Collecting employees’ ideas is not a new concept. During World War 2, USA implemented Training Within Industry (TWI), where employees were asked to assess how they do their job and suggest improvements continuously. After World War 2 it was introduced to Japan and later popularized as Kaizen or Toyota Production system and later more generically labeled lean manufacturing methodology.

Idea Driven Organization

In more recent history, there has been a lot of discussion on employee innovation and if employees have ideas that are worth a systematic collection and utilization of internal ideas. C-suite and upper management may think that they know better than their employees, or perhaps think that employees’ ideas would rarely result in the next major disruption like Uber or Airbnb anyway.

Does this mean that companies are able to use employees’ ideas and turn it into a capability for competitive advantage for the organization?

Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder attempt to answer this question in their book, The Idea-Driven Organisation. Building on their concept Ideas are Free (and title of their first book), Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder focus on creating and sustaining this specific type of organizational capability and aligning it with your strategic objectives. Internal organization wide innovation is an important component of organizational renewal and I believe this book is worth checking out.

Quote 1

In far too many organizations, ideas are forced to run a gauntlet of misaligned elements that is often unsurvivable. While alignment is conceptually simple, in practice, it is challenging to get right and very few organizations do it well. (Page 67)

The premise of the book is that bottom-up innovation is an important part of an innovation strategy as front line employees are a low-cost source of savings and revenue from improvements to processes and procedures. By focusing on small ideas and empowerment to implement these ideas quickly can accumulate and add up over the course of the year. One example early in the book is the company Brasilata, who implement 90% of their 1000 employees ideas, each having on average 150 ideas. That’s 135,000 implemented ideas in one year.

Quote 2

It is impossible to be an idea-driven organization without the processes and procedures being owned by the people using them. Processes and procedures should reflect the organization’s accumulated knowledge at any given point in time and should constantly be modified and tweaked as new knowledge emerges. (Page 88)

This book isn’t about getting ideas from frontline employees (for new inspiration, check out Ingenious), but how to realign the organization more around the idea collection, sorting and implementation of ideas. This is a large problem with many organizations who implement some kind of idea suggestion system. They end up with many ideas that are not implemented due to implementation and decision barriers.

The companies used as examples are varied and good for comparison. However, if you are looking for a book backed up by masses of data, this is not the right book. Arguably in the book, this is due to the limited number of companies implementing idea organizations. This book is definitely one executive should consider reading if their organization is using an idea suggestion system or is considering implementing one.

Quote 3

Take a problem focused perspective with ideas. Often the person who identifies a problem is not the right person to solve it, and even when a solution is offered; it frequently pays to go back to the underlying problem to explore alternative approaches. (Page 108)

The book identifies and discusses leadership style, common misconceptions for idea organizations, as well as how to design the internal processes and the steps and methods in implementing and running such a system. Each chapter is summarized with key points of the chapter, which is a very handy referral point.