Encouraging creativity is one of the key challenges of innovation strategy. Yet, not every idea is going to be feasible. Constructive and effective idea feedback starts before you ask for an idea, and it should be specific, goal-oriented, focused on the future, clear and honest, looks at the process, and is about the idea, not the person.
Any ideation process is going to have ideas arrive that mean well, or might even be brilliant ideas, but for some reason are out of reach. They could be overly ambitious, require resources you don’t have access to, or are just a bit out of step with the intended approach.
Yet, any commitment to this process means you have to discuss these ideas honestly and clearly. Fortunately, it’s easy if you keep a few key points in mind.
When launching a process, or moving into a new stage of your ideation strategy, a good place to start is by setting the right expectations. This will give you more focused ideas and make feedback easier to offer.
- Have a clear process: Before you ask for ideas, it should be clear what process ideas go through, what’s involved in each step, and what filters are applied to ideas. If people understand the process first, they’ll both be more engaged with it, and if an idea is filtered out, they will better grasp precisely what happened.
- Offer specific goals and timelines: The ultimate goal of the process should be clear, and the more specific the goal, the better. For example, NASA saved millions of dollars and months of development by making clear precisely what they needed for a new liquid measuring system, as it was already in development elsewhere in the organization. A specific goal saved some potential frustration, as well as time and money.
- Layout limits and advantages: In many cases, good ideas arrive but can’t be put into practice as the submitter doesn’t know exactly what’s at the team’s disposal. Putting out certain clear limits and advantages, such as overall budget, attempts to keep the process internal, or that you need ideas that can be executed within a specific timeline, will help direct creativity towards the needed places.
- Set expectations: Most of us understand that not every idea is going to make it through any process. But setting that expectation clearly, and also setting expectations for what people who submit ideas will get out of the process will help with the feedback process when ideas arrive.
So, when the inbox begins filling, how should you reply? Here are six tips to use as idea feedback guidance:
Good feedback starts with the idea itself. You should lay out in your feedback your thoughts on the idea, particularly if they’re positive. Then make it clear what the roadblocks might be, presented in such a way that perhaps the person can develop the idea further. If, for example, an idea uses many resources that you just don’t have, you might lay that out with some thoughts on how to gain those resources or scale the idea to what you currently have.
Specificity is important for a number of reasons. First, being specific shows that you didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand but rather really considered it and how it fits into the overall strategy you’re taking on. That eases any sting at the idea being set aside.
Secondly, specific feedback, especially in a place where feedback is shared and read over, not only helps guide that specific idea but other ones as well. Point out where in the process the idea left this specific conversation, and if appropriate, offer some thoughts on how it might be able to get through that process. It’s also useful when you look back, as you can spot potential issues ideas are stumbling over.
Sometimes the answer to an idea is simply “no,” no matter how good it is. Other times it may be “possibly yes, but not now.” Regardless of the answer, it shouldn’t be obscure, but you can couch it in a direct way while being respectful. Again, being specific helps here because it shows it’s about the idea and helps the person see the reasoning behind the answer.
If the answer is “yes, but not at the moment,” have a process in place to keep that idea on file or to act on it when appropriate.
Feedback isn’t a one-way street, and the person you’re talking to may have ideas that spin-off from what you say. Take the time to listen to or read their feedback and apply the same process. Sometimes you might find an even better idea in the post-mortem of another one.
In some cases, you might get ideas that are great but may be on a different scale than you need. For example, if somebody in the logistics department has an idea about reordering how items are picked and packed, and you’re focused on the five-year plan, look for a way to reroute that idea to somebody who can put it into action.
No matter how the feedback session ends or in what format, close by asking the person for their next idea or thought. Even if they just have some ideas about the process itself, it’s a concrete way to show you value what they have to say and their creativity. It also helps keep the ideas flowing.
Idea feedback can be a difficult part of the job, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. IdeaScale can help you create an ideation platform that’s fun to use, sets clear standards, and offers transparency at any scale, from committee to industry-wide.