Discovering the Next Big Idea

Howard Rasheed, Ph.D., the founder of the Wilmington, North Carolina-based Institute for Innovation Inc. believes in focusing on the big picture.

“If you consider what the potential value of the next big idea could be, leaving innovation to be random and serendipitous is not what industry leaders should do,” says Rasheed, an innovation strategist who holds a philosophy doctorate in strategic, international, and entrepreneurial management as well as an M.B.A. in entrepreneurial studies.

The Management Center for Strategic Studies, a government entity in the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology (Centro de Gestão e Estudos Estratégicos, or CGEE) sought Rasheed’s help to stimulate economic growth by financing small and medium-sized businesses involved in solar technology. The challenge was determining how and where they should distribute investments to ensure a profitable outcome, a process requiring input from a number of experts in government, education, and the energy sector.

Using the Idea Accelerator (, a web-based idea management software application he co-invented with his son, Hassan, Rasheed helped rescue the Brazilians from losing valuable time and money. Some 50 specialists came together with fragments of ideas they wanted to recommend as public policy, says Elyas Medeiros, coordinator of studies at the CGEE. But after only three short days of working with the IA software, all the specialists were able to collaborate on a comprehensive, conclusive report and identify 10 fully formed, concrete ideas. “Without the IA we would have worked in a conventional manner that would take more resources to get to consensus and valid propositions,” says Medeiros.

In the life cycle of any organization–whether it is a multilevel government or a family-run small business–time must be allocated to plan for the future. Executives engage in exercises in which they hire focus groups, poll customers, or commission studies. With all this data, how can organizations shape initiatives compatible with corporate goals as well as hit revenue targets? Idea management software gives organizations or individuals a systematic approach to the innovation, planning, and ideation that can lead to creating new products, developing clear strategies, and maximizing technology. Rasheed’s IA software is based on bisociative brainstorming, a patent-pending process theorizing that focused attention on visual cues can stimulate the mind to see the convergence of trends, predictions, and scenarios. “If this technology trend and this economic trend happen at the same time, then what are the possibilities for the future,” asks Rasheed, an associate professor of business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Rasheed’s IA process is adaptable to any project requiring group collaboration. Clients can access it as a subscription (software as a service, or SaaS), which includes a minimum of five seats at $50 per seat per month, or as a site license. Clients also pay based on their use of dynamic trends that Rasheed has already uploaded to the database.

Rasheed walked Brazilian officials through his seven-step collective intelligence process and helped the CGEE calculate what parts of the solar industry required the greatest level of concentration and initiatives needed to encourage new business growth within the sector. The agency is now planning to use the IA software to identify opportunities for Brazilian agriculture in worldwide markets.