How To Convert Ideas Into Profitable Innovations: Three Corporate Idea-Improvement Programs by Edward Glassman

How To Convert Ideas Into Profitable Innovations: Three Corporate Idea-Improvement Programs

Idea-improvement needs special effort in most companies. People with ideas may not have the business sense to see its potential or limitations, or the idea may lack data and clarity so no one sees its value when presented to management. An ‘Idea-Enhancement Innovation Program’ minimizes these problems by providing idea-people with the means to develop and evaluate their own idea before presentation to management, and by enabling management to make informed decisions about the idea.

I interviewed the head of ‘idea-improvement innovation programs’ in three Fortune-500 corporations to discover why they were successful. They remain anonymous.

These innovation programs solicit ideas, enhance them, and then persuade management to support the idea with resources. Such innovation support systems help idea-people to become involved in the identification and early development of ideas for new business opportunities through new technology, new products, and new processes.

In other words, these idea-enhancing programs enable people to dress up their idea before review by senior management who provide the resources for further development.

CORPORATION A: Employees submit an idea to one of the full time ‘innovation idea-helpers’ at each company site. This person works with the idea-proposer to help develop and enhance all technical and business possibilities of the idea. This includes market research, patent searches, even some preliminary research. The program then sends the proposal to experts within the company to evaluate and enhance the idea further. The purpose is to overcome snags and “improve the idea and make it work, rather than kill it,”

Then, a team of volunteers from technology, marketing, and manufacturing work on the idea under a company policy of allowing people to spend 10% time on bootleg activities. Finally, the volunteer team and the idea-proposer publicize the idea, and persuade someone in management to sponsor and provide resources for the idea’s development into a commercial product. On average, the process takes about a year.

The program also fosters an innovative environment through a newsletter, bulletin boards, speakers, videos at lunch, and leads creativity sessions when requested to solve a major problem.

CORPORATION B: The manager of the Office of Innovation told me that his company wants to dramatically speed up the development of new ideas and turn them into new businesses. “We need to develop new products, as well as new uses and new markets for old products,” he said.

The Office of Innovation helps the idea-person find seed money, resources, and guidance within the company, frame a presentation, and research the marketplace for the proposed idea. A telephone call starts the informal process, which lacks forms or fixed procedures. The Office of Innovation has substantial funds for research, training, and seed grants and brings in consultants for team creativity training.

Ideas without a ‘champion, the person who pushes the idea and turns it into reality, will probably die. So the Office of Innovation encourages people who send in ideas to become idea-champions by helping them perfect their idea. It directs idea-champions to people and resources within and outside of the corporation who will help improve the idea. It brings in business development and market research people to provide guidance on how to develop a business concept proposal.

When well developed, a screening committee decides whether the corporation should provide funds for further development. This committee can fund further development or it can form a business concept team. If the idea turns into a new business, the idea-champion can climb aboard, or return to the old job.

CORPORATION C: The Center for Creativity & Innovation has three major thrusts. First, to educate people in advanced creative thinking techniques. Second, to apply these creative thinking techniques to important business and technological problems. Third, to help managers create a climate conducive to creativity and innovation.

The Center exposes people to internal and external experts who teach creative thinking techniques; it fosters networking between people interested in creative thinking, and it arranges creative problem solving events that tackle important business and technological problems. This last strategy is essential to impact the bottom line and show the value of creativity & innovation.

I asked the Director: “How did a scientist-administrator get involved with creative thinking and innovation?” He said: “I started reading and attending seminars on creative thinking, and realized there were good resources and workshops outside of the company that would help us be more effective.

“I circulated memos on what I learned, and they stimulated other people. I started a discussion group within the corporation that is now a large network of hundreds of company people in many countries.
“Eventually, the bottom line successes of applying creative thinking techniques to business and technological problems prompted corporate management to ask me to spread creativity & innovation throughout the company…”

Apply these innovation concepts to your business. Make a list of ways to solicit new ideas in your company for new markets for existing products, and new products for old and new markets. Describe how idea champions can be encouraged to develop and pursue ideas with which they have fallen in love. List ways resources can be found and provided to
Idea-champions to turn raw ideas into thriving new businesses.
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