Wednesday, June 11, 2003

ORIGINAL RESEARCH: Using Experts in Ideation

There is tremendous value in the use of expertise for idea creation. According to the PwC Innovation Survey, 11% of ideas for new products and services came from the use of experts, people with in-depth domain knowledge. Experts provide even more value in their ability to select, develop, and enhance other people's ideas.

In terms of idea generation, experts can be tactically deployed to help improve the quality of an idea gathering event. Some people are experts in the subject matter, others in the creative process. We have found that narrowly focused technical events can benefit greatly from the introduction of problem solving experts. W. R. Grace, for example, have a small group they call the "Crazies" who are invited to bring their particular brand of creativity to the most complex of events.

Idea building is another example of the use of experts. Many experts only reveal themselves through their interaction, an example of dynamic knowledge whereby the expertise is elicited as and when needed. Examples include ERP consultants sharing their deep industry knowledge for an event run at a professional services firm, and construction engineering experts sharing their knowledge of physics and the application of theory in practice.

Experts also play a valuable role in the evaluation and selection process. Most formal idea management programs have some form of review team, either a central group who performs a triage process to allocate appropriate ideas to relevant experts, or a project-based team who may need to draw on subject matter experts for particular ideas. In both cases the ability to call on people on a case-by-case basis yields tremendous benefits. Their knowledge is available on demand, and they are to a large extent protected from unwanted intrusions as the drive comes from the process leaders, not the individual idea contributors. Our research has shown that the on-demand method yields a 50% response rate from experts (i.e. Half of the experts respond within the requested timeframe). This is a relatively high percentage as these people often have no formal association with the idea management program. Interestingly the response rate is much higher for technical and engineering experts than management sources. One explanation is that technical people wish to demonstrate their expertise (and are glad to be given the opportunity) whereas management consider it an unfair imposition, not worthy of their attention.

Finally, we have done work on the use of external experts (consultants, vendors, suppliers, etc.) in the idea management process. Early results indicate that outside experts are 20% more likely to contribute than employees (perhaps because they are forced to contribute), and they often provide a different perspective to the problem at hand.

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