The Trouble With Good Ideas

Editor's Note: This column entry was first run on Six Sigma IQ on 7/6/09.

Both Peter F. Drucker and Harvard's Ted Levitt noted that creativity is only one part of successful innovation. They provided a treasure trove of practical insights into the notions of creativity, ideation and innovation.

It's often said: People confuse good management with a good idea that makes management look good.

However, a good idea must be put into action. This requires hard work, processes, procedures and a structure to make it all happen.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of "idea people" but a scarcity of "innovators." Organizations need people who can take a good idea and convert it into operating reality.

For starters, let's examine the "talkers." They think of themselves as "idea" people. They complain about the stand-pat senility or massive inertia of the organization. They complain about management’s refusal to implement their ideas. They complain, complain and complain.

Do You Ignore Them? Tell Them To Go Away?

These corporate malcontents enjoy living dangerously by telling other people what they are doing wrong. In short, they take no responsibility for implementation.

There is no shortage of creativity or of creative people in American business. But there is a need, Drucker and Levitt reminded us, for innovators.

"Creativity does not automatically lead to actual innovation," Drucker said. Creativity and innovation are not synonymous.

Creativity without a business plan and an organizational structure to administer the plan (i.e., action-oriented follow-through) is meaningless. At best, creative ideas remain good intentions if not implemented.

The trouble, noted Levitt, with many important, good ideas "is that the people with them have the particular notion that their jobs are finished when they suggest them; that it is up to somebody else to work out the dirty details and then implement the proposals."

The Importance of Change

We agree with the assertion that organizations need people to lead change. A leader looks for change, knows how to find the right changes and understands how to make them effective.

Unfortunately, many advocates for the need for more creativity in business fail to realize great, original ideas require more than talk. They require constructive action.

There's really no shortage of creativity or of creative people in business institutions. Brainstorming sessions are, indeed, exciting, liberating and valuable.

Almost anybody can produce good ideas in an encouraging environment. The scarce people are those who have the experience, know-how and staying power to assemble, organize and coordinate all the elements required to produce innovation.