Once a good process to handle ideas has been set up, the next step is to think about how to focus employees on problems or opportunities of real importance. One might expect a narrower focus for ideas to lead to fewer of them. But the opposite is true. Alerting employees to problems or opportunities they may not have been paying attention to actually helps them come up with more ideas. When managers learn how to aim ideas at specific targets, they gain a powerful weapon.

When ideas are needed on a specific topic, the most straightforward thing to do is to ask for them. This conceptually simple tactic can be extremely powerful. The challenge is to identify the right issue, and to define it in a way that ...

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