Why ‘Ideaflow’ Is Critical To Your Organization

How many ideas are generated over time is the ‘only business metric that matters,’ says Stanford’s Perry Klebahn, no matter what industry you’re in.
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Perry Klebahn, co-author of Ideaflow: The Only Business Metric That Matters, gives his take on a new metric that HR leaders should employ to gauge their workers’ productivity and organizational success.

Klebahn is adjunct professor and director of executive education at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (aka “the d.school”), of which he is a co-founding member. He has served as COO for Patagonia and as CEO of Timbuk2.

What is “ideaflow,” and how does it correlate to the success of organizations?

We all want great ideas, but few actually understand how great ideas are born. Innovation is not an event, a workshop, a sprint or a hackathon. It’s a result of mastering ideaflow, a practice that elevates everything else you do. How can you come up with great ideas by yourself, or in the context of your team, and quickly determine which are worthy of investment? The simple metric of ideaflow determines success like no other. Ideaflow is a mindset, a way of approaching all your business problems, that multiplies your efforts and unleashes your full potential. 

Ideaflow is a measurement—how many ideas are generated over a period of time. We wrote a book about this concept because we have seen teams and individuals with high ideaflow, routinely and regularly generating many ideas and solutions to any given challenge, are more successful. The book gets into techniques to generate high ideaflow and what some of the research is around this phenomenon.

You argue that creativity can be learned and turned into a daily practice. Can you explain?

We do. Our work here at Stanford with students is at its core about this. We have spent a decade teaching at Stanford the tools and techniques that allow our students to routinely increase their creativity and, further, to bring these tools and techniques into teams they end up working on. The book is at its core about this. 

As far as daily practice, there are very basic new mindsets to take on in creative work, and oftentimes using a particular creative technique in your daily life is all it takes to unlock enormous creative potential. We see it is most effective to think about building a daily practice for creativity; in other words, bring these techniques into your daily routine.

Has the onslaught of remote and hybrid work changed the way we approach creativity? Has it created a creativity crisis of sorts?

Hybrid work has driven some changes in creative work. Some great new tools have been added, like digital whiteboards getting so much better and allowing remote participation, asynchronous participation, as well as the development of techniques to run remote teams with high engagement. What has been more challenging is creating the emotional safety that creative teams thrive on.

Emotional safety, strong trust, is needed for creative work, as teams deal with a great deal of uncertainty in creative work. We think this is a work in progress, and there are problems to be solved and huge opportunities for larger creative teams and extremely diverse teams.

Creativity is often seen as an important process for “creative” companies, but you argue that it’s essential for all companies, not just the creative ones. Why?

We think all companies face disruption, including new competitors and changes in the market. Take the recent turn in the economy as an example—this affects all companies and presents brand new problems. In fact, we see the economic challenges as a great opportunity for companies to engage creative tools. There will be nothing but new challenges in the next 12 months for all organizations, and creative tools like ideaflow are exactly what companies should be leaning on to bring new ideas to their organizations.

Too often businesses think in terms of efficiency in these tough economic times; they turn to proven processes to improve. That is a great tactic if you know you only need to improve. But if new products, services and processes are needed, you must enlist creative tools, and this is where concepts like ideaflow come into play that are measurable and scalable.

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