Author Archives: Beniyam Kebede

Be the Ken Burns of your Innovation Movie and Other Innovation Advice

innovation movieAs I was trying to decide on a topic for my third submission in the IdeaScale employee blog series, I kept getting these little nuggets of ideas that could possibly be flushed out into a separate blog posts on their own. I had a decision to make: pick one topic or just try to incorporate most of these nuggets into one post and of course I went with the latter option to see how much punch I can pack in one post.

In this post, I’ll try to address a handful of tips that could hopefully give new or even seasoned innovation managers a fresh perspective on how to optimize engagement. I’ll do my best to not let this get out of hand like a Buzzfeed style listicle full of memes and gifs but I’m sure it’d probably get more clicks if it were titled “10 innovation hacks your company needs. I’m guessing I’m not the only who’s had enough of seeing every low level MacGyver move be labeled a ‘life-hack’ but I digress…

Innovation managers could have a considerable influence on the success or failure of a campaign depending on how they approach their role. Here are some examples of what to consider when planning a campaign.

1) Address pent up needs:

If your organization is using IdeaScale (or any innovation management tool for the first time), it’s important to make sure to give your users opportunity to submit any low hanging fruit ideas that can be addressed before they start sharing ideas on high-level innovation initiatives.

A health care provider client that I have managed in the past had a perfect demonstration of this when they first started using IdeaScale. They piloted it by deploying a time-limited campaign to six thousand employees in their IT department and the campaign was titled Simpler, Smarter, Faster which addressed any hindrances that were getting in the way of employees’ productivity. Not surprisingly, the campaign had one of the best response rates I had ever seen because there was so much pent up need and the employees finally had an outlet for their needs to help them be more productive at work.

This allowed my customer to gather several great process improvement ideas while the crowd gets ready for higher level innovation ideas that go beyond just addressing workplace efficiency needs. Had my client not done the Simpler, Smarter, Faster campaign first, the employees could have become skeptical of any high level innovation initiatives since it would be difficult to take seriously any request for more meaningful ideas if some basic process improvement needs are not even yet addressed.

2) Find a Doorbuster Topic:

We’ve all seen the ads for Black Friday deals with insanely discounted flat screen TVs or the trendy gadget of the season. Although not everyone who lines up to get those deals ends up scoring one since the stores always have very limited number of the discounted items because the purpose of those doorbuster deals are to get customers through the doors in the hope that they will spend money on other full priced items.

I believe launching a campaign and achieving high levels of engagement can also follow the same concept of figuring out an effective way to bring the crowds through the doors and getting them to stick around and/or keep returning. When possible, find campaign topics that address hot issues that may have been a pain point for most of your participants and use those to lead with. Once on the platform, the natural tendency of users is to keep browsing for other topics that may be of interest to them and this will improve the amount of exposure your other campaign topics will receive over all.

The same health care client I used as an example above employed this concept beautiful by eliciting submissions that were widely shared by majority of the participants. The number one voted idea garnered over 1500 votes (out of roughly six thousand total participants) and it was asking for the organization to upgrade its enterprise email application from one provided by one of the legacy software outfits to something more compatible and nimble. Apparently, a size-able number of the employees detested that particular email application with a passion and most had discussed it amongst their small circles but never realized how widespread that sentiment was until they were finally given a platform to express it. Driven by a common dislike of a certain email application, the users came in droves to also take part in the other campaigns and topics which is what we look for with the doorbuster strategy.

3) Be like Capoeira my friend:

Martial arts may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of innovation management but if we drill down to the basic reason why a company needs to innovate or why soldiers train in martial arts, it comes down to survival and readiness whether it’s for a fight of market share with a competitor or disarming a foe in a hand to hand combat.  

There are several types of Martial Arts; some emphasizing striking such as capoeira and taekwondo or the wrestling type ones like judo and jiu-jitsu. Unlike the in-your-face strikes in kickboxing and Karate, I personally like Capoeira because it uniquely and seamlessly weaves dance, acrobatics and music to create this beautiful art form that would at times make you forget that it’s a type of combat. The origin story is also somewhat unique in that Brazilian slaves from Angola used capoeira to disguise the fact that they’re practicing combat by blending music and dance to make their Portuguese masters think it was some harmless ritual.

Innovation management is also vital for companies to stay competitive and agile but is not meant to alarm participants into thinking their company is going to be the next Kodak or Blockbuster. Although the survival aspect of the need for innovation will always be at the core, blending it into one’s company culture as something fun and a point of pride will nurture it to be interwoven in the fabric of a company’s identity.

4) Be The Ken Burns of Innovation Management:

Most casual moviegoers can probably list their favorite directors in fictional genres but most would be hard pressed to name any famous documentary movie makers except for Ken Burns whose name has become synonymous with the genre in the last three decades. His works have  become so iconic that even Apple borrowed one of his signature techniques of panning across a photo and slowly zooming in the main subject which named it ‘The Ken Burns’ effect in iPhoto, iMovie and Final Cut Pro.  He took a genre that had limited interest amongst the wider film audience and helped modernize and popularize it.

As an Innovation Manager, it does take some deliberate effort and planning to maintain a level of engagement on a consistent basis especially after the initial excitement of collaborating on a new platform has worn off a bit. We highly encourage Innovation managers to think outside the box and come up with novel ways to keep things fresh and maintain interest whether it is by running fun campaigns on the side such as photo contest to show company spirit etc.

Hope I didn’t bore you with these loosely related nuggets of wisdom, but innovation does require setting aside conventions and traditions while being willing to examine your needs through different lenses. However, to be a successful innovation manager, one has to identify any barriers first and plan to address those first before reaching for higher goals. Oh, in case you’re wondering whether or not the client in my example above addressed the email issue, I’m happy to report that within a year after the campaign, the client was able to upgrade all it’s twenty thousand employees to a new service and phase out the old service that had caused their employees so much anguish.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Beni Kebede, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale

The United Nations of Innovation

diversity as the key to successDiversity as the key to success 

Despite the recent wave of nationalistic and protectionist sentiment that has swept our political landscape, having a diverse leadership that includes women, minorities, immigrants and members of the LGBT community is going to be a key for companies seeking to achieve high levels of growth. Research has shown that although it’s hard to quantify, companies that exercise two-dimensional diversity tend to innovate and perform better than companies that lack 2-D diversity.

When applied to leadership, inherent diversity which is defined by our biological traits and acquired diversity which involves traits gained from experience, can help break the homogeneity of the current decision making process and inject it with breadth of perspective that accounts for globalization, shifting demographics as well as unmet needs in under-leveraged markets.

Although businesses have made a concerted effort in recent years to address diversity, it’ll be some years before we see those efforts bear fruit especially in STEM related fields as well as at all levels of management and leadership. In the meantime, to address the gap in diverse voices, companies and even educational institutions can turn to applications like IdeaScale to hear a wider range of perspectives that may not necessarily be represented in the boardroom.

University of Michigan is one great example of institutions striving for better diversity & inclusivity. Last October, the University introduced a five year strategic plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion after a 12 month process that also included collecting feedback via the Be Heard campaign launched on the IdeaScale platform complete with a video promo and full backing of the University president who launched the initiative.

As businesses navigate their path towards meaningful diversity, engaging their existing communities using an innovation solution software can help them address the concerns and opportunities they would otherwise miss.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Beni Kebede, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale

Innovation for Social Change: Empowering Global Citizens & Building New Business

innovation for social change

In 2014, I attended a Global Innovation Competition gala in Nairobi, Kenya hosted by Making All Voices Count; a social activism and government accountability platform incubated by Ushahidi. I met a number of young innovators from all over Africa and Asia working to resolve social issues that were not being adequately addressed by their local governments. It was also an opportunity to learn about other innovations that were solving issues that were unique to the developing world. One great example is M-pesa, a mobile phone based money transfer service that has allowed millions of users to securely exchange money for goods and services without the need to have a bank account or credit card. There’s also the SMS/text based mobile product authentication (MPA) being used by drug manufacturers to combat counterfeit medications in several African countries. Another application allows farmers access to market price for their crops so they can avoid being ripped off by middlemen that usually offer prices significantly below the market price.

As access to mobile technology is growing even in areas with no electricity and running water, it’s opening the door to the democratization of innovations that promote social change. However the glaring absence of investment by the world’s largest companies on such innovations could be a missed opportunity for their longterm growth.

There are three reasons why businesses should consider investing on innovation for social change initiatives in the developing world and emerging markets:

  1. Millions of people are entering the middle class every day with the global middle class expected to grow from 2 billion today to almost 5 billion by 2030. Most businesses that focus heavily on North American and European markets will miss out on getting an early foothold in global regions where the spending power is expected to rise with the creation of this large middle class mainly in the developing world and emerging markets.
  2. Companies that do not innovate will eventually die but those that branch out could live for another day. 88% of the fortune 500 companies in the last half century no longer exist mainly because of stiff competition or the inability to innovate fast enough. Globalization and technology is helping more parts of the world emerge from poverty and the demand for products and services will only increase in those regions which gives businesses a better shot at surviving the competitive squeeze.
  3. Businesses that get into a new market early tend to build trust and brand loyalty than those that arrive late. Direct investment in various innovations promoting social change or indirect funding of other organizations dedicated to social change can be a great way for companies to make their mark in the developing world as a longterm strategy to build trust and loyalty.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Beniyam Kebede, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale.