6.4 Big Ideas Are Needed
Ideas abound. Generating many ideas is the lesser problem. The biggest challenge is the generation of truly Big Ideas. Big Ideas are innovative ideas that have the potential, in case of their successful implementation in the market, to significantly propel the company in its market position, its sales and profits, and its market valuation. Implementing Big Ideas demands utmost discipline from the firm. At the gates of the innovation process it must only proceed with those projects that are really Big Ideas whilst eliminating all others. Big Ideas can be both radical and incremental innovations.
How big an idea must be to qualify as a Big Idea depends on the individual situation and company. For the German market, we at SC Johnson defined incremental sales of EUR 5 million as the minimum. Applying this standard to new ideas meant that the majority of ideas had to be rejected. General Electric seeks “Imagination Breakthroughs” with incremental global revenues of at least $ 100 million (Brady 2005-1).
Why are Big Ideas so important? First, in general, to achieve a minimum return on the applied innovation resources of the company, i.e. the human resource investment in the innovation team, the human and capital investment in research and development, the potential investment in prototypes, moulds, and new production facilities, the marketing investments, etc. In the consumer goods business, for instance, there are further very special reasons: only Big Ideas ensure that we achieve the required minimum distribution in the trade so that the new product is nationally available and visible for the German consumer on the trade shelves. Also, only a Big Idea can justify the minimum investment in introductory advertising of, for example, 1,300 Gross Rating Points (GRPs) or multiple millions of EURO which is needed in Germany for television advertising alone in order to break through the clutter and successfully establish a new product in the consumers´ minds.
Innovative ideas can flow either top-down (in the corporate hierarchy from the top to the bottom) or bottom-up (from the bottom to the top):
Fig. 6.1 Idea generation top-down and bottom-up
A typical top-down method is the strategic roadmap introduced in chapter 3. The roll-out of Beiersdorf´s coenzyme Q10 across its brands and product portfolio is a good example. Also Google Desktop Search, which enables the document search in computer files by means of keywords, was such a top-down strategic idea (Mayer 2006-2). Similarly, the idea of Toyota’s Lexus and Toyota´s Prius came directly from the company management (Liker 2003). It is of critical importance that such top-down ideas do not stifle the supply of bottom-up ideas coming from the rest of the organization which is not directly involved in the strategic innovation planning exercise. A truly innovative organization creates a lot of freedom so that bottom-up ideas can percolate up from deep down in the organization. Whirlpool, Google and 3M are excellent examples of such innovation-friendly organizations (see chapters 1, 4 and 10).
6.5 Existing Ideas vs. Original Ideas
Idea generation is often equated with brainstorming and creative workshops. Nothing is further from the practice. Brainstorming and creative workshops are just a few of myriad ways of generating ideas.
Of fundamental importance is the first distinction between existing and original ideas. It is a principle of commercial reason to investigate first whether ideas which meet an existing or latent market need or solve a technical problem already exist anywhere. I say “anywhere” on purpose because “anywhere” can mean outside the organization but also within the company. The case of Swiffer or the case of the energy drink Red Bull, which Dietrich Mateschitz discovered at the Thai pharmaceutical company TC Pharmaceutical under the brand name Krating Daeng (Hage, Hirn 2010), are examples of the former. Brise One Touch is an illustration of the latter. It is always amazing to see how underdeveloped the knowledge is in some global corporations of ideas that have already been successfully implemented in other parts of the corporation.
Existing ideas possess at least two advantages over original ideas:
- They have already proven themselves somewhere, i.e. they are usually already successful in the market somewhere.
- They can be introduced in the market faster, i.e. they shorten the important time-to-market.
It should be obvious for any businessman or business woman that a Big Idea, which has already demonstrated its success in some market, is economically much more interesting than an idea that at the moment still slumbers in the mind of a creative staff member. This, of course, does not mean that this already existing idea is accepted blindly and is introduced in the new market unchecked. It goes without saying that before the launch in the new market existing successful ideas have yet to be reviewed to determine whether they are suitable for the new market.
To illustrate the full range of what idea generation encompasses, I use the following chart:
Fig. 6.2 Idea generation and their components
Idea generation can be divided into three routes:
• Adopt existing ideas
• Adapt existing ideas
• Create original ideas
The first route only uses the tools of the idea search, namely the search for existing ideas in order to come up with new ideas.
The second route of adaptation is also based on the search for already existing ideas, but in this case the ideas still have to be adapted to the needs of the new market. For this adaptation also the means of idea creation can be applied in order, for example, to prevent conflicts with competitive patents. For reasons of speed to market, adaptations should, however, be kept to a minimum. A pragmatic way of replacing adaptation by straightforward adoption and thus getting into the market faster is the acquisition or licensing of the missing technology or the missing product. The licensing of the Quickle Wiper technology by SC Johnson is a good example.
The third route of invention exclusively uses the tools of idea creation in order to actually produce original ideas.
For the sake of fostering the adoption and adaptation of already existing ideas, companies usually encourage to “steal with pride”, obviously within the legal limits. As Steven Jobs said after “stealing” the idea of a graphical user interface for personal computers from Xerox: “Picasso had a saying – “good artists copy, great artists steal” – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas” (Isaacson 2011). This request to “steal” is in fact often appropriate, since in many companies their own treasures, that is, own ideas are far too seldom recognized and exploited. Nowadays there is no longer any excuse. Neither the famous “not-invented-here” syndrome may stand in the way, nor technology. Today, the publication of successful innovation ideas from all subsidiaries through the intranet is best practice in international corporations.
However, just making the communications technology available is often not enough. An additional push by corporate management helps. P&G honours adopted and adapted ideas with the badge: “Proudly found elsewhere”. And P&G’s ex-CEO A.G. Lafley asked the scientists and engineers of every business unit at his annual “Innovation Reviews” to present to him how they had shared ideas with colleagues. “People get just as much credit for giving good ideas as for receiving” he says (Sellers 2004). GE is also famous for intensely practising idea and best practice sharing.