The sophisticated and multifaceted practice that is idea management has its antecedents in the humble ‘suggestion box’. Though the origins of this method are not clear, the technique can be traced back to the 1770s in Britain, when the Royal Navy introduced a suggestion box to enable sailors to submit often controversial suggestions – without fearing reprisals from their superior officers. It is also believed that the shogun of Japan implemented a similar system during the 18th century also, placing a box outside his palace to encourage honest suggestions from the military. Centuries later, this simple methodology would go on to inform the basic structure of the online idea management tool.
Centuries later, another major development in the refinement of idea management also emerged in Japan – occurring shortly after the Second World War. During this time, American manufacturing experts and industrialists from a variety of sectors were tasked with assisting the Japanese with their rebuilding efforts. Their quality management strategies were adopted and combined with the adaptive, tenacious, and waste-reducing qualities of local businesses to produce the ‘Kaizen’ system – (from the Sino-Japanese word meaning “change for the better”).
This system was perhaps best epitomized within the Toyota corporation by the revolutionary idea management initiatives of Shoichi Saito – one of Toyota’s most prolific project leaders, and chairman during the 1970s. Deriving inspiration from companies like Ford, Saito focused heavily on boosting the quantity of employee suggestions, rather than just the quality – with the aim of eliminating the fear previously held by employees that they would be criticized if their ideas weren’t adopted. Saito also mandated that senior leaders throughout the company should be actively involved in encouraging ideation, setting up idea assessment committees, and implementing rigorous processes for testing employee suggestions.
During the 1990s, the meteoric rise of the internet enabled the ‘kaizen’ method of idea management to take place on a much larger scale. The advent of email meant that ideas could be sent anonymously with unprecedented speed. In addition, new productivity software and databases such as ODBC, Microsoft Excel, Lotus, and Access meant that ideas could be efficiently compiled and modified. The internet revolution also meant that the in-house brainstorming session – a traditional ideation strategy popular in the 1970s and 80s- became increasingly redundant. This was largely because employees who had felt intimidated by the prospect of voicing ideas within these meetings now had an outlet to express their suggestions more freely online. In short, the internet quickly became an integral prerequisite for any company looking to facilitate large-scale idea management.
In the early 2000’s, the increasingly disruptive nature of the digital corporate landscape meant that innovation took on a whole new dimension of importance. Companies began searching for more sophisticated collective intelligence solutions to crowdsource and refine ideas submitted by employees, as well as their market audience. This demand led to the development of more sophisticated online idea management tool designs – enabling managers to set the focus for idea campaigns, open them up for submissions, and allow participants within those campaigns to comment and upvote ideas submitted by peers.
Today, with new opportunities opened up by machine learning and social media integration, the practice of idea management has never held so much promise. Developments in ideation gamification – that is, adding competitive dimensions to submitting and voting on ideas – means that engaging and incentivising employees to innovate has also become far more achievable. It is precisely these exciting new developments that leading idea management software providers – Qmarkets being a leader among them – are committed to offering to enterprise clients.