In a continually changing world, organizations need to reinvent themselves and how they work constantly. New businesses often fail, existing companies are under pressure of disruption, and world challenges threaten our way of life. Cultures of incrementalism prevent organizations from really exploring new opportunities. Everyone knows they have to transform, but they don’t know how and where to start.
Of course, we want to do it right this time, building responsible businesses that are able to compete in the long run, and beginning is always difficult. There is no road or direction mapped out for your organization. Up until now, growing was a fun team sport, in which the rules and goals were very clear, and winning the game was something you just had to go for.
Often we saw individual organizations waiting for their leadership to come up with new ideas, and leadership waiting for their employees to develop a ground breaking change, holding each-other into an ever-lasting strangle. We believe that in a continually changing world, ideas and opportunities are the oxygen of each organization.
Idea meritocracy: co-creating the future
We believe in an organizational model called idea meritocracy. Idea meritocracy is a governance model that combines the best of democratic governance and meritocratic governance but adds imagination to it. It differs from democracy, in which everyone decides and it differs from meritocracy, in which people with most merit decide. In an idea meritocracy, it isn’t people, but the quality of ideas that will lead the organization. And everyone within the organization will contribute to generating ideas and new possibilities. The best ideas generated are the ones that decide the path to the future.
To generate, assess, store and validate the best ideas, we created a framework consisting of A. cultivating an ideation mindset for generating ideas; B. assessment and selecting viable ideas; C. building an idea portfolio and executing portfolio management; and D. cultivating an experimentation mindset, in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.
So, let’s talk you through the four building blocks of our organizational ideal of idea meritocracy step by step.
First building block
Idea generation: cultivating an ideation mindset
An essential aspect of idea meritocracy is cultivating a mindset in which ideation is a common habit for everyone in the organization, and we really mean everyone. In cultures of incrementalism, this is often difficult because employees aren’t used to sharing their fantasies or honest views on the organization. In these cultures, using your imagination and sharing strange or original ideas is often inhibited because it might seriously damage your career.
Therefor, setting the right mindset, and really coaching employees on how to share their ideas, is important.
Besides the right culture and mindset for ideation, it is also important to design ideation spaces and routines. Because ideation often works better in diverse groups, like cross-functional teams, it is important to organize cross-functional workshops or events around centered topics or challenges.
And also remind that, when building ideation habits and creating fearless environments, in which people share their ideas, change has to occur; the organization and its leadership have to be engaged and really appreciate the effort of learning and sharing ideas. Often, it takes time before critical (sometimes even cynical) and incremental cultures will change, and employees feel confident enough to engage in ideation practice and idea-sharing fully.
Second building block
Idea assessment: separating the ideas from the people
Not every idea is a tremendous and viable idea, therefore, assessment and selection of promising ideas are crucial.
Idea meritocracy is about an inclusive collective working together on challenges. It is not about blaming and shaming bad ideas, nor is it about giving stage to people who came up with the best and winning ideas. Ideation is a team sport, it happens through group dynamics.
To illustrate this; one team member comes up with an idea that is totally out of scope or out of reach but it triggers someone else to come up with a more practical idea, that in turn triggers someone else to successfully attach it to the scope of ideation. Therefore, assessing the best ideas is not about staging winners who score, but about appreciating the organization for its effort to ideate.
For the organization and its employees to truly engage in the ideation practice, the assessment of ideas should be a fair and transparant exertion. This means that the scope of ideation should be defined and the criteria for assessment should be clear. Designing an transparant assessment process, helps to make sure that politics don’t stand a chance in the assessment phase. Again, it is not about who came up with the idea, but about a purely substantive assessment of ideas.
This doesn’t mean however that the assessment should always be quantitative and data driven. Innovative ideas are often about vision, results may outlay predictions. Blocking the system by quantitative assessments could lead to an overlook of promising alternatives and should therefor always be partly qualitative.
Third building block
Idea portfolio: managing ideas
We have experienced that bringing together loads of great ideas, sometimes leads to even better ones. Also, most ideas need some extra work before becoming promising ideas. Ideas are never finished, they are ongoing iterations. Managing, improving, and finalizing these ideas is part of portfolio management and very important to succeed.
Also, including everyone in the ideation process, means giving everyone excess to the overview of ideas and providing an opportunity to contribute to these ideas. We call this open source ideation. And this might seem more difficult that it is. We see such open source platforms in loads of other applications and organizing such a platform might also help to iterate on ideas and improving them.
The importance of idea portfolio management is evident. Presenting ideas, finalizing ideas by organizing workshops and reflecting on the outcomes, adds tremendous to the quality of ideas. Also, there comes a moment when someone has to say, ok, let’s do this. Let's start experimenting, let's bring the idea to the next level. This also is the responsibility of portfolio management.
Fourth building block
Idea experimenting: Cultivating an experimenting mindset
Idea meritocracy is not just about imagination and ideas, far from it. It is even more about taking these ideas to the next level, validating the ideas and executing ideas within your organization. However, most ideas will fail to deliver on expectations, when tested for the first time. Testing business ideas through experimenting helps to make assumptions explicit and eliminates wrong assumptions. This will help to reduct the risk of investing time, people and money on wrong assumptions.
Starting an experiment, you turn all important hypothesis into tests to learn quickly. Experimenting will reduce the risk that you’ll spend time energy and money on ideas that won’t work. Experiments have a specific running time to generate valid evidence. Make sure running experiments almost like scientists, so that your evidence is trustworthy.
Besides, organizing individual experiments it is important for the organization as a whole to learn how to validate assumptions, formulate hypothesis, deduct knowledge from data and design little experiments in order to learn fast and iterate. Cultivating an experimenting mindset might help the organization as a whole to become more innovative. Learning how to validate crazy ideas means that as an organization, you're not just able to come up with crazy ideas, but also being able to test them.
Understanding how to implement these building blocks, idea generation, idea assessment, idea portfolio management and idea experimentation, means that you can start your own idea meritocracy. Of course, this is not something that you can do in a few weeks. It requires cultural and habitual change. Do you want to know more about how to build an idea meritocracy, or do you want to know more, just let us know.