12 June 2018

Turning Ideas into Actions: Personal Idea management

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By Ed Bernacki

You will see many interesting ideas at conferences. Some will be worth acting on after the conference. You may see great personal value in some ideas while others could reinvent an organization. How will you turn these ideas into actions?

All great innovations begin with ideas, often small ideas, perhaps little more than an inkling of a potential opportunity. Perhaps, an insight prompts you to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”

As the conference nears its end, it is time to distil the presentations into ideas, actions, and personal challenges to act on after the event.

Will you be an idea factory?

What I have learned in the process of developing ideas like an idea factory is this, while formal innovation processes are important, we also need a personal approach for managing our ideas. This concept of idea management can be as simple as turning a notebook into an idea journal and developing a personal idea management process. This concept of an idea management process is also necessary for organizations.

Research on corporate innovation by Henley Management College and PriceWaterhouseCoopers looked at 314 British corporations and ranked them on a single factor: revenue from products and services less than five years old compared to total revenue. This was seen as indicative of seeing an opportunity, shaping a solution, and then profiting from the effort.  It ranked these companies and then focused on the top 20 per cent in the survey. They found the high performers develop “critical underlying capabilities” to underpin their success. The first is that they turn their ideas into action via well defined ‘idea management processes’. These processes:

  1. Seek ideas and knowledge widely from customers, suppliers, employees, other industries and competitors.
  2. Allow ideas and knowledge captured to be shared, stored in user-friendly form, and made freely accessible.
  3. Actively encourage diversity of viewpoint, talent and expertise.
  4. Delay the premature evaluation of new ideas by giving managers considerable discretion to pursue ideas without subjecting them to a formal appraisal.

Idea management processes create a foundation for organizational change and innovation.  The reality is that too few organizations have such systems.  While they have well defined cash management and HR management processes, the notion of idea management processes is still too rare.

The Singapore Ministry of Defense / Air Force (MinDef) has strategies that focus on both ends of innovation – breakthrough technologies and the small ideas that lead to improvements or savings. Each year it hosts a celebration of ideas and innovation called ‘PRIDE’ (PRoductivity, Innovation in Daily Effort).  In 2002, I wrote an innovation guide that was distributed throughout the annual event. The tradeshow is a showcase of technologies and solutions. It is also an opportunity to reward the small ideas.

Each year MinDef harnesses over 200,000 ideas from military and non-military staff. These are processed and some are selected for more development. In 2017, 128 awards were presented to individuals, groups and units to recognize outstanding and innovative projects. Their innovations and work improvement ideas saved $197 million.

As part of its innovation strategy, MinDef included a focus on the personal small ideas with two priorities:

“Personal Space for Creative Thinking  Space is required in the workplace for the minds to work creatively. An enforced time-break from routine work and a change of environment provide such a space. It gives physical space for people to break out from the physical and mental constraints imposed by the environment.

“Creating the Sparks of Innovation  We need to generate enough number of “sparks” (activists with the inclination towards change and innovation) in the organization to start the “fire” of innovation burning. The critical mass of “sparks” needed to start the fire is dependent on the timeframe within which we want to build the bonfire. The shorter the timeframe, the larger the necessary critical mass. “Sparks” have to be identified, enthused and trained.”

You are an idea factory

To create your idea factory to manage your ideas, you need to create a space for your personal creative thinking on the challenges that you face. At a personal level, most people still find a traditional notebook as a productive tool to manage the process.

Notebooks were once an analogue innovation (about 1800). At some point, someone added elements of structure and calendars to innovate a new type of journal for managing time. Most people use some type of time management system.

Yet time management fails to nurture creativity and innovation.

It is time for more analogue innovation in the form of new types of notebooks that prompt us to make notes and manage ideas more effectively. This notion of making notes and managing ideas as if you are an idea factory is the next evolution in our personal approaches to solve the challenges we face.


Ed Bernacki developed an expertise with inventing new types of ideas journals. He has sold over 60,000 copies in the public and private sectors.  He also wrote unique innovation guides for the Singapore public service, Singapore Ministry of Defence, and Bank of Canada. 

For information on MinDef and PRIDE, see and search for PRIDE.

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