Gray Space: How to Develop Valuable Ideas and Get Them Across the Finish Line

By Maggie Riad | Crowdsourcing
December 6, 2018

Ideating and selecting winning ideas – ideas deemed worthy of further development – is half the battle when it comes to crowdsourced innovation.

The other half, which is arguably the most important part of the innovation process, is what you do after you’ve selected the top ideas from a crowdsourced innovation challenge. As you narrow down ideas and the best ones surface, you will generally find that they are still fledglings that require more development and firmer stakes in the ground.

For example, maybe it’s an idea that involves using A.I. that could take different forms, so you need to align on which is the best way to start.

Maybe it’s a fragment of an idea that has a ton of promise, but you want to get a cross-functional perspective on how it will impact different areas.

When ideas enter the space where they’re ready to be acted on but lack clarity that’s what I like to call the “gray space.”

When it comes to crowdsourced innovation, the gray space is the gap between a winning idea and taking action towards implementation. This is the point in time where leaders have to do due diligence and set the team up for success by establishing the core insights and design details. Otherwise, they run the risk of having mediocre outcomes and unaligned expectations. I’ve also seen how this step can unlock resource constraints like funding and people because the business case is more compelling.

As an innovation leader tasked with uncovering new ideas and implementing them to bring value to your business, this is a point during the lifecycle of an idea that can dramatically improve results.

Navigating the gray space

The gray space is where the rubber meets the road.

It’s the difference between implementing a well thought-out, developed concept and an underdeveloped idea (fragment). Sure, you can still achieve some level of value from an underdeveloped idea, but it’s like trying to hit a bullseye with a dart blindfolded.

A good framework to use as a reference is the business model canvas or a simplified way to map out areas of desirability, feasibility, and viability. If you take the time to flesh out and define the main design elements of the idea, you begin to develop a concept that others can clearly understand and rally around. You’re not locking these decisions in, but rather providing some guidelines or initial assumptions for how the idea will take shape. Another important part of this concept development step is including a cross-functional perspective to adequately explore the impacts of different design options on all aspects of the business. This way the implementation team has clear direction on what to test and/or prototype so they can validate the initial design decisions or provide feedback on how to adjust.

The big takeaway here is to pause and fully develop the core concept before implementing it to give yourself the best chance of producing a positive outcome.

Great ideas are developed by going a layer deeper

Once you’ve completed the concept development step (this can usually be tackled in a ½ day workshop format with the right cross-functional attendees), you’re ready to move onto the rest of the idea lifecycle and implementation process. One way of streamlining and tracking progress throughout this process is to take advantage of technology.

Spigit, for example, has developed an Innovation Project Portal within the platform that was designed to support the concept development step through to market launch by utilizing stage gates, role-based tasks, and a variety of fields to capture information as you go.

Through this portal, program managers are able to:

  • Assign tasks and resources on each concept being implemented
  • Track the concepts as they move through the various stages
  • Capture the estimated value which can be refined/updated over time
  • Categorize the concepts into larger, strategic themes to identify any portfolio gaps
  • Leverage crowdsourcing at any point to explore new aspects of the concept or get input on a specific area/decision

Overall, it helps program managers establish a more consistent, repeatable approach to the implementation process and ensures key milestones are hit along the way.

Final thoughts

The gray space is an important part of the idea lifecycle, and being able to navigate it can optimize your implementation process.

One thing you quickly realize working with some of the most innovative companies on the planet is that the ones that take their time to fully develop a concept are the ones who avoid misalignment, and a whole slew of other issues that can crop up by implementing an underdeveloped idea.

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