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Mining ideas for inventions

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Drive innovation using Idea Harvesting Technique

In this blog, I will focus on how we can tap the full creative potential of the innovators and in the process, generate some very valuable PI and branding for the organization.

Innovation in today’s times has become extremely critical to the survival of any organization. There have been many articles and blogs previously written that emphasize on this, one such being, Entrepreneurs Answer the Question: 'Why Is Innovation Important' By Chad Brooks, Business News Daily Senior Writer. In this article he talks about the different types of innovation and how they are critical to the success of an organization.

The journey of an organization, transforming itself into a modern user-centric unit driven through adoption of innovation often proves to be quite complex. Many a times different teams within the organization approach innovation in their own unique and a random style. This mostly happens because innovation by nature is very erratic and refuses be controlled or standardized as controlling it can affect creativity which is key to innovation. However, it helps if there are certain practices that are adopted and driven within an organization to control the chaos. By adopting these practices, teams can channel their energy and focus on driving innovation in a much more effective manner. They are no more distracted by the peripheral activities surrounding innovation programs like deciding on the format of ideation/brainstorming sessions driving innovation, capturing the generated ideas effectively and most importantly, reaping the value out of the ideas that have been flowing in.

The teachings of Design Thinking can prove to be extremely beneficial in driving innovation for an organization. Adopting the concepts of Design Thinking is a certain practice known as ‘Idea/Patent Harvesting’. While there might be many formats for this session practiced by different organizations, in this write-up, I would like to share what I believe worked for my team and my organization.

An Idea Harvesting session promotes conducting closed room theme based ideation sessions. A group of people, no more than 7-8 in number, often belonging to different functional backgrounds but having some relevance to the theme participate in this session. A facilitator also forms a key part of this program and is expected to keep the discussions flowing freely. He/she may or may not be part of the core ideation group. In the sessions I have facilitated, I have participated in the ideation as well as I often felt I had something to contribute. The nature of these sessions is such that it encourages everyone present in the room to pitch in with the ideas that surface in their minds.

The session usually is set for 2.5 hours and is divided into four parts as mentioned below in the order of its occurrence,

  • Kickoff

  • Brainstorming

  • Filtering

  • Identifying owners

The above mentioned phases can be explained as follows,

Kickoff: This piece was a minor improvisation that I had brought to the original format which helps level set the field of play and gets the participants ready for action. Kickoff involves declaring the theme for the day, identifying a volunteer among the group to capture the ideas preferably on a white board and a five to seven-minute learning session where the facilitator brisk explains the format for the overall session and sets some rules on the table.

The rules to be followed during the session are as follows,

  • During the brainstorming activity, no one can judge others idea negatively and can in no circumstances find faults in any ideas brought to the table

  • If you are in the room, participate and let others participate. What this means is, do not hold back your thoughts or think you do not belong in the room. Come with an open mind and participate actively. On the other hand, be courteous to others and do not speak over others and give others opportunity to talk.

  • Ranks do not matter in the room. We have successfully conducted sessions where both senior leadership members of the organization have participated along with new hires from schools and all personas of employees have participated in an equal manner.

Brainstorming: This piece is the most interesting and time consuming of the entire session which is usually conducted for somewhere between sixty to ninety minutes. Based on the theme set for the day, ideas are expected to be shared by all. The volunteer is expected to capture any idea that is brought forth without skipping any. Quantity takes precedence over quality during this activity. The role of the facilitator is very critical during this activity as the flow of the session is determined by how the session is being navigated. In the sessions I have been involved in, mostly this activity generates 15-25 ideas overall. This number may however vary based on the theme and the participants.

Filtering: Once the ideas are captured, the most difficult phase of the program starts which is filtering. Here is where, the value of the ideas needs to be evaluated and the ideas are categorised based on three attributes,

  1. Novel

  2. Obvious

  3. Useful

If an idea carries all three attributes then it is shortlisted. If there is an idea which has at least two of these attributes, it still is captured. The rest are mostly dropped. In this phase, you often see that multiple ideas are grouped as one because there is an overlap. Generally, the count of ideas surviving this round has generally been somewhere between 3-6 in my experience.

Identifying owners: This perhaps is the shortest and easiest part of the day. As a part of this phase, an owner is identified for all the filtered ideas. Most of the times, the ownership is taken by the person who had brought the core part of the idea to the table. This works because that same person happens to be the most passionate about the idea and wants to take it to fruition. The job of the owners can be whatever was predecided as the motive of the session.

The Idea harvesting sessions can be conducted in order to generate patents for the organization or for creating backlog for teams or for any other purpose. The owners of the ideas are expected to follow whatever is the procedure within the organization to deliver the end result.

The ability of the owners to conduct the post harvesting session effectively, most of the times caps the value of the entire event although just the act of many innovative minds coming together to ideate in itself is often the biggest value that is realized.


Scoping of an invention harvesting exercise is crucial to maximizing the likelihood of success. Focus your attention on,

  • Objectives of the session

  • The state of the art in the relevant industry or industry segment

  • Level of competition and degree of IP sophistication in the industry

  • Who should attend and who should facilitate

  • Session format, duration, and location

  • Personas of participants and how they likely will interact with each other and the facilitator

  • The culture of the team and team members’ past experiences with invention harvesting

  • Available budget

  • Coordination of schedules

  • Competing project commitments

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