This cautionary post provides a good lesson for organizations wanting to drive innovation. One of the first tasks, of course, is to collect ideas.
Over the last few years I've found that the most significant obstacle to sustained innovation is feedback. I know you were probably expecting something more profound or robust, but there it is. Yes, you can fail if you don't have good processes. Yes, you can fail if you aren't willing to listen to your people about their ideas. There are hundreds of ways to fail from an innovation perspective, but feedback is the most subtle and the most powerful one.
Most firms move along, operating fairly well, and demonstrate some interest in a new product or service. Then, something changes in their market. A competitor releases a brand new product. The market shifts as a substitute arises. Then, the management team is all ears for new ideas. GIVE US YOUR IDEAS, will read the headlines on the corporate newsletter. The CEO and his reports will speak incessantly about the importance of innovation - but what they are really looking for is just enough innovation to catch up to or move slightly ahead of the competitor with the latest gizmo.
Now, all of that is reasonable and understandable. For the most part we only want to do enough work to move just slightly ahead of the competition. Anything else and we're the pioneers. So far, so good. The challenge happens when it's no longer necessary to generate ideas to move past the competitor. Ideas are not like water faucets. They can just be turned on and off at will. So, once the idea machine has been turned on, there's not much that can be done to turn it off. Except to ignore it.
As people capture and submit ideas, they expect that the ideas will be considered and evaluated. Once the management team no longer needs new ideas - or at least thinks this - they will stop evaluating new ideas, and while new ideas will continue to stack up in the idea database, none will be evaluated or considered. In fact, the submitters will receive no feedback at all. In fact, this lack of evaluation and feedback is WHAT KILLS IDEA MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS EVERYWHERE AND ALL THE TIME. If you want to kill an idea management system, just ignore it. Eventually, everyone else will too.
So, the next time you are sitting around wondering whatever happened to those great ideas you submitted, recognize that the management team you work for has decided that innovation is important periodically, and your ideas just aren't important right now. Like the boy who cried "wolf", the management team will be back for more ideas at some point in the future, but the ideas may not come to rescue them.
[Innovate on Purpose]