Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

When I work with large organizations, they have sophisticated tools and processes for managing their innovation pipeline.  Well, at least some do.

But how do YOU manage YOUR innovation pipeline?  OK, for simplicity sake, you can just call it your “to-do” list.

I have so many different projects and ideas that I am working on at any given time that it is often hard to keep track of everything.  I find most traditional time management processes and software a bit limiting.  Some are just too rigid.  Others don’t depict projects and tasks in a way that my mind can process them properly.  And some tools are just not to my liking.

I have been asking around to see what other people use.  The responses have been interesting.  Most people still use paper and pencil, creating linear lists.  Some use web-based list-driven applications.  But I dislike these because I want quick access even when I am off-line.  There are quite a few to-do list management applications out there.  But again, most are list driven, with the fancier ones using hierarchical trees.  And some are so complicated only an engineer with a PhD could figure them out.

I am admittedly a bit disorganized.  Creative-types tend to be that way (for a variety of reasons that I won’t bother going into here).  Every time I play Personality Poker, I am always attracted to the “2 of diamonds” – the “scattered” card.  Fortunately I work with some great people who are “clubs” (the organizers).

And although I am “Goal-Free,” this does not mean I am structure-free.  I still need structure.  It just needs to be flexible enough so it can adapt as I “meander with purpose.”

Here’s how I manage MY innovation pipeline:  I use mind mapping software.  If you click on the graphic above, you’ll see a scaled down, simplified, and sanitized version of the one I use.  You will notice a few things:

  • Because I run a business, I tie nearly everything back to the four core processes of any business – Develop Products and Services, Fulfill Demand Generate Demand, and Plan & Manage the Enterprise.  If you run a business, you have these same processes.
  • Innovation happens everywhere, not just within Develop Products and Services.  I constantly scan all of the process to make sure I am doing a proper balance of work within each, and that I am innovating throughout my business.
  • I do have a catch-all bucket for “miscellaneous opportunities” that don’t yet fit neatly into a process.  Within that bucket I have a “could do” list which is VERY long and is a bunch of ideas I have that are not ready for prime time for a variety of reasons. I even have a list of things I should “stop doing.”
  • Any trees with a (+) indicates there is more detail in one or more sub-trees.  This allows me to organize my thoughts in any way I want, to whatever level of detail I want.  In the branches I also link to Word documents, websites, and other materials.  This enables me to keep all of my resources for a projects in one place.
  • Tasks that I need to work on now all have start and/or end dates.  The software automatically synchronizes these with my task list in Outlook.  This is nice because it keeps my “to-do” small and focused.

The process is far from perfect, but it works for me.  The software allows me to easily move projects and tasks around.  Mind Mapping is perfect for creative thinking and helps me generate and capture new ideas quickly.

What do you use to manage your innovation pipeline or to-do list?  What is the process?  What is the technology?  What has worked?  And what has not worked?  All suggestions are welcome…and appreciated.

P.S.  I just bought “Getting Things Done.”  I am told that this is the bible of time management.  I’m curious to see how this fits with my philosophies.

P.P.S.  I just received an email from someone who had a great suggestion: add a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) for the inspirational part.

  1. Hi Steve

    I love that… “manage your innovation pipeline”. I’ve spent about two years trying to find a TO-DO list system that works, and have flirted with GTD for some time. I never realised that this was “managing my innovation pipeline”, sounds so much more important!

    As a creative engineering type person too, I can totally relate to the problem with having goals and being organised. One of the things that’s been on my to do list ever since I had one is “write goals”. Still haven’t done it for some reason I can’t fathom. I just don’t want to I guess. However having said that I recently read an article by Mark Forster which describes a neat way to work out what you really want out of life.

    What you do is once a day for about ten days write ten answers to the statement: “Something I really want out of life is…” It doesn’t really matter what you write as you’re going to do it again tomorrow anyway. Don’t look at any of the answers until you get to the end of the tenth day. You may then be really surprised what patterns you find, and how much some answers vary and which one’s don’t. And the great thing is, this is a good fun creative type game to do that gives you really serious answers and maybe even reveal your BHAG.

    By the way I found out about Mark Forster after I had been struggling to try and implement GTD. The trouble with GTD is it’s a bit overwhelming… by the time you record everything you ever think about doing, the lists become massive and hard to manage. Ok for the hugely organised amongst us, but being organisationally challenged I really struggled to stay motivated to keep attending to these endless ever expanding lists, I was getting stuff done, but the lists never got any shorter!

    Then I stumbled on Mark Forsters book “Do it Tomorrow” which is definitely worth reading as it simplifies a lot of day to day activity into simple rules, without the massive organisational overhead of a GTD style system. And the best thing is the main aim is to end each day with a sense of completion. Ahhhhhh…. guilt free beer.

    Hope this is of help. Interesting site and thanks for the post. I like the mind map!


  2. Thanks for this Andrew. I will check our Mark’s book. I am finding GTD a bit more complicated and rigid than I would like. Some nice concepts. But the book you recommend sounds a bit more like my style. Steve

  3. Hi Stephen,

    Just read your article on mind mapping, and formalising my mind is exactly what I need right now. However, there appears to be a lot products available. The one you mention in the article seems quite good (eg – integrates with outlook). Could you please let me know which software product you use?


  4. Hi Ben,

    I use Mind Manager. It is a bit pricy, but it is very robust. It would be an expensive time management tool if that is all you want to use it for. There are many inexpensive and even free (open source) mind mapping tools out there. I’m not sure which have the Outlook integration though.

    Chuck Frey at innovationtools.com has written a lot on mind mapping software. You may want to check there.



  5. Hi Steve – I’ve used mind mapping software for the longest time, but found that things got a bit hairy when the screen real estate runs out. Same thing with another software I used before, The Brain You end up with too many links to too many maps and thoughts.

    Recently, I’ve been using Topicscapes. It’s a clever tool that uses the idea of a 3D landscape with cone-like objects as topics to develop ideas and helps organise material from the web and your PC. Scoop up files, calendar, contact items lying on your PC into meaningful topics that can relate to other topics. You can “fly” above and around your topics, zooming into your topics of your choosing and working on them as you please.

    The great result from all of this is the ability to view all your ideas in one place with meaningful relationships.

    There is a learning curve, though, as you use keyboard and/or mouse control to fly and zoom, but it really does become addictive once you have reached a certain level of comfort with it. I’ve never liked my Projects, Todo lists, ideas/thoughts, reference material as much as I do now with my colorful cones.

    I have no affiliations with the developers, just a very satisfied user. Perhaps you might want to give it a whirl and see how it works for u.

    Thanks for the excellent articles, I do enjoy reading them.

    • Stephen Shapiro says:

      Thanks for chiming in. Fortunately there are so many different approaches that suit people based on their needs. Mine tends to be less structured and more “meandering.” That works for me, but may not for others. Thanks again!

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