Friday, March 07, 2003

ORIGINAL RESEARCH: Building Ideas Through Collaboration

It is rare that a single original idea becomes the master plan for a successful new product or service. Raw ideas need to be developed, expanded upon, analyzed, and tested in order to extract high quality, implementable concepts. Idea building takes place most effectively through collaboration between individuals, even though the original concepts may have been created by a single person. Indeed, research conducted by Dr. Winston Brill of Winston J. Brill & Associates has found that the majority of ideas that lead to successful product introductions were initiated through individuals working primarily by themselves: 43% of ideas occurred while the person was alone, 18% during informal discussions with several people, and just 2% through scheduled group meetings. However initiation only refers to the initial spark of invention, rather than the development of the workable concept.

Imaginatik Research has investigated the use of collaboration features, such as Comments and Peer Reviews, within our formal Idea Management application, Idea Central. Based on research on over 35,000 ideas from a variety of clients, we have found that the rate of collaboration - the volume and quality of insights and comments shared by participants - depends on a number of factors including the nature of the event, the degree of promotion of the collaboration feature through internal marketing, and the attitude of the individual participants.

There seem to be two distinct levels of collaboration in an event: highly collaborative and zero collaboration. In a government agency, over 56% of the ideas received comments from participants, a high level of collaboration. A professional services firm found that they collected few original ideas, but the majority of the contributions overall were comments containing market insight and shared experience. Conversely we found that marketing events in a food and beverage company generated few responses, and events often yielded less than 10 comments per event, in spite of generating an average of 200 ideas per topic.

In some cases, there are strong business reasons for preventing idea sharing, particularly with invention disclosure. When that happens, the company is better off limiting the number of development participants in order to reduce the potential trail of co-inventors should the idea lead to patentable intellectual property.

One aspect of collaboration that seems to be important is the mixture of participants' personalities. Some people are better at refining the ideas of others, rather than generating original ideas. For example, the C.A.R.E. Profile, developed by Allen Fahden and Srinivasan Namakkal, is a method of describing people's natural tendencies in terms of Creators, Advancers, Refiners and Executors and this helps us appreciate the different approaches to Idea Management in general.

Idea building is an important part of the Idea Management process and our research has led to the introduction of a number of new features in Idea Central that are intended to increase the rate of effective collaboration, such as 'IdeaMinder' to alert contributors of new comments, and the 'Send A Link' alert to highlight interesting ideas and comments. As part of our ongoing research commitment we are tracking the actual use of such features to see how collaboration works in practice.

If you have any ideas, feedback, or concepts you would like to share, please contact

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