5 basic innovation ideation principles

Sept. 13, 2011 | by Darrel Suderman

Rank and file company employees of a food company may say "We're not Apple Computer!" We can't generate the innovative ideas that Apple does!" We are doomed to the status quo!" "How can an ordinary company turn themselves into Apples?" "Is there any hope for us?"

Fortunately there is hope of transforming your company into a "Culture of Innovation." Recently Rachel Emma Silverman wrote an article in Wall Street Journal identifying specific ways that (food) companies could generate ideas and execute new products in order to stay relevant. She quoted Vijay Govindarajan, professor of global business at the Tuck School of Business and former chief innovation consultant at General Electric, who said "Apple's success doesn't have to be a mystery to us. It can be replicated."

Basic innovation ideation principles

1. Recruit and capture innovative ideas from the average employee. Ms. Silverman states that the problem at most companies is the failure to allow input from regular employees. Research has found that the average U.S. employee's ideas, big or small, are implemented only once every six years, according to Dr. Alan G, Robinson, a professor at the University of Massachusetts. He says "more innovative companies typically implement far more employee ideas."

2. Innovation ideation is a numbers game. The wise old adage of "create a funnel of ideas that will contain a few good ideas" is still a valid business principle. The wider the net is cast, the increased likelihood that your funnel will contain one or two exception ideas that launch your company to the forefront of food innovation.

3. In-house ideas have greater potential than outsourced ideas. Internal employees who interface with customers on a daily base understand their customers' needs better than anyone else. Clayton M. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies innovation, said "Proctor & Gamble Co's new product success rate in recent years came from the company observing that people were concerned about how their clothes smell (Febreze) and were always looking for simpler ways to clean the floor (Swiffer). As a result, P&G overhauled its new-business strategy after realizing that just 15 percent of its ideas, developed in more of an ad-hoc approach were meeting revenue and profit targets."

4. Executing ideas is often tougher that generating them – because developing new ideas involves a certain amount of experimentation and failure, as well as prioritizing the most promising ideas. According to Ms. Silverman, companies need a clear process to prioritize, resource and test ideas quickly and cheaply, so that they can afford to experiment. Companies need to provide workers time for "unofficial activity" in order to work on creative ideas.

5. Senior leadership is still required. There needs to be forward-thinking leaders who "allow for the ideas to percolate up" says Dr. Robinson.

Once these five basic principles are wove into the fabric of food innovation with a company, then the next innovation step can occur which applies these principles to specific product categories – leading to new organic food innovation or new ice cream product innovation.

The Food Innovation Institute now offers food innovation workshops and executive leadership training on food innovation. The next course entitled "The Business Processes of Food Innovation is Jan. 23-25 at Johnson and Wales University in Denver, Colo. Dr. Vijay Govindarajan, quoted in this blog, has written a book on innovation that is used as a course reference book in our innovation seminar.

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Topics: Operations Management


Darrel Suderman / Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.
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