Procrastination and the Collection of Ideas (Ideation)

When looking at the idea collection process as part of an innovation program, it is easy to think that you will never get the number of ideas that you want. In the Ideation activities I have run, the majority of the ideas are submitted in the final week. Here are some statistics to help you understand the typical process and why it is not a bad thing to get last minute submissions.

The final week is golden

As can be seen with the feature graphic the last week of this example ideation activity we collected over 80% of all ideas. With the final 2 days before the deadline collecting about 50% of all the ideas (as shown below). This is the golden collection period for capturing all the ideas.

Idea's Submitted - Final Week

This re-enforces the need for a deadline. Without a hard end date, the number of ideas in a draft state just drifts. This can be due to many reasons however, you can understand why people running ideation activities extend the deadline at the last minute. Their main fear is that there will not get a sufficient number of ideas to review and therefore the probability of a successful outcome is low. This is where you need to hold your nerve and stick with the end date. The deadline must be maintained!

It is not unusual for the people to submit more than one idea (if you allow that to happen). I found I had 1.48 ideas per person.  When looking at the people that submit much higher numbers of ideas (>4 ideas) they are either different versions of the same idea or complementary. In either case, the deadline is needed to get all of these versions of the idea collected as the subtle way we explain them can lead you to different outcomes.

So maybe the complexity of the problem statement has an impact to the idea submission timing. If you allow multiple topics or categories to be collected at the same time it is interesting to see if you get an even number of them in each topic. In many cases, there is little that can be used to translate the volume seen as it is normally a factor for the topic definition. However, some people will submit the same idea into all topics to increase their chance of getting the idea viewed. You can see in the example below that the spread was relatively even and we have a low number of cross-posting. This tells me that the definition of each topic was clear enough to help people pick one and that one definition was not better than the others. If you have an uneven spread then you need to see if how you defined a topic or problem is clear. However this choice does not seem to impact the submission time as I have also seen single topic ideation programs still have all the ideas in the final week. So complexity of the request does not seem to be a factor.

Idea's by Topic

Potentially one of the biggest factors that I believed could impact submissions was the transparency of the idea pool. An open idea pool allows everybody to view other peoples submitted ideas before the deadline, closed does not. I have run Ideation processes that are open and closed. The feedback I received from the open process seemed to suggest that people were holding back to stop others from trying to bring very similar ideas forward. However the example shown above was for a closed ideation process and still, people waited until the last moment.

So if people are not submitting ideas until the last minute maybe it is because they forgot about the ideation process. Therefore I tracked both the idea submission date and ideation website hits to see if there was a pattern that could understand this behavior.

Web Hits

As you can see in this graph of total website hits there was an early jump in going to the website, which was linked to the publicity that was generated at the launch of the ideation process. This dropped down over the central period with another jump at the end. However, there was a reasonably steady level of traffic over the total period but very few ideas submitted before the end of May. This would seem to suggest that people were aware and engaged in checking and editing their ideas. This also helped us in this process to see that we had engagement from the target group and not panic (too much) that we were not going to get enough submissions. However, it still did not answer why people waited.

Procrastination and Idea Submission

So why do people procrastinate and wait for the final week and is that good for innovation ideation?

More creative ideas come from people that are quick to start but slow to finish. Adam Grant – TED 2016

There is a very good TED talk by Adam Grant: “The surprising habits of original thinkers” that might help us understand the difference between precrastination and procrastinators. The most important finding that Adam Grant identify is that the more creative ideas come from people that are “quick to start but slow to finish”. Based on the fact that people have the idea brewing like a tea in the background allowing it be be refined and then put the best version forward at the end. In his study he made a link between browsers used and creativity. I would have loved to be able to capture what browser people used to submit their idea’s in any of the challenges I ran. I might have been able to see if as he believed Chrome and Firefox users were more creative. He also describes how some of the most creative people have generated a greater volume of output (ideas, concerts) to allow them to select the best from. The graphic below highlights this by looking at composers output. This aligns with something that I saw which was the people who submitted 3 or more ideas typically made it through the first rounds of filtering better than others. This could be due to getting better at the submission process, but typically that was quite simple and therefore not I think a significant factor.

Adam-Grant-TED2016

In the end, I (and Adam) think the most creative people are self-doubters that need to make a lot of errors and reiterate an idea. So if you are not a person who procrastinates then try to introduce a delay into your creative process and help others to do the same when submitting ideas to your Ideation process. You can do this in you by making sure everybody is aware of the challenge at a formal launch as soon as possible. However, shortly afterward try to arrange some related but slightly distracting activities. I have used hackathons as these also require collaboration which for me is another ingredient for helping people to refine ideas early. Guest talkers coming and sharing ideas on innovation is another approach. These events will help people push the idea back in their minds and refine it prior to the deadline.

I tried to follow this approach in the creation of this posts, creating the first draft and then forcing myself to leave it for a few months before a few edit cycles just before the deadline I have set. It might not be obvious when reading but when I look back at the early draft it is surprising how much I changed – including the title and major themes.

Summary

The main thing to keep in mind is that you must set a deadline and stick to it. Don’t get worried about low idea submissions even when you are in the final 2 weeks. However, do use other metrics like website hits and online event attendance to track if you are engaged with the target audience. If people submit ideas early, reach out to them and encourage them to either edit or submit more ideas in the last few weeks of the process. Finally, don’t panic!

I hope this might help you in your idea collection process. As part of the theme mentioned by Adam Grant, I am interested in what browser you typically use. Please share in the two question survey below:

© Peter Briscoe 2018

One Comment

  1. […] I know we want to collect ideas all the time, however, an open-ended ideation process will get forgotten about very quickly and is more of a suggestion box than a focused way to get input. Therefore set a deadline for ideas to be submitted, allow people to change their ideas before the date and be strict about stopping collecting ideas after the deadline. You will most likely get all the ideas in the final weeks of the process, don’t panic keep to your deadline (see my previous post). […]

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