10 Myths & Misconceptions about Ideas by Andy Beddows


Misconceptions about ideas can sink your ideas programme. But since we don’t want to see your hard work go down the drain, we would like to clarify a few points for you. These ‘Ten Biggest Myths’ are adapted from Ideas Are Free by Alan Robinson & Dean Schroeder, to whom we are most grateful.

Myth 1. Big, breakthrough ideas are the ones needed to gain any real advantage.

Fact – Big ideas are often highly visible, and are therefore easily discovered and countered by competitors. On the other hand, most small ideas remain proprietary because there is no natural mechanism for them to migrate to competitors. Over time, small ideas accumulate into a tremendous competitive advantage that is sustainable; the kind of advantage managers should be striving for.

Myth 2. Managers should focus on getting big ideas – little ones aren’t worth the time.

Fact – Small ideas enable an organisation to pay exceptional attention to detail. In many important aspects of business – such as customer service, responsiveness, quality, and managing costs – excellence means getting the details right. It is simply impossible to improve performance beyond a certain level without small ideas. A superior ability to handle details can allow an organisation to do things its competitors literally cannot do.

Myth 3. Without rewards, people won’t give in ideas.

Fact – Yes & No! People frequently offer ideas because they see problems or opportunities they want addressed. It is natural to want to make their work easier or less frustrating, to eliminate waste or to contribute to one’s work team, department or organisation. In this instance, the best reward an employee can get for his or her idea is to see it used. However, whilst some of the companies that get many ideas per employee in the world do not offer rewards for them, equally many operate successfully with a reward structure. However, remember you can add rewards to a programme but taking them away can be disastrous.

Myth 4. Offering rewards based on the value of ideas is a good way to encourage ideas.

Fact – Yes & No! Some companies that offer rewards for ideas get into trouble. The most common type of reward – a percentage of the value of the idea – can be counterproductive and can create a host of problems that few managers anticipate, including outright fraud and dishonesty. However, whilst there are many idea systems in the world that do not offer rewards for individual ideas, there are also many that operate successfully giving awards

Myth 5. Because of their superior knowledge and experience, managers are in the best position to come up with ideas.

Fact – Employees are the ones dealing directly with the company’s products, services, systems and customers every day. They see a lot of things their bosses don’t. Because they are the ones actually doing the tasks, they often know better ways to cut costs, improve efficiency and satisfy customers than their managers do.

Myth 6. Systems based on suggestion box methods do not work.

Fact – Yes & No! More than 100 years old, the suggestion box has become the method of choice for seeking employee ideas. Despite modern evolutions – such as collecting ideas by internal mail, electronic mail, web based applications or smart phones – the underlying process is the same as it was in the 19th century and it does work! The strange thing is that everyone believes that physical suggestion boxes don’t work because in isolated instances the humble box receives ‘ideas’ that cannot be repeated in polite company. Whilst it is true that some organisations report poor results from boxes, there are still those for whom this box still reaps dividends. It’s ‘horses for courses!!

Myth 7. A big problem for managers is having to waste time dealing with lots of bad ideas.

Fact – There is no such thing as a bad idea. A bad idea, given in good faith, means someone lacks information or knowledge. Consequently, it represents a mentoring opportunity by pinpointing a specific training or development need. Sometimes a “bad” idea is a poor response to a very real problem. Managers who learn to see past the poor initial solution gain the ability to identify and solve more problems and teach their employees to be more effective problem-solvers. As employees learn, the “quality” of their ideas improves. In mature idea systems, implementation rates can typically exceed ninety percent.

Myth 8. The best thing to promote ideas is to give everyone creativity training.

Fact – A great many companies have made the mistake of giving their employees creativity training, when their real bottleneck was that they couldn’t listen to and act on the ideas their employees already had. Most ideas are simply common-sense responses to problems and opportunities. Until a company can respond to the everyday ideas, creativity training will only cause even more frustration.

Myth 9. An informal approach to getting ideas is most effective.

Fact – Without a formal process for handling ideas, they can become more of a nuisance than a help. Not only does the employee who comes up with an idea have to figure out whom to take it to, but also that person has to figure out what to do with it. Because every idea is handled differently, ideas require more time and effort to deal with. Managers who advocate completely informal idea processes often do not realize how these actually discourage people from bringing up ideas.

Myth 10. Ideas come from people who are creative and you can’t really teach creativity.

Fact – Everyone can be creative in areas that matter to them, and every employee is capable of having ideas all the time. Besides, the majority of ideas are common sense responses to problems and opportunities that people spot. They don’t require much creativity and anyone can teach themselves how to spot more improvement opportunities and turn these into ideas.

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