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Making Your Employees Idea Generators

How does your organization get at ideation? Does your organization even know what ideation truly is? Ideation (according to Wikipedia [1]) is the process of generating ideas, communicating those ideas, and developing the ideas to fruition.

So what does that really mean? Well, firstly, it means something different than innovation—that business buzzword catchall for creativity, idea generation, and more. To truly ideate, we’re talking about the process of actually generating something new, fresh, and substantive.

It sounds daunting, but obviously your employees, leaders, and managers are generating ideas constantly. So, to me, it’s less about knowing how to ideate than how to harness ideation.

I just read an article on Google UK’s blog, Think With Google [2], about their “8 Pillars of Innovation [3],” and one of the pillars of innovation that they point to is to “look for ideas everywhere.” That means, in their case, putting up a whiteboard where any employee can post thoughts (or in other words, where employees can generate ideas), as well as participating in conversations no matter where they occur (like the bathroom, the hallway, the lunchroom, the parking lot, etc.) to ensure that ideas that have been generated can see the ideation process through to fruition.

Here’s where I’d take this even a step further in order to truly make all your employees Idea Generators—put a system or process in place that takes the randomness out of the process. The Google method of ad-hoc listening and an open whiteboard works amazingly well for some of their employees. But what about the planners who aren’t going to take time out of their busy (and regimented) schedule to put a thought onto the board? What about those employees who don’t always feel comfortable throwing out new ideas in a group? What about those employees who think idea generation only happens on a broad, big-picture, conceptual basis?

It comes back to knowing how each and every employee thinks and behaves so that you can provide a forum where they can feel open to ideation. Along with a whiteboard (which would work well for highly Conceptual thinkers or those on the quiet end of the Expressiveness spectrum) try these idea generation techniques:

Whatever the solution for your own organization is, the key point to remember is that there are ways to make each and every employee you have into an idea generator, but it all comes down to providing the right climate that can allow a cognitively diverse group to flourish.