Generating good innovation proposals from within the ranks of the organization is only the beginning. The more difficult part is creating a selection process that identifies which ideas to implement.
Managers who are new to the field of corporate innovation will quickly find that there is no dearth of advice or resources on how to turn corporations into fountains of creative ideas. Books and journals abound with techniques for helping employees overcome old mental models and “think outside of the box.” The goal of these approaches is to generate vast numbers of unconventional ideas to improve the existing business or uncover new opportunities. However, as veteran leaders of innovation campaigns know, the problem for most large organizations usually isn’t a shortage of ideas. The real challenge is figuring out how to ferret out the good ones. In large organizations, senior managers need to delegate major parts of the selection process to lower-level managers. But delegating critical decisions comes with risks. In the case of asking subordinates to filter innovation proposals, the company may end up promoting ideas senior management doesn’t deem worthy; alternatively, it may not pursue projects top management would have promoted had they known about them. Therefore, it’s essential for senior managers to understand the mechanisms at work when their staff evaluates one another’s ideas, so that executives can hone in on the ideas that will make a real difference to the organization as they move through the innovation funnel. This article, based on research on more than 10,000 innovation proposals from within a large multinational corporation, examines what happens when ideas are screened through a large organization. Based on my research, I describe seven variables, or setscrews, that senior managers can adjust to their particular context to ensure that the most promising innovation proposals — and only those — stand a good chance of being implemented.