In Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception (2010), a character played Leonardo DiCaprio says: “An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” Indeed, ideas can make or break an entity. They are extremely valuable and powerful. A great idea could lead to a breakthrough, critical acclaim and financial investments. Ideas can also inspire and encourage engagement. But how does it get from the smallest seed inside one’s head to another’s? What role does collaboration have in the process of idea generation? How do we assess the quality of ideas? The following themes have emerged from assessing research on idea generation:
The Impact of Social Interaction
A 2015 study by Hasan and Koning1 examined the impact of social interaction on individual and organisational innovation. Using results from an experiment set during a boot camp for young entrepreneurs held in India, Hasan and Koning confirmed the hypothesis that “conversations with peers improve a focal individual and team’s ability to generate novel and high quality ideas.” Additionally, it can be inferred that the idea generation process is enhanced by conversations with external networks. Ideas were also more likely to be gathered and developed through conversations if the peer had extroverted qualities, as they were more willing to share and gained benefit from social interaction. This study is interesting as it included a framework for assessing the quality of an idea in terms of how novel it was, relevance to market demand and business potential. It is significant that this study addressed not just the quantity of ideas that would be generated by social interaction but also attempted to address quality. After all, would you want a million ideas if you could have one really great idea? As a practical takeaway, the results of this study would suggest that companies most definitely should invite external partners for conversations, support their employees to attend conferences and encourage knowledge sharing. It would be a part of a long-term strategy to support innovation in individuals, in the organisation and the wider industry.
The concept of working collaboratively to create something is addressed in Steen’s research on “Co-design as a Process of Joint Inquiry and Imagination” (2012)2. Steen’s understanding of co-designed is informed by Kleinsmann and Valkenburg (2008)3:
[T]he process in which actors from different disciplines share their knowledge about both the design process and the design content … in order to create shared understanding on both aspects … and to achieve the larger common objective: the new product to be designed.
This definition is relevant as it reinforces the need for external networks of knowledge in the entirety of the design process from start to finish. Furthermore, the participants learn from each other through knowledge sharing to reach a shared understanding, which assists them in jointly solving a problem. Steen’s research is worth examining as he argues for the “inherent ethical qualities” involved in collaborative work and the key role that social interaction plays in design. By using the ethical framework, Steen unpacks perspectives of co-design which can be framed as “collaborative design thinking” and “joint inquiry and imagination”. These theories can then inform the different areas and methods in which collaboration can help in the development of ideas.
So there is strong evidence to suggest that the adage “two heads are better than one” is true in a general sense. Both Hasan and Koning (2015) and Steen’s (2012) research involved professionals, however the practice of crowdsourcing is becoming an increasingly popular business strategy. Crowdsourcing is defined in the Merriam-Webster as:
The practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.
A working paper by Poetz and Schreier (2012)4 assesses the value of crowdsourced ideas against those generated by professionals. All ideas underwent a blind evaluation by executives. Results showed that “crowdsourcing process generated user ideas that score significantly higher in terms of novelty and customer benefit, and somewhat lower in terms of feasibility… [U]ser ideas are placed more frequently than expected among the very best in terms of novelty and customer benefit.” As can be expected, users may indeed have great ideas however they may not always be the most practical. The study took care to note that the optimal approach likely lies in a combination between ideas sourced from users and professionals. Poetz and Shrieier’s study highlights the importance of including users in the idea generation process. The to which user generated ideas are included and how to manage user involvement are areas which would benefit from further research.
- Hasan, S., & Koning, R. (2015). Conversational Peers and Idea Generation: Evidence from a Field Experiment. ↩
- Steen, M. (2012). Co-design as a process of joint inquiry and imagination (manuscript). ↩
- Kleinsmann, M., & Valkenburg, R. (2008). Barriers and enablers for creating shared understanding in co-design projects. Design Studies, 29(4), 369-386. ↩
- Poetz, M. K., & Schreier, M. (2012). The value of crowdsourcing: can users really compete with professionals in generating new product ideas? (working paper). ↩
Also published on Medium.