Brainstorming and Innovation

November 20, 2007 at 2:46 pm | Posted in collaboration, Creativity management, Innovation | Leave a comment

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

I had an interesting discussion this morning with my colleague Mike Gotta about brainstorming and innovation. After sharing what each term meant to us, it became clear that each has its place and they are complementary concepts. I’m not always a fan of the Wikipedia articles on concepts that IT folk deal with, but the articles on innovation and brainstorming are actually quite good at the moment and are worth a read for some background.

Like all great research areas, innovation represents a process rather than a technology, fuzzy concept, market, or discrete project. It involves tracking and sorting through all the innovation proposals, ensuring the best ideas rise to the top, and continues to manage the process through implementation. Innovation can also be built into research processes. Pharmaceutical consumer packaged good companies, for example, devote an incredible amount of energy into innovation as a repeatable process with replicable practices. A good research discipline can systematically create proposals that can lead to something innovative.

But where do the ideas come from in the first place? That’s where brainstorming comes in. While creative spark is often seen as as something that comes out of the blue, research and experience has shown that it can be created on demand as well. A brainstorming process acts as a spark plug to generate that creative spark. It consists of an environment where ideas can be thrown around without immediate judgement, different angles can be recommended by participants to help generate ideas, and others can build on ideas to see where they go.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to isolate innovation to a pure execution process, but it does seem that brainstorming is think-heavy and innovation is do-heavy (this is the fun of blogging: without peer review and editing cycles I get to make up new words!). Ideally, there would be integration between the brainstorming process and the innovation process so that once a good set of new ideas is generated they can be passed on to the innovation process to be prioritized and, if deemed worthy, implemented.

Both brainstorming and innovation can leverage communication, collaboration, and community. They involve a wide array of people, in different roles, from different locations, inside and outside the organization, and with different points of view. This requires good communication technology to enable concepts to be bandied about. Collaboration can help the participants to work together within a persistent workspace where a record of the exchange of ideas can be kept. Subscriptions and notifications allow participants to be actively or passively aware of the discussion as desired.

Innovation is the hotter topic at the moment with 127 million hits on Google (compared to a measly 16 million for brainstorming and 69 million for creativity), but both have their place in an enterprise. After all, for an enterprise, there are few things more sad than a good idea not implemented.

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