Creating an Innovation System

Creating an Innovation System

Recently I’ve written about how to create an innovative culture and how to make resources available for innovation by creating “on ramps“.  In this post I’m going to provide the keys for creating an Innovation System.  My innovation system has 4 components/processes: capturing ideas, evaluating them, communication and the underlying systems.

Capturing ideas

I’ve suggested creating innovation teams as step #3 in developing an innovative culture.  Teams of cross-functional, quick start, innovative people can help spur innovation.  However anyone in the organization should be able to submit an idea through a simple online process.  My suggestion is to not allow ideas to be submitted anonymously.  This is not a system for suggesting a foosball table be installed in the break room.  You want people who are excited about an idea to be part of the process.    To make sure you’re getting appropriate ideas, I suggest posting 10 broad challenges facing your industry or company on your intranet and challenging employees to solve them creatively.

Keys to Success: Make the method of  submitting an idea simple and straightforward.  Let people know the next steps and when they will occur.  Remind employees that there are no bad ideas yet most ideas will not move forward, only the best ideas will be funded.

Evaluating Ideas

Here’s when you bring in the critical thinking. Whereas any idea is a good idea in the brainstorming and capture process, when it comes to deciding which ideas to move forward you need the ability to discern what is a “good” idea vs an idea is not quite ready for prime time.  You need to develop a standard idea evaluation with the following outcomes: move forward w/ allocated resources, hold, or abandon.

Keys to Success: The evaluation process is where things can go horribly awry.  Politics, heavy handed executives, turf battles, and pet projects can enter the decision making process and make a mockery of the process.  To combat these influences the evaluation process must remain democratic and transparent.

Project output

Decisions are made during the idea evaluation.  Many ideas won’t move forward and it’s important that people know why their ideas weren’t green-lighted.  Information should be communicated openly (like on an intranet, wiki, blog, etc) but make sure that entrants know the status of their ideas well before they are published within the company.  When communicating pay special attention to ideas that aren’t moving forward:

  • Hold – be prepared to answer why it is not moving forward and what circumstances would need to occur to advance the idea
  • Abandon – describe with empathy why the idea could not be moved forward? Was it too ambitious? Was it too costly?

Keys to Success: Again, ensuring that individuals believe the system is fair and just is key.  How people are communicated with will either strengthen their bonds with the company or erode them.  Communications must be made with grace and honesty.

Underlying System

Each of the three components above (in, evaluation, out) are supported by a fourth component that enables the others.  One can buy an innovation support system, but smaller organizations may suffice with a web form for entering ideas and a blog or wikipage for communicating status.  It can be as small or big as your situation warrants, but I’d recommend not over engineering anything.


The common theme in innovation is people.  Take out the corporate B.S. and let people attack industry/company challenges without handcuffs.  Yet a innovation free for all quickly collapses.  Having a simple system for capturing, evaluating and communication can provide the necessary structure that allows innovation to flourish.

So you now have: 7 steps to create an innovative culture and an innovation system.  Are you generating ideas yet?


photo credit maple @

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