Gartner’s 2011 Hype Cycle–idea management, the trough of disillusionment and innovation

Gartner’s has released its 2011 Hype Cycle report, which shows that Idea Management has just left the “Trough of Disillusionment” (see graphic).   What does this promotion really imply for those of us responsible for innovation or managing a portfolio? One could naively conclude that it is time to focus on implementing idea management if you haven’t already or to redouble your efforts if you have.  My read is that people’s expectations of what it can deliver are more realistic than they were before.  So what can idea management really deliver?

Probably not much.  In my recent executive workshop on Assessing the State of Innovation, a panel of about 25 executives realized that most of them had tried Idea Management and found that it failed to deliver.  One executive dramatically had put it this way, “The paper suggestion box didn’t work.  Why did we think the electronic one would?”.  Another said “If you do idea management, you end up with a bunch of ideas.  Then what?”   Alberto Savoia, Engineering Director and Innovation Champion at Google Inc. and serial entrepreneur, argues that idea management is fundamentally wrong-headed.  In his eXtreme innovation manifesto, he claims that ideas are the by-product of innovators, not the input to the process.  Many have experienced this effect, ending up with a large pile of ideas that are essentially fragments and no people to make them into reality.  The conclusion from my workshop was that idea management has limited and narrow benefits.  Further, the panel generally recommend that it NOT become part of the innovation cannon, and as a management approach be left to wither, undoubtably useful for a couple of niche applications.

Rather, according to my executive team (and written up in the white paper ), driving new wealth creation will rely on:

1. Allowing innovation to change your strategy (don’t start with strategy)

2. Experience your customers (voice of the customer won’t get you too far)

3. Use iterative learning-based processes (don’t use phase gate for innovation)

4. Bring venture capital approaches, especially around creating alternatives and incorporating uncertainty, to your decision making about innovation (no more assumption-based plans)

5. Take a portfolio approach (make sure you have enough innovative projects, not just “bread and butter” projects)

I wonder where Gartner would put these management approaches to innovation on their hype cycle?