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"Since it takes a chain of 'Yesses' to approve a project as it moves to the top and only one 'No' to kill it, jeopardy multiplies as management layers increase"

"the new idea either finds a champion or it dies "
Don Schon

"Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality."
Jules De Gaultier

"We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough."
Niels Bohr

"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is a true method "
Herman Melville

Innovation Process


Metaphors are helpful to describe the innovation process. What about the relay and hurdle race.

A baton (an idea) is passed through various parts of the organisation before it can emerge as a concrete reality.

In addition the hurdles which must be jumped represent the difficulties that the idea encounters.

There are many places where the baton can get dropped at both personal and organisational hurdles:

  • At idea originator, who may suffer fear of ridicule. This undermines idea sharing. Climate has a lot to do with propagating fear.

  • At middle management, because they do not have the perspective to deal with all ideas. Ideas should be presented in the 'proper' form, depending on culture and should not be too complex

  • Across organisational boundaries, Physical separation, jargon differences. Those needed to properly evaluate ideas need to be brought together. The Not Invented Here syndrome can interfere here.

    Another metaphor is that an idea is like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. They have to navigate many hazards, many die on the way but the most persistent finally get through to convert their instinct into reality.

Series of funnels

The Innovation process can be depicted as a series of funnels each getting progressively smaller.

Typically sixty ideas into the top funnel only produces just one innovation.

The funnels are labelled as the four phases in the process - idea generation, idea screening, feasibility and implementation.

Capturing ideas

The innovation process needs to be fed by ideas.

Simon Majaro (The Creative Gap) laments that ideas can shower down on an organisation like rain and vanish into the ground without a trace or become pools of unexploited ideas. A metaphorical net is required to capture ideas and should be a publicised focal point.

The net should not be concerned with where ideas come from. Assuming that only 'good' ideas are those that have emerged from the 'proper' source is a definite way to weaken the creative glow of an organisation.

There is no reason why good 'marketing' ideas cannot originate from production and vice versa. As the organisation grows the potential for innovation decreases and the need for a capture mechanism increases.

After the ideas have been collected they need processing to ensure that they are not lost and are tested for suitability. Before describing this process it is worthwhile looking at some metaphors for the innovation process.

Office of Innovation

In order to protect ideas from the fierce environment that can decimate them, it is advantageous to set up a formal structure.

A bureaucratic ideas scheme is not enough and may in fact, reduce the number of ideas generated.

Some organisations, particularly small power cultures can operate totally informal schemes. Large organisations face different problems and so leaders need to adopt a clear method for encouraging and capturing creativity.

The OI model consists of an office, or decentralised network of offices, that are staffed by facilitators who actively encourage employees to play various roles within the innovation process. This includes the generation of ideas, the enriching of ideas, the screening of ideas and ultimately finding sponsorship within the organisation. In effect, the facilitators act as a guide to the idea generators, giving the ideas that best possible chance of surviving the corporate labyrinth.

The O.I. emphasises the use of client centred, process oriented facilitators to work with and protect idea originators.

The originator must put in time to progress the idea. Both facilitator and idea generator selects a group of experts to screen the idea initially on paper and then in a meeting. If it passes this test, it requires someone to drive it through the formal organisational channels. The process therefore requires certain individuals to ensure that the baton is carried forward and that the hurdles are overcome.


Three tactics can be used to improve the Innovation process:

  • Make sure the climate is conducive to generating ideas
  • Increase volumes by training your staff in creativity
  • Ensure that organisational and personal blocks are minimised
Robert Rosenfeld & Jenny Servo, Facilitating Innovation in large organisations,Innovation and Creativity at Work 1990