How does your business harvest new ideas? A better question might be how do you evaluate the new ideas that were harvested?
The problem that most corporations and businesses are facing is that they claim to be looking for radical ideas, but they end up cultivating the ideas that are most feasible. If this is what your group is guilty of doing, then don’t blame your people for never coming up with new radical ideas. Why should they? You are not providing an environment for them to do that.
The way your organization decides which is the best idea will set the stage for future “idea brainstorming” sessions in your group. People are very smart, they will immediately understand your criteria from your actions – and not necessarily from whatever parameters you set for them.
Once they see that you put more stock in workable ideas instead of daring ones, that is exactly what you will get from them in the future. It is almost impossible to change the course of the ship – once it picks up steam.
Forces Acting on Ideas
Over the years, there have been countless studies and articles written about what influences the different types of brainstorming ideas. Studies have examined factors like crowd diversity, the knowledge level of all participants, gender makeup of the group, and even how questions were asked.
If you stop and think about it, all these factors pertain to things that are going into the radical idea creation process. There doesn’t seem to be any evaluation of the kinds of ideas that are coming out of the idea generation activities.
People Selected for Brainstorming Groups
The fact is that those who are involved in making the final idea choice have a huge influence on the brainstorming sessions. And in most cases, they also have lots of influence in determining who takes part in the idea brainstorming sessions.
Team members are chosen based on their expertise level in regards to the idea’s topic. In other words, subject matter experts are typically chosen to generate new ideas.
According to Niels Bohr, who is the father of the atomic theory, subject matter experts already reside within the current paradigm where improvements are needed. These experts have committed countless mistakes within this current paradigm.
A new radical idea has to come from someone that exists outside of the current paradigm – in other words, someone who is not a subject matter expert.
Let us examine the words of subject matter experts from the past who opposed great new radical ideas of their time:
We do not see that this device [telephone] will be ever capable of sending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles. Hubbard and Bell want to install one of their telephone devices in every city. The idea is idiotic on the face of it. Furthermore, why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States, ignoring the obvious limitations of his device, which is hardly more than a This device is inherently of no use to us. We do not recommend its purchase.” – Western Union officials who reviewed the offer to buy the telephone patent from Alexander Graham Bell in 1876
“Everyone acquainted with the subject [Edison’s lightbulb] will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.” – Henry Morton, Scientist and president of the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1880
“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” – Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre in 1904
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM in 1943
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977.
So imagine if the people above would have influence to stop the implementation of the projects they mention? If it were up to them, we would’ve never heard about these radical new ideas.
A more concerning question might be how many ideas did they actually shoot down that would’ve been historical?
The legendary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke has a unique view on the way subject matter experts view new radical ideas; “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
When we take a step back from this, we see a very disturbing conclusion.
We see that subject matter experts are actually a huge deterrent in the development of their chosen field. In addition to that, we must protect new ideas from their scrutiny. So we must go out of our way to EXCLUDE THEM from the process!
Can we attribute their behavior to arrogance? Or envy?