• Rachel Kuhr Conn

When Idea Management Masquerades as Innovation

I’ve been harpooning idea platforms a lot these days, underscoring the fact that idea management doesn’t have the same scaling power as innovation management. While idea tools can certainly be leveraged in the innovation process, innovation management focuses on transforming a business in a way that idea management just can’t do.


Gartner defines innovation management as a business discipline that aims to drive a repeatable, sustainable innovation process or culture within an organization. They define idea management as a structured process of generating, capturing, discussing and improving, organizing, evaluating and prioritizing valuable insight.


I immediately zero in on “sustainable innovation process” when reading these definitions. My experience has taught me that innovation as an industry is missing process. (I wrote about this in my post Why Innovation Platforms Don’t Work.) While continuous idea generation is part of a sustainable innovation process, lines have been blurred between idea management and innovation management, creating much confusion and misnomers around what is what.


I see many of our competitors erroneously using idea management and innovation management synonymously; and I also see a lot of platforms saying they’re innovation management without having that much needed (and required) innovation process in place.


To be clear, I agree that the best idea management tools do a fine job prioritizing “alternative thinking that would otherwise not have emerged through normal processes,” as Gartner goes on to say. But it’s important to understand that “improving” an idea isn’t the same as “scaling” an idea into a real, revenue-driving solution.


When you’re out searching for an innovation management platform, beware of the smoke and mirrors and know that the term innovation management is often misused.


To help discerning corporations better vet potential innovation management platforms, I put together this interview cheat sheet:

  • How would you describe your solution? (If they use idea management, they aren’t going to help you innovate successfully.

  • Tell me about your workflow. Is it the same for every idea in development? (If the answer is yes, you can find a better solution.)

  • How does your platform help define goals and desired outcomes? (If they aren’t setting well-defined goals, there’s a better way!)

  • How does your platform help me decide whether or not to move an idea forward? (If the answer is voting, they aren’t using proper validation.)

  • How does your platform handle resource allocation? (If they aren’t considering resources, you can find a better solution.)

  • What methodologies do you use in your innovation process? (If they aren’t using a variety of methodologies, you can find a better solution.)

  • How are you different from an idea management platform? (If they don’t know the difference, they aren’t real innovation management.)


As a practicing innovation expert, the confusion and misnomer around idea management vs. innovation management gives me pause and tells me that innovation as an industry has a long way to go. We need to look to experts like Gartner who have defined these categories, take the time to understand the difference between idea management and innovation management and stop using these categories interchangeably.


Rachel Kuhr Conn is an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, researcher, world-traveler and lifelong academic dedicated to making true transformation easier for all. She founded Productable after perfecting her own innovation methodology for Mark Cuban’s portfolio of startups and is on a mission to help the world’s largest organizations drive fearless experimentation.