into specific goals and tasks. These tasks in turn, require a set of needed talent elements for completion. Often, the necessity to forecast these talent requirements can become a looming challenge for hiring managers and the entire HR function, which supports that search.

The Catch
The simple truth is that mining talent through traditional channels can take too much time — where a mature organization may not be nimble enough to find needed talent quickly to meet the demands key challenges. But, the clock is ticking if they hope to remain competitive. It’s time vs. talent — and options which provide a more direct route to source and onboard needed talent are required.

Gaining the right perspective is a great place for an organization to begin. In a previous post, I discussed a prediction by Gartner concerning the application of work swarming within organizations. This is a concept which implies that the structure of an organization must flex to allow needed talent to gather quickly (and organically) to tackle projects. The process should allow not only talent from within the organization to gather, but from the broader external environment as well.

Breaking Down Walls
Extending the “virtual walls” of an organization can greatly expand the talent horizon. One interesting option is to leverage contacts within the  industry, or related industries who might possess relevant knowledge concerning a project or subject. One view which has been posed is to collaborate with suppliers to source talent and solve key problems.

Another method of sourcing talent would be to build or access a talent community, a method which capitalizes on the advantages of social media and employee networks when searching for needed skill sets. In this way, an organization develops an extended talent network which can be tapped as needed. Members of the community can be quite varied and can include potential contributors, such as freelancers or those working in related settings.

Another avenue would be to utilize crowdsourcing techniques to staff specific projects. In this way, organizations  bypass portions of the traditional HR hierarchy to enable them to address talent issues in real-time. When a problem or challenge exists, it is placed in an open forum, and staffed.  Of course, there are issues that the organization would have address to maximize this process, but the potential seems apparent. (Platforms such as InnoCentive, have been already been successful in facilitating specific open innovation challenges for mature organizations.)

Possible Snafus
The overall goal of applying these methods is for the organization to have the capability of retaining that innovative “edge”, long beyond the start-up phase. In a sense, slowing down the solidification of a counter productive elements which deter talent from reaching an organization in a timely manner. The process would have to be perfected. Here are few issues that come to mind:

  • What types of projects or challenges would be more appropriate for these solutions?
  • How do we effectively track KSA’s? (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)
  • What specific legal steps must an organization take to make this happen?
  • Overall, how will HR help to guide the process?

The future of innovation within mature organizations is certainly dependent on finding needed talent. Hopefully, with collective thought we can improve opportunities for more established organizations to find that talent more readily, and retain their potential to innovate and excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Contact her practice at marlagottschalk@comcast.net. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Power of an Idea: Developing Your Own Idea Management System


I adore the movies — particularly films set in the workplace. I suppose this is an occupational hazard. (See a running list of the best of them here.) There is often a lesson to be learned from a great workplace inspired movie. But, there are a few which include classic themes about life and work. These are without a doubt, the movies we watch time and time again.

“Working Girl” is one of those movies. (See Siskel & Ebert’s 1988 original review here.) It has it all. Big business, big opportunities, romance — and the added interest of a really, really despicable boss. In this “David and Goliath” themed script, a secretary from Stanton Island (Tess, played by Melanie Griffeth), takes on the her silver-spooned, self-entitled boss (played flawlessly by Sigourney Weaver).

The plot centers on the ownership of a creative business proposal drafted by Tess, but peddled by Katherine as her own. There is an iconic elevator scene, where Katherine is finally put in her proverbial place after dishing out a hefty dose of lies and deceit. She is shut down so succinctly and so completely that you find yourself muttering, “Yes!”.

How the less powerful protagonist , shuts down her boss is worthy to note.

She did so with the power of inspiration.

It is the crucial moment where Tess explains how she happened upon her idea. The “Aha Moment” that ignited the notion that “Trask”  should move in an entirely different direction, toward radio instead of television — was the key to turning the tables on her boss.

“See”, Tess explains as she shows the clippings from the newspaper. “Trask…radio…Trask…radio.”

It’s one of the most satisfying moments for me in movie history — and it’s all about the power of a single remarkable idea.

Never underestimate the value of an idea
Some of the greatest moments in science and the arts come from a quick flash of thought. We’ll never be able to predict when those moments will occur. However being prepared to note them is critical. Few of us take the time to records and cultivate these moments.

Ultimately, it is up to you to effectively capture and nurture these moments.

What to do:

  • Respect your ideas. When you have an inspired idea don’t ignore it — listen and record it. Type a message into your phone or keep a notebook. Don’t let it slip away. Even DaVinci kept notebooks to keep his thoughts close to him.
  • Identify supporting materials. If you are reading a newspaper and find something useful or interesting, clip it. If you are on-line, bookmark the page.
  • Connect the dots. Once a week, review what you have collected and organize your thoughts into a concrete idea. Try writing each thought on a post-it note and sort them accordingly. Is there a pattern or common thread? Do they fit together somehow?
  • Evaluate. Review the idea the next day. If you feel the idea still has merit, do research and see what you come up with. “Deep Google” the topic to reveal nuances and applicability to your business. If you like what has developed, run the idea by a friend or colleague.
  • Develop the idea. Write a one-pager with details. Include your supporting sources and how the idea would be applied to your work.
  • Communicate. If the idea is still solid, map out a business plan or mini-proposal. Write a blog post. Draft a story. Develop a Slide Share deck to present it to others. Move forward somehow.

Vow to never waste another moment of inspiration. Value your ideas and give them the respect they deserve.

But keep the clippings — just in case.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin.

Want to Build Agility? Your Organization Needs to Be Doing This

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Please note: I am re-sharing this post with updated links.

In 2010, Gartner published a fascinating list of how the world of work may change going forward.

All of the ideas posed were intriguing (and on target). However, one idea in particular — the concept of a “work swarm” caught my attention. Whether the dynamic is discussed as The Hollywood Model or simply hyper-responsive cross-functional teaming, the ability to quickly collect contributors to solve evolving issues or opportunities is vital. (More on a why cross-functional teams might eventually fail here.)

Borrowed from nature, Gartner describes a work swarm as a “flurry of collective activity” to deal with non-routine issues and opportunities. The concept implies expressed agility (See a PDRI’s ARA Model here) — and we can easily apply this idea to how organizations deal with emerging/evolving challenges. Moreover, the ability to “swarm” and quickly assemble cross-functional teams to problem solve, could be viewed as a key marker with regard to an organization’s potential to remain sustainable.

Without this ability, organizations may fall short when responding to both internal stress and the changing demands of the external environment.

Stretching Organizational Structure
Removing obstacles to implement swarming can prove to be a challenge for many organizations. One problem in applying the concept, is that we often view the structure of an organization as inflexible. To utilize swarming, the structure of an organization would have to be consistently viewed as more fluid and changeable. Talent would be allowed to cross functional lines more routinely, exposing key issues to a more varied group of experts. This would potentially improve organizational problem solving capabilities.

Work swarming also requires effective communication internally, concerning challenges and potential team members. So even before the “swarm”, the organizations must be prepared.

For example, one key issue facilitating work swarming is capturing and communicating the skill sets of those within the organization. Moreover, employees would require up to date information concerning current projects and challenges, so they have the opportunity to contribute. Interestingly enough, innovators such as Jostle are beginning to develop tools to effectively manage this information within organizations. These products are interesting applications, which curate data to document information concerning current roles, team membership and areas of expertise.

Platforms such as InnoCentive, have facilitated communication of key challenges, in an outward-facing way —  whereby stubborn organizational challenges are posted and can be solved by experts in the external environment. A clever application of crowd sourcing, even the most stubborn of problems can find new chances for resolution. However, this same idea could be utilized internally.

Change will open the door to opportunities
Organizational leaders may fear that implementing work swarming techniques would prove too difficult, as the process would initially involve a mindset shift concerning structure. Others may feel that if an organization is large — it is just too cumbersome to keep a tally of the skill sets of those employed there.

However, I encourage steps in this direction. Overall, these fears would never be a strong enough excuse to miss key opportunities to excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.