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Is There Such a Thing As a Bad Idea in Innovation?

Is there ever such a thing as a truly bad idea?

Does anybody really believe that there are no bad ideas? After all, the Darwin Awards feature, for example, a thief who thinks nothing of resting a metal ladder on power cables before attaching jumper cables to them to try and restore power to his house: Don’t worry, he survived somehow. But at the same time, we live a world with molecular air filters and microbicidal paint, as the Edison Awards show us.

On a practical level with innovation, the issue isn’t the quality of the ideas, but the perspective on them. No employee is deliberately bringing you bad ideas, perhaps just ideas with a flawed perspective.

Bad Ideas Are A Matter Of Perspective

To understand this, we might look at Google as an innovator because it is. The company has driven everything from internet advertising to wider smartphone adoption. That makes its failures all the more fascinating, and no failure is more interesting than Google Glass.

Glass, on paper, was an interesting idea. The device linked with your phone and offered a second screen right in front of your eye. The problem was the execution. Anybody could reel off a dozen brilliant ways for everyone from factory workers to emergency responders to make use of Glass. But Google wanted it to be a consumer product. They were convinced a $1,500 screen you put on your face would be the next hot trendy tech item and spent millions trying to make it happen. It failed miserably.

Glass has returned to being a good idea for industrial work. Glass didn’t fail because of the technology, but the perspective and execution. This is where ideas often go bad: not in the conception, but the implementation.

You’ll find this happens again and again. A brilliant idea is rejected, or a bad idea is embraced all because of how a company or person views the world. So how do we maintain a more perceptive perspective?

The choice is yours!

A Better Perspective On Innovation

First, let’s dispose of “bad ideas” as a concept. It’s unlikely your employees will be so lacking in perspective they’ll present you with, say, a hat with a roll of toilet paper on it when you ask for ideas about stopping hay fever. What we can do is address perspective on ideas, and how we view them.

We need to step away from our fear of uncertainty. Even good ideas have an inherent edge of uncertainty about them and we have a biological bias against anything uncertain, be it real or imagined. We need to set that bias aside when approaching ideas and judging whether they will work. Try to look at the idea purely from the perspective of “Does this solve the problem?”

Most ideas, even those that are good or even great, need refining. For example, with the idea as it stands, ask yourself, “Would our customers make use of this? Is this what they’ve been asking for?” Consider what it would take to implement the idea. What challenges have to be overcome to implement the idea, and are these challenges worth overcoming on their own merit?

Remember that all some ideas need is time. Always consider refining rather than rejecting. Let ideas grow. Some just need time to fully ripen.

Need a better view on innovation, or a stronger innovation strategy? Create an IdeaScale community

Do You Know How to Identify and Nurture Innovation Talent?

Nurture Innovation TalentMany companies today are experiencing an accelerated pace of change. As the world around us changes, how do successful companies drive change internally? After all, most of your workforce was probably hired for their functional skills, such as sales, accounting or production. Now we find that a new set of skills is necessary, and many companies aren’t sure how to identify and cultivate these skills.

Here are some common approaches to this problem:

Look for Creative Employees Creativity is most definitely a component of innovation, but only one component. It turns out there are seven other skills that drive innovation business results. Mistaking creativity for innovation has two consequences:

  1. When we overly glorify creativity, we minimize the importance of the other seven skills in the innovation process.
  2. We may over-look employees with the other equally essential innovation skills, making innovation a very exclusive club indeed.

These consequences put innovation at greater risk of failure.

Try to Make Everyone Innovative On the other hand, there is a precious belief out there that we can all be innovative. In our observation, this belief can create a certain tension, a sense of dread, even anger, among those who are not wired for change.  One CINO reported that she was asked, “When is all of this innovation stuff going to be over?” We all have seen the way such resistors can sabotage innovation efforts. According to Swarm research, about half of humanity really prefers that things stay the same. Why not let them focus on maintaining the current business and continuous improvement? They will be much happier.

Assume Diverse Teams are Strong Teams In 30 years of research on innovation teams, a slight correlation was found between diversity and innovation team results. But not all diversity. Diverse functional skills do help teams develop holistic innovations and de-risk them from many perspectives. But a functionally diverse team with weak coverage of the 8 innovation skills will still struggle. These are the 8 instrinsic skills required for success in innovation.

Now companies have the tools to identify innovation talent in their workforce. We can identify incremental to disruptive talent and martial it where needed. We can drill down to the 8 skills correlated with business results, and the 26 sub-clusters to diagnose teams, and build a culture of innovation on data, not guesswork.

To learn more about identifying and nurturing innovation talent, download the infographic here.

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This is a guest post authored by Suzan Briganti, CEO and Founder of Swarm Vision. Suzan brings 25 years of experience in research, strategy and innovation. Suzan has patents pending in innovation software. She has grown Swarm Vision from a garage start-up to a trusted solution provider to global Fortune 500 clients. Suzan leads Swarm Vision with a focus on building great products and teams. Suzan has an MBA summa cum laude from Boston University and a design degree from Italy.

Customers We Love

Customers We Love

One of the best things about working at IdeaScale is the variety of customers, use cases, and success stories that you hear about. But recently, our work with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation reminded us of some of our favorite types of customers. Here are some of the reasons that CEC embodies these qualities.

Socially-Responsible. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation fosters conservation, protection and enhancement of the North American environment for the benefit of present and future generations. We feel really gratified when customers care about making the world a better place. That’s why we’ve loved working with customers like the Department of Energy’s Sunshot initiative and the DREAMS Challenge.

Creative. CEC didn’t limit their outreach to the standard playbook. In addition to press releases, videos, emails, and social media promotion, they also placed phone calls to universities and innovation hubs to garner interest. That’s why we’re excited by companies that find new ways to connect, evaluate, and nurture great ideas.

Forward Thinking. The winners of the CEC innovation challenge had some truly novel ideas like using food waste to create high protein foods and convert plastic into sustainable concrete. Without idea management solutions, these ideas sometimes go unsaid and undiscovered and they make the team at IdeaScale truly excited when those dreams get realized.

Great Networkers. There were multiple opportunities to connect with the CEC challenge, including an in-person mentoring part of the process.  Teams that combine online and offline connection generally have the richest sets of results. That’s why Scentsy always invites engagement at their annual event and Dick’s Sporting Goods had an in-person component as part of their launch.

Don’t get me wrong: we love all our customers and most of them are great at all these things. But it’s really awesome to see one story encapsulate some of those values that define our work.

To learn more about the CEC Youth Innovation Challenge, download the case study here.

Incremental or Radical Innovation?

Are you inside or outside the box? Why not both at once?

Is incremental or disruptive innovation better? That’s a tough question to answer. It depends on where your business is and what you want to archive. In your approach to innovation, you should weigh them both.

What Is Disruptive Innovation?

“Disruptive” boils down to a drastic shift in how your business or your entire industry changes. Think, for example, of how the Toyota Prius suddenly changed how we talked about ecology, or how Amazon is changing retail as you read this. It gives one company an enormous advantage.

That said, disruptive innovation is a gamble. Companies can spend decades and billions of dollars chasing a moonshot that never comes together. Google Glass is a case in point. Google conceived Glass as an attempt to shift the smartphone from our hands and pockets to our faces. However, as a consumer product, people couldn’t find a reason to own a pair. Google had to quietly wind down the consumer version of Glass before relaunching it as an industrial product.

What Is Incremental Innovation?

Instead of an industry-changing innovation, with incremental innovation, you step your product or company forward with a new idea that fits with what you’ve done before. Compare, for example, the changes between models of smartphone. The smartphone itself was disruptive, but the upgrades and shifts from year-to-year are incremental. It’s more about maintaining competitive parity than gaining competitive advantage.

The problem with incremental innovation is that it feels safe and means you can be blindsided by disruptions. Automakers dismissed the electric vehicle for decades as unprofitable and unwanted until Tesla showed up and put them behind in a field where they desperately need to be competitive.

Sometimes you have to go against the current.

Which Works For You?

We’d all like to have an industry-defining moment that catapults our company to the forefront. Surely, we should work towards that, but that doesn’t mean incremental innovation should, or can, be ignored. Your company must always be innovating. It’s simply a question of where the balance lies.

Keep in mind, disruptive innovation is rarely the lightning bolt from the blue it is portrayed as. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the DVD seemed brilliant, but it was really the culmination of seventy years of experiments and failed products, from Laserdisc to the Phonovision. It took years of incremental innovation across a dozen fields for the DVD to exist and become commercially viable.

Incremental innovation is necessary and, often, can make a difference. If customers have been asking for a feature, you should build it. It’s just good business. But it can also be a source of timidity, especially if you watch others take a swing and miss.

The trick is to balance long-term and short term goals. Consider what incremental innovations your customers and industry are leaning towards and ask yourself how you can step beyond it. Ask for ambitious ideas and run pilots or test-runs of them. With every innovation or failure, large or small, analyze them closely for lessons learned and opportunities they’ve created.

Innovation begets innovation. Sometimes, a bolt from the blue can appear when you least expect it. Ready to innovate? Contact us.

Crowdfunding Efforts in the Wake of Harvey, Irma, Maria and the Earthquake

Crowdsourcing covers a number of activities. It could be used to engage people in action like in micro-tasking as you do on Amazon’s MechanicalTurk. It could be used to share knowledge as you do on Quora or Wikipedia. Obviously, you can collect ideas and collaborate on their development using a tool like IdeaScale, but crowdsourcing can also be used to gather funds from the public and when that happens, it’s called crowdfunding. Sort of like fundraising on a mass scale. And it’s become more and more common to see compassionate crowdfunding campaigns arise after a dramatic incident like some of the super storms that we’ve been seeing. Because after an event like this there are tons of problems to solve, here are just a few ways that crowdfunding has been used to help in disaster recovery.

After the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, some small business owners were able to start rebuilding their brands and businesses with the help of the crowd. They reached out to friends and family and that helped them recover their materials, open new stores, and get started again.

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, lots of neighborhoods turned to crowdfunding to help them replace materials that they lost in the storm: clothes, household goods, and damaged streets and basements. Of course, many who donated were friends and relations, but some were total strangers.

After the 2014 mudslides in Washington, crowdfunding was even used to help individuals recover the things they had lost, with donations totaling more than $300,000 in just four weeks.

Luckily, IdeaScale also partners with the United Way and we’re proud to promote their efforts to contribute to the recovery following Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the earthquake. They have separate funds for each of the disasters, but IdeaScale decided to donate to each of them as we have clients in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, Mexico and we wanted to find a way to help all of them even from afar and now we want to take the opportunity to invite you to join us and do the same. The United Way is actively responding to each of the different incidents and is looking for both short and long-term assistance. Thanks for doing that work! And thanks for giving us the opportunity to support our customer family everywhere.

A Look Back at the Innovation Management Awards

The Innovation Management Awards are in their fifth year and we thought it would be good chance to look back at all the past winners as we prepare to receive submissions from around the world in this year’s competition. We’ve honored a variety of organizations and companies in the past and we hope that we have just as much to learn this year. Learn more about any of these stories (2013 – 2016) by following the links in their summaries:

2013:

The Cerebral Palsy Alliance
A contest that resulted in one of the world’s first solar-powered wheelchairs.

Marriott Vacations Worldwide
Incremental savings that makes a huge difference to the bottom line.

State of Minnesota
Streamlining IT operations statewide.

University of North Carolina, Wilmington
Improving the University’s “Innovation Quotient.”

Yale University
Empowering staff to shape the future of the ITS organization.

2014:

Department of Energy
Finding the 5 Solar IT Start-Ups You Need to Know

Department of Labor
Identifying employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Scentsy
Finding the top-selling product of all time.

2015:

Innovate Your State
Crowdsourcing a winning ballot measure!

Ushahidi
Connecting citizens in the global south to their governments.

Western Australia Police
Saving millions of dollars and thousands of man hours!

2016:

City of Calgary
Engaging city-wide employees in an online dialogue for city improvements.

JUMP
Taking Ten New Technologies to Market

National Cancer Institute
Identify the top ten recommendations to help complete a decade’s worth of research in five years!

This is just a taste of what innovation management award winners can accomplish. They also have some great ideas about how to meet these innovation goals. Who will the winners be in 2017? Nominate your IdeaScale community for a chance to win one of several great prizes. Deadline is November 10th.

Breakthrough Innovation or Disruptive Innovation?

A breakthrough can be an even bigger deal than a disruption.

Aren’t breakthrough innovation and disruptive innovation the same thing? It’s a common question when building innovation strategy. After all, the car, the telephone, the smartphone, the electric car, the solar panel, weren’t these all breakthroughs that were also disruptive? In a sense, yes. But it’s the context of the innovation that’s important.

What Is Breakthrough Innovation?

Breakthrough innovation is defined as an innovation from inside a company that pushes something to the next level. It is innovation that opens the company to new markets or changes the way customers interact with the market or the industry.

Zipcar is a good example of the breakthrough innovation. At its roots, Zipcar operates like any other car rental company. You book a car for a set amount of time and you return the car after you’re done. The breakthrough was to remove the centralized rental location and by placing Zipcars in neighborhoods and high-traffic areas, renting them via apps and websites, in-person and across counters. Zipcar made car rental easier and more accessible.

At the same time, Zipcar hasn’t caused the collapse of “traditional” car rental companies. Zipcar would be disruptive if Hertz, Enterprise, and other car rental agencies ceased to exist as they currently stand as a direct result of Zipcar’s innovation. Zipcar has shaken up the car rental model, but rental car companies as we know them aren’t going anywhere.

Breakthrough Innovation Or Disruptive Innovation?

Disruptive innovation and breakthrough innovation can overlap. The latter can become the former as the consequences unfold, like a rainstorm slowly filling a lake until it overflows. Amazon started as a humble bookseller with the breakthrough idea of making ordering books via mail simpler and easier, then slowly began reshaping the retail sector, a change that has accelerated over time to become disruptive.

Breakthrough is an inherent part of innovation strategy. Not so with disruption. Businesses must grow by finding new markets and improving what they offer and how they interact with their customers and clients. Often, close contact with customers and entertaining new ideas lead to breakthroughs.

Innovation is more than making a change. It’s making a difference.

It’s also worth remembering that “disruptive” innovation is often a process that builds over years or even decades, and often comes from an unmet need. In the ’90s, well before Elon Musk started building electric cars, General Motors built and sold the EV1, an electric car that was incredibly popular in California, but shut the entire program down and destroyed the cars for reasons economists and environmentalists are still debating. If GM had listened to its customers, Tesla might never have existed. As it is, Tesla’s success has overshadowed the fact that hybrid vehicles are so popular, hybrid supercars are coming to market, the effect of Toyota’s breakthrough Prius in 2000.

Disruptive innovation is always something to strive for, but breakthrough innovation can be just as stunning. So build your innovation strategy around both. Not everybody can invent the next iPhone, but if you open up new markets for your business and push your company forward striving to make it, it’ll be hard to argue that wasn’t effort well spent. Ready to supercharge your innovation strategy? Join the IdeaScale community.

3 Tactics that Make Innovation Management Easier

IdeaScale learns from all its best customers, but in our latest interview with Redwood Credit Union we learned three things that make innovation management easier:

  1. Pre-Populate Your Campaign. When RCU launched their first campaign that asked for ideas that would help improve the member experience, they seeded that campaign with ideas that they had received in the past. This made participation at the launch of the campaign less intimidating to community members since no one had to be the first person to make a suggestion. It also allowed the customer experience team to collect feedback on existing ideas right away.
  2. Attach Ideas to Existing Initiatives. In order to maximize the number of ideas that are implemented each year, the implementation team works first to find existing in-development programs and projects that align to promising ideas and attaches the idea to that project. Instead of having to find new resources and buy-in for those ideas, they were able to fast track their implementation by improving existing programs and working with existing resources.
  3. Reward for Impact and Participation. Redwood Credit Union has a culture that thrives on friendly competition and employee pride. Awards were given not just for the ideas that delivered the most impact (the voyager award) but also for the groups with the most engaged participants (the TME Award) and both were highly coveted by the program participants. And, there’s even research to suggest that rewarding for engagement not only increases participation but also improves overall idea quality.

By doing this, the team at Redwood Credit Union has engaged over 70% of their staff in improving their member’s customer experience and implemented 85 new ideas in their first year. Those ideas are helping to improve the overall customer experience and helping Redwood Credit Union maintain its reputation for providing “exceptional service to its members and to each other.”

To learn more about Redwood Credit Union’s idea management initiative, download the case study here.

Understanding the Source of Employee Innovation

Boredom is one of those facets of life that consistently amaze. How can any person be bored when there is so much around us that stimulates our intellect and inspires our awe? And why do we continuously and mindlessly scroll through television channels and facebook feeds instead of focusing our energy on creating something of beauty or value?

Boredom persists. In the workplace, we call this phenomenon, disengagement. All managers dread this and go to great lengths to improve engagement in the workplace. Whether it’s motivating staff, reaching customers, or simply having a conversation, employers want engaging interactions. They crave opinions and other forms of employee feedback, especially when those choice pieces of feedback help to directly further company goals.

The dilemma is, how do managers create engagement? Employees can’t be beaten with sticks (you can try but your HR team will likely frown upon it). You can’t yell at people to not be bored or to focus more.

No, the secret to employee engagement is curiosity and challenge. When people are challenged, their minds will naturally start formulating solutions. We call this, creativity. Marketing people call it, innovation. What follows are a few pieces of advice to encourage innovation (or creativity) from your employees.

Engagement Powers Activate!

Each day, we are flooded with information and stimuli. Take, for example, that little number in the corner of your inbox that numbers emails in the thousands or tens of thousands. Those are pieces of information that we have to analyze, prioritize and process. Our brains sort this information into two buckets — interesting and unworthy.

We actually have a dedicated neural network that manages this process which is called, The Reticular Activating System (RAS).  The RAS has two main functions; 1) highlighting relevant information in real time, and 2) stimulating pattern recognition to fuel innovative thinking.

In terms of our biology, the RAS monitors our shift between rest and wakefulness. Functionally, as it applies to how we communicate and perform throughout the day, the RAS determines whether we should tune stimuli out or tune them in.

Recognizing how the RAS functions provides an opportunity to improve engagement in the workplace. It can help us determine how we communicate and how often. Should we send someone thirty emails or have a ten minute conversation?

Are people falling asleep in meetings? If they look disengaged or bored, they are tuning you out. That means it’s time to change the content or format of your meeting. When people are engaged, they are attentive and responsive in meetings. They inspired to be more creative in their tasks and find new ways to accomplish their goals.

Reinforcing Engagement

Useful information activates the RAS to pay attention. When new or interesting information is in front of us, we focus. When that moment passes in a meeting, and we are told information that is irrelevant or that we already know, our RAS prompts us to disengage.

The best way to engage employees is to give them something that inspires curiosity. Being told a statement requires no thought on the part of the person to whom information is being conveyed. Being asked a question, though, prompts us to think about the answer.

The more questions we ask others, the more that they feel engaged – and that engagement persists over time as long as the questions remain pertinent. A question becomes part of our subconscious, and as time goes on, we are drawn to information that relates to what we were asked.

Leading Staff to Innovate

People managers can use the Reticular Activating Systems of their employees to engage staff in positive directions for the company. But do people always view the company’s success as their own success? How can you keep your staff focused and have them care about outcomes?

One way is to engage your staff by enrolling them in creating their own personal quarterly objectives that are tied to the quarterly objectives of the team and the company.

Another way to engage your staff is to move them away from a focus on individual success and towards a focus on success for the team. You can ask them what can be done to improve a situation and encourage them to crowdsource ideas from the rest of the staff. People who are challenged and curious and who are working towards a collective goal are more likely to innovate, instead of just passively doing their jobs.

Finally, let them know that their ideas have value through consistent recognition and reward.

Companies can provide personal incentives (a bonus or recognition of a job well done) to motivate individual participation. Employees learn that contributing to the company’s success will produce personal success for them as well.

Low employee engagement continues to baffle Human Resource professionals, middle managers, and company leaders the world over. But the solution is really not that complicated. Pay attention to employees and notice when they tune out and when they tune in. Then ask questions to keep them curious and challenge them so that their natural propensity towards innovation remains activated.

This blog is a guest post by David Mizne, Content Strategist of 15five

What is an Idea Worth?

The world of ideas is vast, but what’s their value?

What’s the value of an idea? What makes an idea truly valuable? It’s a more practical answer than you might think.

What’s An Idea Worth?

There is an old adage that there’s nothing new under the sun and it is, to some degree, true. We’ve all heard about the man who invented both the iPod and iTunes in the 1970s or how science fiction authors like Jules Verne or H.G. Wells correctly predicted aerial warfare or the moon landing. But it wasn’t the supposed inventor of the iPod who changed music, it was Apple, and Verne didn’t even live to see his prediction of the moon landing come true. So what does that tell us about the value of ideas?

It says an idea is only as valuable as your ability to execute it. The moon landing, in fact, is an excellent example: Verne predicted we’d land on the moon, that we’d launch from Florida, and that gravitational force would be a key point of concern. What fans often forget is what Verne got wrong, which was nearly everything else. His mechanism was essentially a giant gun, fired upward, which fell victim to both economies of scale and the gravitational force issue. Verne also predicted that it would be cheap enough to be built privately (which it wasn’t) and that the engineering would be relatively simple. It was actually one of the most complex endeavors of engineering ever achieved by man.

What’s the value of an idea?

Ideas vs. Execution

One of the great enemies of innovation is an insistence that every idea is impractical, which simply isn’t true. But hidden inside that objection is a truth any innovation strategy needs to reconcile with, an honest, clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent to achieving the idea. For example, the 1970s iPod never became reality at the time simply because the technology at the time wasn’t able to deliver on the idea. Thirty years of shrinking microprocessors, improved data compression, and cheaper storage made it a reality.

Once you have a sense of the challenges, ask yourself how you can overcome them. For example, say an idea requires you to create new molds for a product, an expensive proposition. Can you, perhaps, 3D print the parts first, and test them to refine the idea before you buy the molds? If an idea requires complex data architecture, perhaps a solution has already been built and you can simply pick up a turnkey solution.

The most important point you can take away here is the flipside of “nothing new under the sun.” Think of it this way: Every idea has more value than we realize. The originality of the idea itself isn’t important. If somebody has had the same idea before, that doesn’t mean it should be discarded. Innovation starts with an idea, but the smart execution and careful planning are what make it brilliant. It took thirty years to deliver the iPod before the full value of the original idea was able to be realized

Ready to get started on your innovation strategy? Join our newsletter.