Owl Analysis: A Metaphor for a first round of analyzing ideas for innovation

Authored by Darin Eich, Ph. D., President, BrainReactions LLC

Owl Analysis

The increasing emphasis on the need to innovate is leading organizations and individuals to collect more ideas to start down the innovation pipeline. The increase of brainstorming sessions, idea submissions, and contests to fuel ideas for innovation are leaving individuals with significant lists of ideas. Many ask us where to start and what to do next with their idea lists. This calls for a story and a metaphor.

When I was in elementary school my class took a trip to small state park in Minnesota, Forestville. When one goes to Forestville it is natural to go into a forest, so that is what this group of 30 youngsters did. I remember the park ranger telling the kids that he would give a quarter to the first one that could find a grey ball in the forest. This was unusual to us, we had never heard of such a thing. But, we were up for the challenge and a quarter was a quarter and they had hard stick candy for only 10 cents at the old Forestville country store. As luck would have it I was the first to find this grey ball. I gave it to the ranger and he gave me the quarter. He then told us something amazing. He held up the grey ball in the woods and told us that it was once a mouse. I quickly looked at my hand and was grossed out. He then said that an owl will catch a mouse and eat the whole thing. The owl will digest all of the parts of the mouse that it needs and spit out what it doesn’t need in this grey ball of fur and bones called an owl pellet. Fascinating.

I traveled to San Diego in September for a conference for innovation professionals from a wide variety of corporations. One thing that was interesting to me was that these professionals and their organizations had large amounts of ideas, could get many ideas, but what was needed was a way to quickly screen these ideas. During my presentation I told the story of the owl and I suggest doing what the owl does to the mouse. Why not quickly take all of the ideas in, and then quickly only keep and devote energy to digesting those ideas that you need, are beneficial to you, and belong in you. These are the ideas that match your criteria and are for the reason why you gathered ideas in the first place. Everything else can be spat back out in a grey ball of fur and bones.

In my world of idea generating more is better. More ideas are better than less ideas. The nice thing about ideas is that they are short and can be quickly read and judged. I regularly review, analyze, and synthesize lists of over 700 ideas and make quick decisions on them. The first stage is an important one, your quick review and selection of ideas. Many ideas just get read over because they already exist, are way too far out, or are not aligned with what the organization is about. But there are a fair amount of ideas that get digested and developed from this long list. This is valuable. The key is to not get intimidated by so many ideas and to be process focused. Process focused means understanding that generating a lot of ideas is key to discovering something new or creating something innovative. So, consolidate all those ideas and start spitting out some grey balls. It is also quite good to have at least a couple of owls analyzing ideas. What you digest may be different than what someone else digests, and you may be spitting out something that is healthy.

When we work on our idea generation projects we have at least 2 formal owl analysts who digest everything and spit accordingly back into the idea list or bank them for future consideration. So, also important is to store all of the waste, those ideas that didn’t make the cut. You never know when they could come in handy later. So, begin the work of an owl with digesting your idea list!

Fur ball

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