In the current issue of Inc Magazine, there’s an article on how a company got its employees to come up with product ideas: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090601/managing-unleashing-employee-creativity.html.
The company first tried to get emloyees to offer suggestions on the company’s wiki and on forms in their break room, but when that didn’t produce the results they desired, they held a company-wide competition which did produce an idea pipeline. The groundrules they established were:
- Make participation mandatory as ideas can come from even the unlikiest of employees.
- Pick a slow time of the year to minimize lost productivity.
- Assemble small, diverse teams of employees, ideally from different parts of the company. They created teams of three people by randomly picking names out of a bowl.
- Keep the rules of the contest short and simple while providing guidelines to keep the contestants on track.
- Give specific feedback, explaining why each idea works or doesn’t work, while emphasizing their positive attributes.
- Let the contestants vote for their favorite submission and reward the winners with a small prize (e.g., a $100 gift card for the team to share) and lots of recognition.
- Establish a system for vetting the ideas thoroughly after the contest.