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The 4 Dynamic Stages of Collaborative Innovation – Number 1: Idea Collection

You’ll collect a lot of ideas. How do you find the best?

Before you find gold, you find ore. Seemingly dull rocks are pulled from the ground and carefully refined until the gold inside them is brought out. And so it is with ideas, as well. In this series, we’ll explore how raw ideas are distilled into innovation. And, like any refining process, it all begins with the raw material.

Why Collect Ideas?

If you look closely at any innovation, it didn’t just drop, fully formed, from the mind of a brilliant innovator. It was a team process, involving anywhere from a handful of friends pitching into a vast scientific infrastructure cranking out prototypes and arguing over design. Innovation, throughout human history, has been a team process, and wise innovators bake that into their process.

Innovation often stems from different perspectives applied to the same approach, and some are surprised to learn those praised as innovators argue they’re nothing of the kind. Benoit Mandelbrot was one of the pioneers of complexity theory, the science and art of summing up complicated things with simple equations. We use it every day, and it’s opened up vast frontiers in almost every scientific discipline. Mandelbrot, though, told Arthur C. Clarke: “I never had the feeling that my imagination was rich enough to invent all those extraordinary things on discovering them. They were there, even though nobody had seen them before.”

So, in innovation, it’s not about being original as it is about seeing what’s there differently, and collecting perspectives is how you do it. But what are best practices for idea collection?

Best Practices In Idea Collection

Gather many perspectives for the best innovation.

First, you have to remember that this is collecting ore, not finding gold. So you should both encourage ideas to be submitted, no matter how wild or over-the-top, and remember that the ideas, as they arrive, may not be as practical as you’d hoped. Have an open mind and dismiss nothing out of hand.

Use tools like gamification, which rewards participants with points and badges, and auto-fill, which helps keep ideas from being duplicated, on your innovation platform for better efficiency. But don’t hesitate to offer comments on ideas so people can offer constructive criticism and modifications.

While this is happening, set some goals. What do you want to achieve with these ideas? Where do you want your innovation strategy to go? What will be your standards for evaluating ideas?

Don’t forget to promote your idea collecting. If somebody idly suggests something in a meeting, have them develop it and submit it to the platform. Ask your team to take a little time and consider what they’d most like to see. Ask team members closest to your users what suggestions they hear or features they’re requesting.

Finally, hold yourself to a high standard. Before you dismiss any idea, ask yourself why you’re doing so. Are there practical roadblocks? Financial ones? Have you really considered the idea fully? Is it just not right for your company, or is it just not right for your company at the moment?

Remember, this is just the first step in innovation strategy. Ready to start? Get the Innovation Starter Kit.

Idea Estimation and the Reporting Dashboard

Idea Estimation and ReportingFor those of you who have been utilizing crowdsourcing for awhile, you’ll be more than familiar with the story of the “Parable of the Ox.” About a century ago a scientist named Sir Francis Galton asked 800 people to guess the weight of the prize winning ox and although no one person’s answer was correct, when the answers of the entire crowd were averaged, they were accurate within half a pound (more accurate than the guess from the actual expert, too).

This type of scenario is one of the key reasons that IdeaScale created the estimate functionality within IdeaScale where it’s possible to invite anyone (from the full crowd to the experts) to guess the value or costs of an idea. That functionality just got even more powerful with the new reporting dashboard which reports on outcomes.

If you’re not already familiar with the feature enhancements offered by the new reporting dashboard, you can read about them here. But what I wanted to point out in particular was how our estimate stage now actually links to the reported outcomes within the reporting dashboard. Now, once you’ve demarcated selected and implemented ideas in your workflow, your outcomes dashboard will report on the estimated ROI of ideas (which means the estimated value/costs of the ideas in the selected or implemented phases). Now that we have this insight at the dashboard level, it allows administrators to report on the value of the total portfolio of ideas and not just on the potential values and costs of the particular ideas. Some IdeaScale customers have started building estimate into every campaign workflow so that they can start getting a sense of the collective value of the ideas at their company.

Want to see how this might work in action? Sign up for a demo of how to report on monetary outcomes when it comes to your ideas. 

 

 

You Have Observed and Thought. Now What?

Innovation, like anything, is built one stroke at a time.

When it comes to innovation, you’ve followed the example of Galileo and observed your industry. You’ve taken a cue from Edison and Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, and thought through your observations. So, what’s next? You build a team, execute a plan, and keep working it.

Planning In Innovation

Innovation is often a group effort. NASA is the most commonly discussed example. In 1961, former President Eisenhower discussed how “the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop [is being] overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields.” But this wasn’t seen as a negative as the US government rallied some of the best minds in some of the most pioneering disciplines, ranging from the mathematicians we saw in “Hidden Figures” to chemists on the fringe of materials science, to put a man in space, and then into orbit, and onto the moon.

But the truth is any major innovation is a group effort, and it takes iteration, something sailing fans know without realizing it. Any sailor, whether they’re on a yacht or commanding a giant tanker, has a copy of “The American Practical Navigator”, by Nathaniel Bowditch. First written in 1802, it’s often simply called a “Bowditch.” With a Bowditch, you can navigate using some of the most precise mathematical tables ever created.

But Bowditch built on another work, the New Practical Navigator, by John Moore. Moore worked incredibly hard on his book, and it was, for nearly thirty years, the standard. What Bowditch did was improve the math, reorganize the tables, and refine the book. Bowditch initially had no interest in rewriting someone else’s work, but as he became interested in celestial navigation, he began finding errors. Soon, he had a deal with the book’s American publisher, but that’s not where the story ends.

Innovation isn’t a solo act.

Bowditch became obsessed with what today we’d call “user experience.” In his own words, he wanted  “nothing in the book I can’t teach the crew.” He didn’t just fix the tables, he worked on the formulas and design of the book until it was simple and accessible to the point where the ship’s cook could use the text to find the ship’s location. And once he got back on land, he went back and refined it even further. Others have built on it since, making the Bowditch a living document of navigation. And it all rests on his work.

Bowditch’s book is no longer the primary method of navigation, but his work is so thorough, so accurate, so useful, that you’ll still find a Bowditch in every boat, marine store, and shipyard on the planet. So, what can you learn from Bowditch?

Innovation Never Ends

The most elemental lesson is that innovation takes repetition. Bowditch’s relentless calculating and recalculating, Edison’s thousands of prototype lightbulbs, and countless other stories of innovation point to innovation as an endless process.

Secondly, innovation takes a team. Few innovations happen with the spontaneous lightbulb. Even at the time, Eisenhower’s garage tinkerer was more myth than fact. The smartest innovators realize they don’t know everything, so they build a team that could.

When done right, innovation endures even when the world moves on. The lightbulb, the digital computer, and the Bowditch laid the foundation for greater innovation, but they’re all still here. And that’s what any innovator should aspire to. Ready to build great things? Join the IdeaScale community.

Defining Your Innovation Metrics

When people talk about the metrics that they use to measure the success of their innovation programs, they are often talking about two different things, both of which are very important when defining your innovation metrics:

  1. They are talking about their innovation capabilities (that is, how to assess the promise of ideas that they have in the pipeline, their ability to compete, where they need to allocate new resources to innovation).
  2. They are talking about their innovation results (that is, they’re talking about what sorts of return they have on their innovation investment. Did they see new growth or generate new efficiencies?)

Some people think that you should choose one or the other type of metric, but really you need to be watching both in order to predictably (and continuously) innovate. Here are a few examples of companies that measured their innovation inputs and outputs.

Example Inputs:

MSA is the global leader in the development, manufacture and supply of safety products that protect people and facility infrastructures. In order to find new opportunities for improvement, a team there launched [email protected]? (that is, “What To Fix” at MSA?). Was the engagement a success? Nearly 100% of participants contributed to the platform.

In 2009, the White House launched the SAVE awards, which asked for efficiency ideas that would save the government and tax payers money. The collected more than 100,000 ideas (they also were able to report on some outputs: millions of dollars of savings).

Example Outputs:

When Brian Stearns proposed a new product in his IdeaScale community, the new product line sold millions of units which generated millions of dollars in new revenue in its first year.

When Redwood Credit Union used IdeaScale to source ideas on how to improve the customer experience, they noted an overall improvement to their NPS score after some of those ideas were implemented.

Which innovation inputs and outputs are you tracking at your program? Download this infographic to learn more about innovation metrics. 

Crowdsourcing and Traffic

Crowdsourcing and trafficTomorrow is Thanksgiving which means that many of you are traveling to be home for the holidays. And if you are traveling that means that you’re trying to avoid something that no one enjoys: traffic! So we thought we’d look at some of our favorite crowdsourcing and traffic stories.

Personally, at IdeaScale we all talk about how excited we are for the age of self-driving cars. Once that innovation arrives, not only will it reduce the number of driving-related deaths and clear up traffic patterns, it will mean you can finally watch Netflix DURING your commute. In the meantime, however here are some of our favorite traffic-solving crowdsourcing projects:

Waze: Waze is still one of the most powerful navigation tools when it comes to traffic. Not only do you get the regular traffic data, it is augmented by the crowd who reports road hazards, the presence of police, potential slowdowns, and more. They’ve even gamified your participation which some people say makes driving (even in traffic) more fun.

TowIt: reports parking violations and road hazards. When the crowd reports those things, it makes it easier for the city (or other responsible party) to do something about it and clean up conditions

Luxe: We’ve reported on crowdsourced parking app Park Circa in the past which isn’t around anymore, but in its place we still have Luxe (okay, maybe not crowdsourcing) which provides on demand valet wherever you’re going in the cities of San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. If you’ve ever tried to find parking in San Francisco, you know the value that easily handing off your car can have. And (if you ask them) they’ll wash your car and fill up the gas tank. Pretty great how full service it is!

What are your favorite traffic and parking apps? Travel safe today, tomorrow and for the rest of the holiday season!

Can a CEO Hinder Innovation?

Leaders define their organization.

That a CEO could hinder innovation seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t a CEO’s job to lead, to pioneer even when necessary? But depending on the personality and strategy of a CEO, innovation can be harder or easier. So what do you need to know about yourself as a leader, and the leaders you work with, to better innovate?

The Personalities of CEOs

An analysis from Innovation Leader finds there are four basic archetypes of CEOs: The Visionary, the Streamliner, the Cheerleader, and the Advocate. The good news is that all embrace certain forms of innovation while challenging others. For example, the Streamliner looks for innovation that cuts costs or makes the company more efficient but can struggle to see the value in a new approach to the industry or a bold step away from the norm of current products.

There are, of course, many different factors or approaches. Recently failed products, tightening budgets, a focus on the short term to bolster the business in the current quarter, a suddenly aggressive competitor; all of these things can play a part in how CEOs approach innovation. So, how should you approach innovation, looking at these archetypes and how you fit into them?

Changing Your Approach

The first step is to look at your past approach to innovation. As we said, each overall approach has benefits, to some degree, whether it’s offering clear and open support of innovation ideas or encouraging certain forms of innovation. But each also has drawbacks that, over time, will seem obvious. Have you encouraged innovation among the ranks, but focused your time and resources on other matters, like the Cheerleader does? Do you have a long view of innovation but tend to focus more on the short term, like the Visionary?

leading is tough. Innovation doesn’t have to be.

Next, consider how you can address these drawbacks. Every leader has a different set of circumstances to innovate with, so consider what makes your company, and the innovation you need, unique. Really, this has much to do with innovation itself. You need to look closely at your current processes, pull back and look at it from a global perspective for strengths and weaknesses, think through potential solutions to them, and then implement and refine those solutions. Bubble Wrap sat on the shelf for years as wallpaper and greenhouse insulation before somebody realized it solved a major problem in the shipping industry.

Keep in mind, there is no perfect innovator. We often hear about the brilliance of Steve Jobs, but nobody discusses the thousands of Apple Lisa computers he supposedly buried in Utah after it failed, or Apple’s ill-fated first foray into a phone that downloaded and played music, the Motorola ROKR. Taking multiple approaches to challenges is part of the innovation process. Not every approach will be ideal, or they wouldn’t be challenges.

What’s important is that you keep up the process both of innovation, and challenging yourself and your employees to keep improving how you innovate. Innovation is the fundamental building block of success, after all, and you need to be as fresh and smart in your approach as you are with innovation. Need help? Join our newsletter!

Yoda’s Best Advice for Innovation

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Yoda’s famous advice is absolute. Yoda doesn’t leave much room for failure. But what Yoda is really talking about is commitment. Innovation happens only when we put all our effort into it, which is something demonstrated throughout the history of innovation.

Do It Again, And Again, Until It’s Done Right

There’s no better example of commitment to innovation than Thomas Edison. Edison famously approached innovation through trial and error. He and his staff went through thousands of prototypes of the lightbulb, sending agents across the world looking for new filaments, new materials, and new ideas. Edison’s approach, however, wasn’t scattershot. Much like Galileo observing the pendulum, or Thomas Watson insisting on a clear, logical thought process applied to any innovation before his employees hit the lab, Edison observed the work going on with incandescent lighting, often reviewing the literature available on the topic, thought about their approaches, and went from there.

Edison wanted to build not just a lightbulb, remember, but everything that drove the system, from the fixture the lightbulb screwed into to the generator that forced the energy through the filament and created the light. He never got the full system entirely right, and the approach had its flaws. The famous “current war,” where Edison’s direct current system (DC) went up against Tesla’s alternating current system (AC), cost both men substantially, for example.

Trial and error was always the last resort, but the key lesson here is that Edison never gave up. Much of Edison’s greatest innovations, like the carbon microphone, which laid the basis for the telephone and much of modern sound, were built on fringe theories, not generally accepted science. It often came down to Edison and his team, who proved the science, to move what they discovered into the realm of the known.

Commitment In Innovation

In the above address, where John Kennedy announces NASA will put a man on the moon, pay close attention to Kennedy’s language. He never claims we’ll “try” to put a man on the moon. Instead, he treats going to the moon as a foregone conclusion. In 1961, it wasn’t clear that this was possible. While getting into orbit was possible, traveling to a celestial body, even one as “close” as the Moon, was a vast jump forward in both theory and execution. It would take incredible commitment and extensive scientific testing. Many assumed at the time, the feat was decades away, if it was even possible.

By July 1969, a man was on the moon. What was theoretical had become not only possible but accepted. That we could travel to another part of the galaxy was now a part of accepted science. This is how it is with innovation. It takes incredible effort and often involves pushing beyond the bounds of what’s accepted as possible.

Once you determine to innovate, there aren’t half measures. No matter how hard you have to work, no matter what it takes, you need to be ready to work on your innovation until you break through. After all, there is no “try” in innovation. There is only “do.” If you’re ready to innovate, join our newsletter.

Crowdsourcing Ways to Save Students Money

In 2016, NYU’s 16th President, Andrew Hamilton, made clear that he would carry forward a commitment to make NYU more affordable for more students. As part of that commitment, President Hamilton established the Affordability Steering Committee and the Affordability Working Group to create a structure for engagement and consultation across the NYU community. Knowing that they had a wealth of knowledge within their campus network, the steering committee and the working group launched a crowdsourcing campaign to their students asking for ways to reduce costs that would help the President meet his commitment. Not only did they get tons of great ideas that they started implementing right away – they predicted that those ideas alone would be able to save students millions of dollars.

One of the great things about crowdsourcing ideas, however, is that it is not just an ideation opportunity, but it also help you conduct a new form of market research from which themes emerge. When NYU ran their campaign they noticed the following groups of ideas that offered opportunities for student savings:

  • Lower direct costs: this means costs that go directly to students like textbooks, meal planning, etc. Finding ways to reduce costs here (like providing more secondhand text books) is a great start to reducing out-of-pocket costs for students.
  • New resources: these new resources might be financial aid or grant opportunities for different groups of students based on need, background, or otherwise.
  • Savings: meaning administrative and IT savings opportunities.
  • Access: there might be other smaller scale funding opportunities (like micro-scholarships), so both identifying and socializing these opportunities could potentially save students money, as well.
  • Financial Education: sometimes offering financial education will help students make better decisions which will not just benefit them in their time at NYU but throughout their adult lives.
  • Local Benefits: New York can be an expensive city, finding ways to have the local environment lower costs and encourage matriculation benefits students and the city.
  • Time to Degree: some students want to fast track their education and that decreases costs for everyone. Offering new ways to accelerate the process is a great way to source new savings opportunities.

To read the full story about the New York University Affordability Campaign, download the case study here. 

Think: the Second Step in Innovation

Think first, then act.

In the first step of innovation, we discussed observation, and how Galileo conceived of the pendulum clock years before it would ultimately be invented. But, of course, Galileo wasn’t the first to look at a swinging chandelier. What made the difference was his approach to what he saw, his method of thought.

Centuries later, another brilliant innovator, IBM’s Thomas Watson, became famously obsessed with thought. His one-word motto for the company was “THINK,” and you still find that motto in force at IBM today. He often went further: IBM’s collection of quotes has, among others, Watson’s argument to think first, then act:

“The trouble with every one of us is that we don’t think enough. We don’t get paid for working with our feet—we get paid for working with our heads. Feet can never compete with brains.” 

So what does it mean to think, especially when it comes to innovation?

Thought And Innovation

Watson’s approach to thought can really be summed up by a much older proverb: “Measure twice, cut once.” Watson saw the thought process, unsurprisingly, as a linear thing: He wanted his employees to consider what they were doing, step by step, and ask themselves why they were doing it. Mindlessly following commands was against the culture Watson wanted to build.

In other words, Watson’s idea of thinking is very much an active one. True thought involves critical consideration of everything, from the assumptions you’re working off of to even your own thought process. If you really step back and look at how you deal with day-to-day problems, you might find that you’ve picked a solution and keep going back to it because it’s worked in the past, even if there’s a better way that’s right there.

So, how do you encourage this, in your innovation strategy? Really it comes down to a simple question: Why?

The Power Of Why

We all have our reasons for why we do things, but we rarely unpack and consider those reasons, even when we should. Often one of the greatest roadblocks to innovation is that we don’t think through the entire process from the ground up. IBM was famous for demanding that employees constantly question their own assumptions, which was particularly crucial in an industry where advancements seen as science fiction in 1960 were old technology in 1965.

Approach matters.

“THINK,” to Watson, was a verb. It was something you did actively, not passively. Thought is not guided, it leads. If something is a certain way, why is it that way? Can it be reconfigured, deconstructed, rebuilt, reconsidered? If you see the consequences of a decision playing out a certain way, is that set in stone, or are you just assuming that’s the only way it could happen?

In other words, thinking is work. If it’s easy, it’s probably not thinking in the first place. But, as Watson said in the quote we cited at the beginning, that’s why we collect our salaries in the first place.

With Forethought

Thinking isn’t the beginning and end of innovation. It’s famously held in the military that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and this is as true of peaceful business as it is of violent warfare. But thought is where the rubber of innovation meets the road of making it a physical reality. Active, careful thinking will ensure that your innovation is more than just an idle idea.

Need to build a better innovation strategy? Join our newsletter

Last Chance to Submit to the 2017 Innovation Management Awards

Submit to the 2017 Innovation Management AwardsThe deadline of the annual Innovation Management Awards is now upon us and we are still accepting submissions. Just a reminder about the three categories that we want to hear about:

Best Engagement Strategy

Every year, we ask our customers what topics they would most like to see discussed at IdeaScale’s Open Nation and almost every year, our customers ask to hear about new and creative strategies to engage the crowd in the ideation and innovation process. This can be digital engagement, offline, at the workplace or worldwide – how do you bring people into the discussion? No matter what industry you’re in, no matter who you’re trying to involve, the best practices in one area can oftentimes be translated to the best practices in others.

Best Innovation Process

The only way that innovation management programs live on is to have a process that is successful time after time. We want to hear from organizations that have developed systems that have reasonable and meaningful stage gates that identify good ideas and filter them down to only the best ones. This can include moderation best practices, funnel management, and more. The real magic happens in the decisions that are made by the innovation administrators that have developed a successful program.

Wildest Innovation

Implementation is the most challenging aspect of the innovation process. We want to celebrate innovators who have seen an idea through to completion and can prove the viability of that project. And, of course, success breeds success. One idea inspires others and will lead to more creative and implemented ideas. Hopefully some of these ideas inspire others to share and deliver on the great ideas of others.

Don’t miss your chance to tell your innovation success story in the 2017 Innovation Management Awards. Entry forms must be completed in a single sitting. To request a copy of the entry form in advance, please contact [email protected].