Knowing how to spot good ideas and put them to use

Lack of organization can prevent an idea from taking concrete form. The management of ideas consists of implementing and developing the innovation, and putting it in the pipeline.

When we talk about an idea, we are also talking about a fantasy. The word “fantasy” comes from the Greek “phantasia” which literally means “image, apparition”. This faculty helps us understand reality from a different point of view. As regards the innovation process, there are two parties to this process: the employees and the entrepreneur. The notion of entrepreneurship means “generating market-focused creative values”.

But how ideas be developed in a targeted manner? The outcome of this approach will depend on knowledge of the innovation strategy concerning research areas along with the strategic significance of market trends and technological progress. These framework conditions constitute a safety valve for choosing ideas. At this stage, the following questions need to be asked:

1.  Who supplies the ideas?

Three groups will be responsible for supplying ideas, or at the very least, outlines of ideas.

  • The entrepreneur;
  • The employee;
  • External parties (customers, suppliers, partners, consultants, trustees, public institutions like universities, technical colleges and specialist colleges).

Collaboration with universities, the ETH, the EPFL, and specialist colleges in particular, is often very promising and therefore recommended. This is because of the interaction generated by transfer of know-how between scientific environments and the private economy. A transfer which, in turn, promotes the innovation process.

2.  How can you encourage and promote creativity?

Encouraging and promoting creativity depends on three factors, which in turn, depend on the personality of the individual, namely:

a) Personal aptitude and motivation

As regards employee aptitude and motivation, entrepreneurs must clearly lead by example to promote the two among their employees and provide employees with appropriate framework conditions. The instruments to achieve this are:

  • Qualification interviews;
  • Group sessions;
  • Techniques stimulating creativity (brain storming, synectics, mind mapping, etc.);
  • Workshops (see link below: how a work group works within a company, known as a "quality circle");
  • Project work;
  • Management By Objectives.

b) Atmosphere

Atmosphere is the second decisive factor for creativity. The quality of the atmosphere within a group depends very much on the manager. The following questions should be asked:

  • How do you dress — simply or elegantly?
  • How tidy is the workspace? Is everything all over the place or put away neatly?
  • How do you greet your colleagues in the morning? Cheerfully or grumpily?
  • Do you have fresh flowers in your office or a dusty cactus?

If the answers to these questions are mainly negative, it is time for you to challenge yourself. A positive attitude every day at the office actually contributes to a positive atmosphere around you, a good mood which, in turn, will be reflected just as positively in the work being done.

Studies also show that people working on their own contribute more ideas than others. The reason: loss of coordination and motivation due to freeloading, or fear due to loss of status regarding other members of the group. 

c) The influence of minorities within the company

The third factor of influence is the social influence of minorities: whether this means a very intelligent person, a conscientious objector, a popular artist or a researcher who you have invited, for example, to one of your innovation strategy meetings. In these cases, comparing different opinions can start the debate, thus provoking an increase in the level of services and creativity.

3.  What tools for gathering ideas are available and what is their value?

There are numerous “traditional” creativity techniques such as brain storming, synectics, mind mapping, Cluster technology and many more (“The A to Z of thought processes and creativity”; PDF available in German only). The common denominator in all these techniques is encouraging the collection of ideas, which will then be compared and explored in more depth.

NB: The discovery and structuring of ideas should form the subject of regular, continuous work. In such cases, checklists prove a very useful instrument: this card system actually makes it possible to gather good ideas within the company (checklist available to download opposite). These are cards on which employees regularly note anything which comes to mind. Their content is then periodically re-examined (every week or every month).

It is important for the authors of these ideas to get prompt and direct feedback on their contributions. The ideas collected are grouped together and listed on a database for evaluation. Lastly, the results are openly communicated then discussed within the company and this applies both to ideas which have a chance of being used, as well as others.

Idea map
Name of idea
Description of idea
For which product?
What type of customer is this aimed at?
Sources (what elements already exist?) 
Utility for company
Utility for customer(s)
Number of possible parts (1 or more?)

or prototype attached as appendix

Source: "Innovationen im Kleinunternehmen", Swiss Research Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, University of St. Gallen.

Sign up to our newsletter to stay informed (on the top right).



Liste de contrôle: carte des idées (2006) (only in French) (DOC, 35 kB, 14.11.2019)Schweizerisches Institut für Klein- und Mittelunternehmen à l’Université de Saint-Gall (KMU-HSG)

Last modification 27.09.2019

Top of page