Ideas Aren't Cheap: Promoting the Serious Business of Play

IDEO, based in Silicon Valley, is one of the leading design and innovation firms in the world. We begin a new series from IDEO on innovation, creativity, design and technology.

In my time working as a kid-centric design and innovation consultant, I've noticed a relationship that doesn't make sense. Companies with a lot of good ideas in the works tend to ignore newer — and potentially better — ones. This is not the mark of a well-oiled machine! Despite the laurels of a full innovation pipeline, this kind of stagnant system is the equivalent of going too long without an oil change in today's quickly shifting world.

My firm deals in new ideas, so we've learned a few things about how to generate them. If you work for a similar firm, I hope you'll find useful information here. If you're in a different business, I hope you'll find these thoughts interesting, maybe even enlightening.

Let's dive in with a quote: Linus Pauling said, "To get good ideas, you need lots of ideas!" That innovation math is indeed simple, but the trick is to keep them coming at a steady pace.

Trends, emotions of your customers, zeitgeist, technology, prices, economics — these forces all change very quickly. Think lean and mean, like a VP of product development trying to keep pace with the market. How are you going to organize your teams to harness these dynamics?

Consider your pipeline. Are you ready to start working on any one idea tomorrow? Are you and your team so passionate about a new idea that you can shuffle its priority in the queue? I urge you to design a system where this kind of flexibility is celebrated. Recognize that you and your team have invaluable experience and intuition that will help you size up the amazing ideas and spread them as if with a spirit of evangelism.

Design a pipeline system where the best ideas rise quickly to the top and form the burnt sugar crust your team is going to crack through. You want to taste the sweet stuff underneath. So be ruthless! Let all of the other ideas—even the decent ones—fall away. Be flexible and take comfort: what might seem as wasted energy goes right back into your system as learned experience and improves the new ideas piping in.

And remember, if ideas themselves aren't cheap, the good news is that the processes to build them certainly are. Creating a grand slam—even just one—is immensely valuable. Here are ways to increase your flow and get to the good ideas.

Conduct better idea generating sessions.

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