Idea Management - A Brief History

Digital idea management has experienced a significant growth in the past 5 years. Today, we are lucky enough to be able to use all the advantages of the the digital era. But how did an idea sharing process look just a few years back?

It’s important to know where you come from, and therefore, we have taken a look in the history books to learn more about the when and the what. This is the brief history of digital idea management.

What is idea management?

Idea management is a structured process of generating, discussing, organizing, developing and evaluating ideas, feedback or insights from internal and external stakeholders. The purpose of idea management is to take feedback and insights further into future products or product releases.

Today, there are several digital idea management platforms, such as Ideanote, that allow you to gather ideas, feedback and insights in a structured and intuitive way. But it wasn’t always as easy to share ideas with your coworkers and the decision-makers as it is now. Let’s take a walk through the past and see where it all begin.

A story about a suggestion box

The suggestion box has an early and somewhat short history. The first recorded implementation of the suggestion box dates back to 1770 in British Navy. It’s clear that employees, individuals and staff have always had ideas to share, but the way those ideas were handled led to the death of the suggestion box. A suggestion box works in a very passive paste where ideas are shared but not reviewed enough and definitely not acted upon. Furthermore, a suggestion box is not a structured way to collect ideas (far from it) which leads to a collective mess.

As great as the idea of a suggestion box is, some things are clearly missing. Firstly, the ideation process needs conversation and collaboration. The idea submitters simply need feedback. Once the submitters stop receiving feedback, they’ll stop submitting ideas. That is exactly what happened with the idea of a suggestion box. It became an outdated solution for idea sharing and companies wanting the ideas from their employees started looking for better ways to get them. If we’re talking years, 1995 was the year when the suggestion box started to slowly die.

In-house brainstorming sessions

Managing ideas isn’t easy, and coming up with good ideas is equally hard. Even today, companies around the world organize scheduled brainstorming sessions where employees are forced to come up with ideas and ways to implement them. Not particularly efficient, brainstorming sessions aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Firstly, some people have a problem expressing their opinion among their colleagues and their managers. Secondly, the idea generation process here is a bit messy and with limited feedback. There is specific time frame for the meeting and the discussion time is limited. Brainstorming sessions are often reserved for the decision makers, and therefore, not everyone gets a chance to share their ideas. Successful idea management asks for the variety of ideas and inputs to choose from.

Brainstorming sessions have never died and they’re still used on a daily basis in companies around the world. However, more and more companies interested in a more structured and efficient way, choose digital ways of brainstorming, either as a supplement to classic brainstorming or as a replacement.

The power of email

The first email was sent in 1971 but it did’t really serve its purpose until the 1990’s. Shortly after, email was used for business communication, as well as for idea management. Sounds messy, doesn’t it? Firstly, not every employee feels comfortable enough to just ship an email to their manager or a decision maker. Especially since email was never an official idea management tool. People hungry for a better solution used it as a fast and digital tool. When you think about it, email idea management doesn’t really make sense. You can share an idea by sending it via email but there is an 80% chance it will get forgotten or ignored. The receiver of the email simply cannot structure all the ideas received. It gets hard to compare and evaluate. It’s important to have all the ideas in one place if you want to manage them.

Just think about the amount of emails you receive every day. Your head is spinning already, right? Idea management via email was definitely a step into a brighter, digital future, but in itself, emails has never been ideal for idea management – at all.

Present and future: Digital idea management

Digital idea management had a rough start. Not everyone was so accepting of a digital solution, and not everyone wanted to put their ideas out there to an unknown space. Today, digital idea management is key when talking ideas, innovations and employee satisfaction.

Unlike the suggestion box, a digital idea management tool allows you to structure your ideas and share with many people – not only the decision makers. This is relevant for the feedback phase. The more people involved, the better the outcome. And the power of ideas only gets stronger in diverse environments.

In this day and age, all good things happen online (well, mostly). The suggestion box and the brainstorming sessions are now on your computer. Digital idea management allows you to manage your own time and share your ideas when you get them with whoever you think is relevant. At the same time, it’s easy for the people who you shared your ideas with to give you feedback in just a few clicks.

Benefits of digital idea management

Intuitiveness: The majority of people are active on at least one social media platform. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or all of them, people know how to handle these platforms. Digital idea management tools are usually built of similar components – because people love them. Therefore, the use of a digital idea management tool comes easy for anyone.

Engagement: With a digital idea management tool, you can involve anyone in your idea management process. Start off by inviting whoever is important for your idea to be evaluated. It’s on you to decide who you will share your idea with. Your coworkers will feel important and valuable and the feedback and support will drive more productivity.

Structure: First and foremost, if you want to manage ideas successfully, you need to know exactly what you are managing. Therefore, having all the ideas in one place, in front of you, is key. Forget about a million post-its, papers, and emails… They don’t come with structure and a result-driven process for idea management.


The idea management history is pretty brief. However, a lot has happened since the first ever idea was thrown into a physical (suggestion) box. Innovation is all about failures and improvements. So once all these options mentioned above failed, it was time to come up with an improved version. Today, we basically only need to add the word “digital” in front of it all.

The suggestion box is dead, but a digital suggestion box is more than alive. Brainstorming sessions can be messy and time-consuming, but the digital version will bring structure and value to most companies. What are you waiting for?

If you want to know more about the benefits of digital idea management, check out our article about 5 Idea Management Platform Benefits!

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