Your company's next great idea could come from anyone -- an employee, a customer, a vendor, or even a stranger. Everyone involved in your small business helps you drive innovation. They also create chaos. But, with so much input, how do you make sure the best ideas don't get lost in the shuffle?
Some companies collect new ideas in a wiki, which is good for storing information, but terrible for finding it. They end up becoming a disorganized mess of great ideas that go to the wiki to die.
To create a culture that fosters innovation, organize new ideas in a way that empowers you to act on them.
"People stop participating in an innovation community without active decision-making and transparency," says Tim Meaney, CEO of Kindling, an idea management and collaboration tool. "People are too busy to speak into the void."
Here are four tips to help you organize your ideas and drive innovation.
1. Discuss ideas in a central location. Start by creating a central space where you collect and share ideas. Make sure you're using a dynamic tool, with built-in opportunities for collaboration and feedback. Kindling offers this, as do many other idea management tools.
UserVoice, a San Francisco-based software company that makes user feedback tools, allows customers to share and vote on ideas in an online feedback forum. Customers feel more engaged and UserVoice can easily identify pain points.
2. Label your lists of ideas. To keep ideas clearly organized, streamline them by topic. You might set up broad categories, such as "customer requested features," or specific ones tailored to a project or goal. Breaking ideas into smaller groups helps you process and select the ones that best suit your business.
Labeled lists also create a framework for people to think about new ideas, especially if they're tied to specific projects or goals. The list titles serve as prompts, which help spur creativity and lead to more novel suggestions.
3. Make sure a leader owns each list. For each list of ideas, establish a point person who will take ownership -- someone who is an integral part of the team that would act on those ideas. For example, ideas to improve your website's infrastructure need to be collected and owned by the team responsible for maintaining it.
"This is probably the most important aspect of a well-functioning innovation program -- a motivated and empowered person or small team who will see ideas through to a decision," Meaney says.
4. Treat your idea bank like an inbox. To prevent a backlog of ideas, address each one as quickly as possible. Dismiss the ideas that are definitely not viable, then move any that have potential into specific follow-up categories. Some may need immediate action while others may need more input before you can make a decision. UserVoice allows one month for input before they make a final choice.
As you make decisions, be sure to communicate them back to the organization. Knowing which ideas were chosen and why will make people more likely to share their thoughts in the future.
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.