The democratisation of ideas: what happened? so what? now what?

The democratisation of ideas: what happened? so what? now what?

In his 2005 book, Democratising Innovation, Eric Von Hippel wrote: 

“When I say that innovation is being democratized, I mean that users of products and services—both firms and individual consumers—are increasingly able to innovate for themselves.” 

What happened? 

We think it’s a pivotal time. What’s been growing is a global confluence of three things: the need for ideas, the motivation to learn idea-development skills plus the opportunities to apply them.  Whereas innovation used to be largely the realm of the R&D departments, it has been democratised, pushing the need for ideas out into the wider working population.  

The need for ideas is growing

Organisations need ideas from everywhere. Gone are the times of predictable product and service cycles, owned by research and development, delivered to a docile marketplace. In many sectors, consumer product cycle times have speeded up; service and experience matter as well as product; and influence is sought by customers, patients, families, and other interest groups. 

There’s a growing need for ideas from a more diverse range of sources.  

Motivation to learn idea-development skills 

Has there ever been a time when so many people wanted to develop and apply their skills, to develop novel ideas, and take them from insight through to implementation? The growing supply of programmes around creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship reflects this rising demand. 

Opportunity to apply ideas 

There’s been a shift from assuming senior leaders have all the answers to knowing they don’t.  

My first job, in 1987, involved recruiting mining engineers for a coal sector undergoing long-term, structural decline as a result of what’d now call strategic drift. It was an unsettling experience to work in our small, busy team while most other offices were eerily silent. I assumed that someone, somewhere was in charge and knew what to do…My assuming reflected an era when power and authority was centralised with senior leadership. 

Today, mature senior leaders in business and politics know that they don’t have all the answers. They need help and they want to ‘engage’ people. They are using open innovation platforms like as part of the solution to providing an opportunity and means for problem-owners and problem-solvers to come together.  

So what?  

While this phenomenon is relatively recent, we know plenty about learning to develop the idea-development skills for organisational impact.  Far-sighted places like SUNY Buffalo State University have been teaching and researching creativity for nearly 50 years.  And, in our business, we have been doing this for the last 12 years. 

When we introduce people to creative problem solving tools and provide insight into the way they work in teams, we find that: 

  • Instead of leaping immediately to solutions, people spend time reframing and agreeing the problem, which leads to more and better ideas.
  • People learn to work in diverse teams, and make deliberate, effective use of that diversity. 
  • Group facilitators learn how to choose idea generating tools for breakthrough solutions and other tools for more incremental solutions.

Now what?  

In our next two blogs, we’ll look at:

  1. How well can you generate ideas? Find out more about Sparcit’s measure of divergent thinking, which is one important component of creativity.  
  2. What is your preferred style of creative problem solving? We work with Kirton’s adaption-innovation profile, which has many implications for our influence on the problem solving process. 

© Bluegreen Learning Ltd

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