Innovation Basics: Balancing Popularity with Feasibility

When your company wants to prioritize bottom-up innovation, you'll find that many suggestions just aren't feasible. To add to this, some of these unfeasible ideas will also be very popular. 

The problem lies in the fact that idea popularity is integral to bottom-up innovation. You want employees to be engaged in the process, and peer voting on idea submissions in an idea management platform is a massive part of that. So, what do you do when the most popular ideas are not feasible? 

You have several options for balancing idea popularity with feasibility. By following these four best practices for idea management, you can minimize unfeasible ideas and work with the ideas you do receive more effectively. 

1. Avoid Over-Broad Challenge Audiences

It's easy to be as broad or as narrow as you need when you're requesting suggestions through a “challenge” on an idea management tool like Idea Pipeline. But you have to be strategic about the scope to which you're offering challenges. 

A common strategy is to challenge as many employees across different teams as possible. This strategy assumes that this broad challenge will increase engagement, participation, and excitement for new bottom-up innovation initiatives. It will also bring in the most submissions, and who doesn’t like more submissions! However, when you challenge too many employees, the idea request becomes less exclusive, and employees can actually become less engaged. 

Suppose you're looking for ideas to improve quality control on the production line. It would make sense to send a challenge intended to tackle that problem to your production line workers. It wouldn't make sense to send it to your marketing staff. Sending every challenge to too broad an audience leads to unfeasible submissions from employees who don't understand the problem or objective fully. It also overwhelms your system with irrelevant ideas. Instead, just send challenges to teams that have relevant knowledge and experience, it will make them feel more focused, listened to, and integral to the success of the initiative overall.

Avoid broad challenges

2. Set Submission Guidelines

The ideas you collect from a challenge will only be as good as the challenge itself. Your challenge needs to be direct and specific. Guide people to understand which suggestions are feasible and which aren't. You should include guidelines such as:

  • Budgetary goals
  • ‌Resource restrictions
  • ‌Time constraints

‌When you provide these parameters and anything else that seems relevant, you ensure that the ideas you receive are more likely to be feasible and not cross any uncompromising restrictions. You can even provide sample submissions to give teams a better understanding of what is expected.

With all this said, guidelines are a balancing act. Too many guidelines can certainly stifle creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Leave your employees some room to be creative. Leave some flexibility in your submission guidelines and consider the worst-case scenario for leaving out a parameter. If your guidelines are too tight, you can lose innovative ideas just to avoid occasional unworkable suggestions.

3. Discover Why Ideas Are Popular

Once you've received suggestions and had people vote on them, you'll have a good idea of which ideas are most popular. Before choosing any one idea as the winner, take some time to determine why popular ideas are so well-liked. 

Even if an idea isn't feasible, it may offer important insights into your employees' needs. For example, would the idea help your employees work more efficiently? Make them happier? Would it relieve an irritating problem? You can discuss this with your leadership team or simply ask your staff why they like the ideas they prefer. If the most popular solution is infeasible, you can still adjust it to support the underlying reason for its popularity. 

Whatever you do, don't ignore popular ideas. Even if they don't meet your parameters, their very popularity is valuable. Your bottom-up innovation and leadership will quickly lose momentum if you regularly ignore the most popular ideas without any concessions.

idea popularity

4. Constructively Criticize and Offer Compromises

The easiest way to perform idea management is simple. Just scroll down the list of the most popular ideas until you find one that perfectly fits your feasibility requirements, then ignore everything else. While this can work and even lead to significant improvements, it's not perfect. You'll miss out on the opportunity to reap the buy-in rewards offered by implementing the most popular options. 

A little extra effort can make one of the most popular solutions work with compromises and constructive criticism. If the three most popular ideas are firmly outside your feasibility requirements, it's time to reach out to the team. Ask some tough questions: 

  • Why is this idea so important? 
  • How is it better than any other idea on the list? 
  • Why must it exceed the feasibility requirements? 
  • What can be changed without compromising the idea’s popularity?
These questions lead to valuable negotiations. You can work with the teams affected by the idea to adjust it into something that fits your parameters. You find a compromise that makes both leadership and ground-floor employees happy and maintains employee buy-in. Your staff will be more motivated to embrace the changes of the idea when they know they had a hand in developing it. 

Final Thoughts

Bottom-up innovation is an invaluable way to get new ideas and increase employee morale. Balancing idea popularity with feasibility can be tricky, but it's worth the effort to make sure that you implement popular ideas. That's where Idea Pipeline can help. We offer peer voting and challenge management in our idea management platform. Teams can see ideas move from generation to implementation, providing total visibility and ownership over the process. Get started with bottom-up leadership today with Idea Pipeline.

Published by Idea Pipeline September 30, 2021