After a presentation, an executive in the audience raised an interesting innovation challenge – brainstorming efforts at her company are perceived as unsuccessful because everyone’s looking for the next big business ideas, and they haven't emerged yet from any of the innovation sessions.

big idea

Given the circumstances, it’s not surprising that big business ideas are elusive. What’s happening at her company is a very subtle form of pre-judging new ideas that’s blocking creativity and a vibrant flow of ideas. Coupling next big and business ideas sends a clear message: Don’t suggest ideas unless they are going to be BIG business ideas.

You can imagine the internal dialogue going on in the mind of an individual attending one of those brainstorming sessions:

"I have an idea. It's a pretty good idea; much better than anything anyone else is saying. I'm not sure it's a big idea, though. I mean, I like it, but BIG? I'm not sure I'm willing to go out on a limb with this idea? What if nobody else thinks it's a big idea? What if they think it's stupid? They'll all laugh at me, or worse, they'll just sit there and stare at me. And I won't get invited to these meetings ever again. The donuts are pretty good at these meetings. I don't want to blow that."

After all that, this individual looks at the meeting leader and says, "I don't have any big ideas."

That example demonstrates the strategic challenge: nobody knows if a new idea will be BIG. And if that’s the standard before an idea can be voiced, chances are most ideas will never be mentioned. Big business ideas are much more likely to emerge from among a thousand possibilities than from a tiny trickle of ideas already pre-filtered (potentially multiple times) to only those that feel BIG before they’re even suggested.

Instead, try an alternative path intended to generate a lot of possibilities from which many potentially high impact ideas may emerge. You can also explore using bigger questions which provide people more space to imagine possibilities. Please, though, don't mention that you are only looking for big ideas.  – Mike Brown

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