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Joanna Keeling, director of Ibis Ideas, discusses how brands can harness the power of ideas to stay relevant and remain competitive.

All over the world, businesses are attempting to reinvent themselves, to become - or remain – relevant. And there’s a growing recognition that it’s ideas, the fuel for corporate change, that will make the difference. But simply knowing that your organization needs fresh thinking is very different from being able to deliver it.

So how is it that some organizations seem to be able to innovate and think their way through almost any obstacle or hardship? It’s a question that we recently asked more than 100 C-suite professionals as they helped us map out and model we call ‘ideas-led organizations’, or ‘ILOs’ for short. ILOs are those organizations that have the characteristics necessary to thrive in an environment of dramatic change and adaption. They are built on five common behaviors:

  • They value ideas, by making fresh thinking part of everybody’s job, and rewarding their staff for their contributions.

  • They generate ideas, by recruiting teams that bring ample diversity of thought and experience to problem solving.

  • They curate ideas, by ensuring fair systems are in place to make sure good ideas emerge free from politics or undue influence.

  • They nurture ideas, by accelerating and amplifying their relevance across teams, locations and departments.

  • They activate ideas, by assuring that great ideas meet capable management to ensure long-lasting viability.

What’s more, ILOs not only demonstrate competence in each of the five common behaviors but across all of them simultaneously - so that as older ideas are being activated, new ideas are being valued, generated, curated and nurtured. The study visualizes this as a dynamic process that, at its apex, develops and then maintains its own kinetic energy in the form of an infinite loop.

Like a watercourse in nature or a neural pathway inside the brain, every fresh iteration of this loop strengthens and enhances it.

ideas loopBut the study is clear that the loop can only ever be as effective or as strong as its weakest constituent parts. If an organization is not performing in one or more of the five common behaviors, then momentum around the loop slows or stops altogether and a type of ideation sclerosis takes hold of the organization.

Treat your people like co-owners

But, just as importantly, ILOs also build and maintain a strong commitment to a clearly articulated and universally understood purpose. This helps set the entire organization on a clear path without the guardrails that can kill innovation. And all ILOs enjoy a culture where competence and good intentions are presumed, and where staff are given high levels of decision-making autonomy. 

Sitting alongside this, we found a deep-rooted agility and a corporate boldness that together enable an organization to turn the full weight of its firepower towards opportunity. When you throw in what the study identifies as ‘fellowship’ (the clear sense that everyone, staff and managers alike, are all ‘in it together’) it’s a powerful combination.

Interestingly, ILOs don’t seem to be clustered in any one industry. In fact, those industries that claim to deal in ideas as far as their clients are concerned – advertising, marketing, consultancy – are no more likely to be ILOs than any other. And it appears that ILOs can exist in all sorts of shapes and sizes, big and small, public and private, which runs counter to the trope that only cash-rich start-ups can be truly innovative.

Fresh thinking has never been in more demand, all organizations know that. It’s just that ideas-led organizations know how to deliver it.

Joanna Keeling is a director of the global advisory firm Ibis Ideas. For more, tune in here.