Communicating new ideas that build energy and momentum

Communicating new ideas that build energy and momentum

As we start to emerge from global lockdowns, entire workforces are having to cope with a significant readjustment in the way that they communicate at work.  Gone are the water cooler chats, or any other kind of impromptu get together that may have led to an idea being uncovered, discussed or improved through that conversation. 

Whilst it has become a bit of a cliché, the water cooler moment gave everyone, irrespective of the level of confidence they had in their own idea, an opportunity to pitch  their thinking in a friendly, safe environment before submitting for their colleagues’ perusal.  Such water cooler  conversations would often lead to early critical evaluation, such as, “I think I understand it, but could you explain it to me again?” – leading to a better-communicated idea being submitted as a result.

Without this sense check, it is ever more important that ideas are framed in a way that is understood by those that will go on to view, and perhaps evaluate,  the idea. An innovation system that adopts best practice principles around idea communication can provide clear guidelines to would-be idea contributors that help them frame the idea in a manner that everyone will ‘get’, instantly.  Here we discuss why well-formed ideas are important to the innovation process.

 

With Clarity Comes Understanding

Some research claims that 90% of new ideas never get actioned because they are simply not understood by anyone other than the originator.  If this is anything like true, then ideation, brainstorming, and other methods of idea creation may well be a massive waste of effort.

It’s possible to greatly reduce the risk of this wasted effort by putting a little bit of extra focus into considering how it is that we communicate a new idea.  The following are four good reasons that we should consider this additional investment at the start of the ideation process.

Firstly,  any new idea needs to be understood by multiple other stakeholders in order to make any progress towards commercial reality.  Not only do others need to understand the idea, but they need to be able to understand it quickly and easily.  If they need to work hard to understand it then they won’t!  It’s as stark as that.  This applies to colleagues, potential customers, potential investors, suppliers, manufacturers, advertisers, and host of others.  This is especially true for more innovative ideas – those that are very different from the current way of doing things.  In those situations, there is much more potential for confusion and misunderstanding amongst stakeholder groups.  The most successful ideas are invariably those that are simple to understand and communicate to others without the need for specialist knowledge or cognisance of jargon. 

Second, being  disciplined about using a structure for ideas is also a really good way of thinking the idea through in the first place.  A good structure is in fact both a communication tool and a thinking tool.  The requirement to use simple language and a solid flow of logic forces the idea originator to think it through and make sure that the idea is more than just a notion or a concept.  A good idea will have substance and tangibility that will translate readily into solid plans for investigation or implementation.  Without that tangible quality, an idea will never get beyond the discussion stage into something practical and ultimately of value.

Third, a well-communicated idea allows much better critique and evaluation.  A clearly articulated idea will enable assumptions, risks and uncertainties associated with development and execution to be more easily identified which will then in turn enable faster and more straightforward exploration of the idea’s feasibility.  A vaguely described idea never has enough tangibility to allow potential risks and assumptions to be brought to the fore.  This is vital since thorough feasibility testing is a critical step on the way to successful implementation.

Finally, a well communicated idea will make for much better implementation.  The implementation phase of new idea introduction is often subject to mission creep or the addition of unintended, unnecessary features or elements.  A clear blueprint for the idea will make it much easier for those tasked with bringing it to life, ensuring they know clearly the intention, scope, and requirements without misinterpretation or deviation.

 

Problem-Promise-Proof

There can be many ways to successfully communicate an idea, but experience has taught us that that clearly defining what problem it will solve (and for whom), what the benefit promise will be, and what the proof is behind the promise creates an effective, repeatable format that will ease the innovation process from idea capture right through to idea selection, exploration and implementation. We therefore recommend the following structure:

  1. Idea Title – Usually a good idea to give the idea a name in just a few words (no more than six)
  2. Description – What is the idea? What is being proposed?  What is the form of the idea, the “thing” itself?
  3. Customer – Who is the idea aimed at? Who benefits most from this idea?  Who would be most excited by it?
  4. Problem – What problem is the idea meant to solve? What issue is the customer experiencing that the idea addresses?
  5. Benefit – What does the idea deliver that relates directly to the problem? What main benefit should the customer experience?
  6. Newness – Explain how this idea is different to what is done at present? How is this better than what is currently available?  Why should the customer even consider this idea?

The following example illustrates how this structure works in practice.

Idea Title

Pain relief patches

Description

Sticking-plaster style patch with painkiller embedded in the adhesive which applies the pain relief in constant dose, directly to the affected area, over 12-24 hours

Customer

People at risk of heart attack or strokes

Problem

Many pain relief options taken orally increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as other unwanted side-effects

Benefit

Safer way to take effective pain relief

Newness

This is the only convenient solution to deliver pain relief without side effects

Clearly there are a lot of unknowns and assumptions associated with this idea, but they should be easy to identify and explore for feasibility given the way the idea has been described.  Undoubtedly as the unknowns are investigated and solutions to problems are identified, then the idea will develop to a richer and more thorough specification.  At the outset, however, what is needed is a clear vision and intention for the idea – enough to enable easy communication to all parties.

 

Keeping a View on the Numbers

Whilst a verbal description of an idea is a good starting point, once an idea passes the first tests of assessment, then a fuller communication of the idea will also involve what we call a “idea numbers model”.  In fact, we believe that the most complete (and most valuable) communication of an idea will be the verbal description AND the numbers model together.  To be clear, we don’t suggest that every idea expressed is developed into a numbers model.  This effort is only for those that reach the top of any initial ranking – perhaps based on alignment with strategy, the level of excitement the idea generates, or other similar criteria.  To make any further progress, however, we firmly believe that the numbers model is required to provide a fuller description of the idea

The numbers model is usually a first set of assumptions about key dimensions.  So, for example, when the idea is for a new product, then the key numbers will be related to things like;

  • Sales volume assumptions
  • Possible pricing
  • Business model
  • Possible development costs
  • Internal margin expectations

At this stage, these are not forecasts – they are starting assumptions.  These assumptions, however, can make a big difference to whether an idea might be  viewed as feasible or not.  Stating these assumptions isn’t as daunting as it might look – it’s just about ballpark thinking and there are several methods readily available to help with this.  The difference when these numbers are stated is often dramatic.  Adding initial assumptions on key numbers  helps get ideas off the starting blocks.  It’s difficult for people to get excited about an idea unless they can have some sense of the scale – how much difference they might expect the idea to make.  This scaling  provides a real boost  to the momentum behind an idea and can lead to much faster exploration and, in turn, implementation.

In summary, paying some attention to the communication of an idea from the get-go makes a massive difference to the likelihood that the idea will be at least considered for further investigation.   

As innovation leaders faced with the new challenge of a more distributed workforce that will need a clearer set of tramlines to work within when contributing to the future success of the organisation, our responsibility is to ensure that our innovation systems help idea contributors frame their ideas in a clear and consistent so that they are easily and quickly understood.

So, in a world without water cooler chats, frameworks such as those suggested may at least allow the idea contributor to submit their ideas with the confidence that the most common response will likely be ”Great idea - makes perfect sense to me!”

 

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