You want your employees to come up with big, innovative ideas, but how often do you tell them that their submissions are impossible? 

If the answer is "all the time," you're not alone. Company frequently hamper their employees' innovative, potentially game-changing ideas. 

"We like to think that great ideas are recognized as such from the beginning, but in fact that is rarely the case. Research shows we're not as good as we think at recognizing the value of innovative thinking," David Burkus, the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, writes in Harvard Business Review

Burkus points to an experiment by University of San Diego professor Jennifer Mueller that found managers are more likely to shoot down an idea that customers are enthusiastic about. Mueller also found that managers perceive the most creative ideas as impossible, even when those ideas are completely practical.

Burkus also cites the epicly misguided management decisions of Kodak and Xerox. Kodak engineers built the first digital camera, but the resolution was poor and executives shot down the prototype that could've helped the company stay relevant. At Xerox, engineers built the very first user graphic interface for the personal computer but executives couldn't see how the platform could benefit a photocopier company.

So how can you keep yourself and your fellow executives from killing innovative ideas that will help your company continue to be relevant in the future? Some sage advice comes from the father of the term "early adopter," Everett Rodgers, who was a sociology professor at Ohio State University.

In 1962, Rodgers published his book Diffusion of Innovation, which was based on his research about how innovation becomes ubiquitous. After exploring how products that are ahead of their time are adopted by the mainstream, he found a set of five common factors that influence people to adopt or reject new ideas.

If you want to do an adoption litmus test, check out the factors Rodgers identified below and pass them on to your team the next time you're discussing big ideas.

Relative advantage

The first factor compares the product or idea with the existing status quo. If the idea or product has a positive advantage over the existing products on the market, people will try it.

Compatibility

How compatible is the product or idea with the status quo? Take the example of virtual reality, which, while super innovative, has found a place in the existing framework of entertainment and business tools. Being ahead of your time and incompatible with the status quo, even if the product has advantages over existing products, can hamper adoption rates. Electric cars and solar power are two examples of innovative ideas that haven't caught on widely yet because they do not gel with the current transportation and power infrastructure.

Complexity

Can the layman understand your product? While Bitcoin's blockchain has the potential to disrupt financial services, the average consumer cannot easily grasp how the technology works. If you have to explain a completely new paradigm, the product may not get mass adoption.

Trialability

How easy is the product to test and use? It needs to be simple without the need to raise lots of money or build infrastructure. "If the idea can't be tried on a small scale, it's less likely to be adopted on a large scale," Burkus explains.

Observability

Can users recognize the results of using the product? As the last step, if a product has a clear advantage over anything else on the market, is compatible with ancillary or related products, is easy to use, and users are able to understand and share the results with friends, you've got a potentially viral product.

Published on: Jun 3, 2015