The innovation process always begins with an idea. In order for those ideas to grow into successful innovations, CEOs and CIOs must define a process that allows ideas to be collected, nurtured and refined.

In Forrester’s Innovation Playbook, this is defined as the innovation PACT. It includes a robust ideation process, a number of influential innovation advocates, a powerful culture of innovation, and easy-to-use innovation technology (see figure).

Ideation reduces friction between idea and implementation
When it comes to the ideation process, there are a few characteristics that are necessary to help reduce the friction between ideas and implementation.

 1 Innovative companies see the process of creating ideas as a continual activity. Therefore, the process that is built needs to encourage the continuous flow of ideas in order to help foster a culture of innovation.
 2 The innovation process must fertilize ideation with the right information. The best ideas come from highly targeted challenges, usually ones where people are asked to solve a specific problem.
 3 The ideation process must allow bad ideas to be quickly and easily filtered, without killing off potentially good ideas too early. Too much rigor and you risk stifling innovation, too little and good ideas are starved of attention and funds.

For ideas to continue to move through the innovation PACT, they are dependent upon the presence of strong advocates who can help deflect the natural resistance to change inherent in every organization.

Advocates must have high energy and cannot be easily deterred by the pesssimistic mindset.

Instead, advocates need to see the potential and encourage others to collaborate and refine the idea.

Most importantly, advocates must be experts at finding ways to overcome the inertia built into many organizations.

These advocates find ways to make change easier and remove the barriers people tend to throw up in the way of change.

An innovation culture creates the right climate for ideas to grow
These barriers consistent throughout many organizational cultures often act as roadblocks to innovation. Creating an innovation culture is imperative to the ideation process.

Forrester’s Innovation Playbook defines the four attributes of an innovation culture as:

 - Trust
 - Acceptance of failure
 - Flexibility
 - Open communications

While all four attributes are critical to ideation, how the company deals with failure is the most critical.

Creating an innovative culture requires a structure that supports rapid failure. For example, Google engineers are required to allocate 20 per cent of their time on any project idea of their own choosing.

That’s a significant investment in productivity in the belief that it will translate into new products and services. Gmail, for example, came from a 20 per cent project.

While this may be true some of the time, many such projects fail to deliver anything of value. One of the largest cultural changes that can be made to help embrace failure is around compensation.

Compensation systems that recognize success and punish failure undermine the creation of an innovation culture because employees are not encouraged to take risks.

In order to motivate employees to experiment, the compensation scheme must be adjusted to provide tolerance, or even reward, for failure associated with the early testing and development of ideas.

Technology helps efficiently move ideas to market
Technology is the last piece of the innovation PACT puzzle. The right technology will support the ideation process, help filter good ideas from bad, and nurture ideas through collaboration.

In other words, technology should be used to help evaluate ideas because allowing employees to vote for each other's ideas helps select the best ideas and also gives employees the opportunity to collaborate to refine ideas.

For example, Starbucks uses Salesforce.com’s idea engine to power both customer and employee idea communities.

Technology should also be used to increase participation. Most enterprise social tools come ready with mobile apps that encourage employee participation even while they are not connected to the company network.

And finally, it’s important to build technology into your innovation process. 

Specialized innovation software can help refine your innovation process by building stage-gates into the system, ensuring that ideas pass all the required evaluations before making it to product development.

Technology is the tail, not the dog
People have always had great ideas. From the first cavemen who struck stones together to create sparks and fire to Otto Frederick Rohwedder who perfected a machine to slice bread a loaf at a time, competitive advantage has always favored the most innovative.

When Alexander Graham Bell uttered the words: "Watson, can you hear me?" little did he know that he was not only inventing modern communication, he was forever changing the way we would invent.

For the first time, a meaningful exchange of ideas could take place between two people at the same time, without the need to be physically together.

Ultimately, ideation is not about choosing and implementing technology. It's about identifying and executing on the right set of ideas.

And technology is a key enabler in this process. The right approach can amplify your results dramatically. It can also give you the ability to start small and test before taking the plunge into a big technology spend.

Nigel Fenwick and Rob Koplowitz are principal analysts at Forrester Research where they contribute to the blog for CIOs.

Pic: Julián Santacruz cc2.0