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Finding Value From Ideas

Whether or not an innovation is patentable does not necessarily portend whether the idea is valuable. As I discussed in my last blog, innovative ideas should be evaluated for commercially viability, safety enhancement and efficiency improvement, in addition to protectability.

The first step in such an evaluation is to gather ideas. Ideas can come from anywhere. Within Faith Technologies Incorporated (FTI), our engineers are tasked with innovation, but our employees in the field or on the manufacturing floor can be closer to a product or process and might more readily identify a potential improvement. It is axiomatic that we cannot evaluate an idea we do not know about, making an easy-to-use, well-publicized intake process key. Ideally a single intake process is used for all ideas to avoid confusion.

In our organization, a submitter answers one screening question:  Does the idea provide value? This is a preliminary assessment and does not provide anything more than a potential, hypothetical pathway to value. Value is taken in a broad sense including potential commercial sales, reduction in work hours, improvement in safety, even a potential new customer. If no value is identified, the idea is closed. With value, the idea merits further evaluation.

Depending on the size of an organization and the number of ideas found, it can be helpful to funnel the ideas into separate portfolios for evaluation by subject matter experts. Ideas can be split by products/services, internal/customer-facing, engineering discipline or any other suitable classification. FTI classifies ideas as innovation, safety or productivity.

A portfolio team then evaluates the idea for value, feasibility, applicability and protectability and provides a recommendation with respect to adopting, developing, promoting and/or protecting the idea. Note that commercial availability does not disqualify an idea from consideration. An off-the-shelf tool, for example, can still provide improvements in the workplace if not previously or widely used.

Finally, a leadership council with a higher-level view of the business considers the recommendations and decides which to advance and in what manner. The council’s decisions can then be implemented by appropriate personnel leading to safety improvements, productivity improvements, new projects, new customers and/or new products.

Any idea not recommended by a portfolio team or the leadership council can be collected and later re-evaluated in the sense of a safety net to catch ideas that may have been missed or that have become more valuable under changing circumstances.

I will note that many ideas will qualify for more than one portfolio. For example, an innovative tool might also improve productivity by saving work hours in an adverse environment, thus also enhancing safety. Such ideas can be evaluated by the most appropriate portfolio team considering all of the factors described above.

Within any organization, an idea evaluation process should be conducted in view of the goal of providing a competitive advantage, which can be in the form of an improved product, a safety enhancement or an advance in efficiency. A complete assessment of an innovation is not solely legal; it must include business, technical and safety considerations. Keep these things in mind when assessing the value of innovative ideas.