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Where do ideas come from? How companies come up with as many ideas as possible

Three-quarters of the ideas do not originate in the company. People are above all creative and have flashes of inspiration when they are in a relaxed or inspiring situation, for example in nature, when travelling or simply at home.

For innovation management, the findings from Fueglistaller offer little valuable implications. If you send your employees home to get ideas, hardly any manager will want to hear them. But something important already shows how much influence the environment has on inspiration.

Employees are the most important source of ideas

Employees are the most important resource for generating ideas. They are close to the processes, products and customers, know them best and are thus able to identify potential for improvement and innovation. It is essential that they keep the necessary foresight and do not become blinkered in their work.

Other important sources of ideas according to a study by Scheer are customers and users. Especially when it comes to new products and services, the impulses from users and decision-makers about their needs and requirements are the most valuable impulses for innovations.

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The underestimated role of employees in Open Innovation


But employees also play a very important role when it comes to ideas from external sources (open innovation). This is because they are the interface between external thinkers and the internal innovation process. They collect impulses from outside and transfer them into ideas. They enrich the idea with the necessary internal contextual knowledge to develop an idea that is relevant for the company. And they ensure that external ideas can dock with the innovation process by further developing, submitting and tracking them.

For example, an employee learns about a customer problem. He researches, talks to the customer concerned and a customer describes a possible solution idea to him. The employee picks up on the idea, refines it and discusses it with the responsible product manager. He takes up the idea, carries it to the management meeting, where it is approved for the innovation process and the innovation project begins.

The example shows that the role of employees in Open Innovation is also very important, but is often underestimated. Without dedicated employees, a company will not be able to come up with ideas at the customer's, even if dozens of suggestions and potentials are lurking there and only need to be taken up. For this reason, employees, especially those with contacts to customers, suppliers and partners, must be sensitized and motivated and receive the necessary tools to hunt and chase ideas.

Letting ideas pass

Alexander Fleming, who spent the 1920s working with bacteria at St. Mary's Hospital in London, had inoculated a culture medium plate with staphylococcus, set aside and went into the summer holidays. When he returned, he discovered a mould on the culture medium and the fact that the bacteria had not reproduced near the fungus. That was the discovery of penicillin.

This principle of the accidental discovery of something new that was not originally sought is called the serendipity principle. Other famous examples include the discovery of America or the invention of Viagra.

Enterprises cannot rely on the fact that coincidentally where something new and innovative arises or is discovered. The process of finding innovation must be systematized. Nevertheless, companies must work on the framework conditions so that flashes of inspiration can strike and ideas can flourish. Important measures include the following, for example:

  • The best ideas are born in more than one head. The exchange and communication among employees must therefore be promoted, e. g. through open office structures, meeting zones, meetings and workshops, etc.
  • Creativity is also encouraged through training and information. New knowledge inspires and generates new ideas.
  • An important point is of course the positive innovation culture, where ideas are welcome and driven forward with commitment.
  • And of course, it also requires structures such as an idea management system, where ideas can be introduced and processed.

Producing ideas systematically

Activating and promoting the continuous production of ideas by employees offers many opportunities and starting points for solutions, improvements and innovations. A potential that definitely cannot be left untapped.

In addition, ideas must also be systematically developed. While "letting ideas happen" is usually spontaneous and not thematically focused, it also requires a strategic and targeted production of ideas according to the objectives and topics of the innovation roadmap. This is where the famous creativity and innovation methods come into play.

Generating ideas with creativity techniques

According to the study, only one percent of the ideas come from creativity techniques. This may also be due to the fact that the masses do not use creativity methods. But if you are looking for a specific problem solution or a new product, you are best off with creativity and innovation methods.

The most popular method is brainstorming. A group collects ideas together, either on cards, whiteboard, flipchart or with an online tool. Four important basic rules must be observed:

  • As many ideas as possible in a short time (quantity before quality).
  • Everything is welcome. The more unusual, the better.
  • Picking up and spinning ideas.
  • No criticism in the brainstorming phase.

Brainstorming is a very common and popular method. Nevertheless, however, it is also increasingly subject to criticism:

  • The dominance of individuals can lead to others holding back and not contributing their ideas.
  • You are in the influence of others, unconsciously ideas are adapted or rejected.

Online brainstorming tools can be an alternative way to escape these group-dynamic processes. These offer many advantages, e. g. the simple documentation and further processing of the ideas, but they still cannot compensate for the advantages of face-to-face cooperation.

Other popular and proven creativity methods include 6-3-5, the Osborne Checklist and Advanced TRIZ. Further methods for innovation development are crowdsourcing, the Lead User method, focus groups, design thinking or the blue ocean method.

Conclusion - Where do ideas come from?

Ideas are generated everywhere and at any time. In the truest sense of the word, an organization only has to open its hands and catch them. The employee is always the central actor. Framework conditions, culture and structure are to promote the development of ideas and an effective handling. However, the generation of ideas should not only be left to chance, but also systematically searched for and developed according to strategic goals.

Establishing a culture of innovation download


Daniel Zapfl

With his comprehensive experience in holistic innovation management, Daniel brings valuable insights and best practices from various industries to your innovation project. He boldly and disruptively challenges conventional ways of thinking. As a TRIZ-certified sparring partner, Daniel will support you with creative solution-finding in a reliable and structured manner. More critical than the most discerning customer, he always has an eye on the big picture.

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