The worst insult that be entered against a popular term is referring to it as a 'buzzword.' Buzzwords are toothless. They lose all meaning upon closer inspection. You can't act on a buzzword. Buzzwords are put to pasture, doomed to spend the rest of their days grazing alongside 'dynamic,' 'synergy,' 'integrated,' and their ilk. 'Innovation' is, at times, in danger of joining them. That shouldn't be the case. When done correctly, 'innovation' isn't a buzzword. It's a process. When put to the right process, innovation becomes an action. Taking that action can have a serious and long-lasting positive effect on your business.
In this 4-part series, we're going to cover the first four steps of the innovation process: Ideation, Screening, Proof of Concept, Testing & Research. By unpacking what happens in each phase, it will become clear what 'innovation through process' can mean for your business.
What does it mean to ideate? For shorthand, you could call ideation "coming up with ideas." But, what's important, is the 'how.' Unlike brainstorming, spitballing, or casually shooting the breeze, ideation is a creative process that relies on a process-within-the-process to solidify an idea that's worth pursuing further. As the starting point of innovation, ideation launches the process. Ideation can take many shapes, but generally follows this framework:
An idea can be a solution to a problem, an improvement on a solution, a new discovery, the act of combining one or more solutions, and many, many more variations. When generating ideas, it helps to come prepared with a goal in mind. Why are you hoping to innovate? What is this idea meant to address? What is the desired end result? Leaning on a proven framework like Design Thinking can kick start idea generation. Once your team has agreed on an idea that you'd like to pursue, it's time to develop it.
While some ideas can seem like they can stand on their own right away, even the best ideas need further development. That development can take the form of critical questions ("Why will that work?" "Is this the best option?" "Explain how you'd overcome this...") or a meeting of the minds, where the initial idea is added to, modified, and strengthened through process. While new ideas can be exciting, they need to be thoroughly developed for their full potential to be realized.
The tip of the tongue is a graveyard of ideas that couldn't be articulated. Before a concept can move forward in the innovation process, it has to clearly communicable. Think about it from the top-down. From the top of the company to those on the front lines, it has to be an idea that everyone will both understand and embrace. If a concept has partial support or is hard to relay, it will meet tremendous challenges in execution. When you ideate, you're looking to generate the most refined idea possible.
Ideation is the launch point of the innovation process. Ideate successfully, innovate successfully.