Insights and sneak peeks into innovation and IdeaScale.

Lessons Learned About Innovation Communications from the City of Calgary

calgary-featureIf you’ve been following IdeaScale’s Innovation Management Awards, you know that this year saw some really thrilling innovation come from some unexpected places. In fact, government is sometimes seen as one of the least innovative industries, but some of our best stories this year came from the government. In this case, the City of Calgary was a leader in generating engagement with their innovation program. But how did they do it? In short, they used multiple channels to communicate with their audience, they empowered their moderators to keep the conversation going, and ideas were constantly being trafficked.

But first a little about their program: myCityInnovation is an internal program which is part of the broader City of Calgary innovation program ‘Civic Innovation YYC.’ myCityInnovation initially invited the City’s 12,000 “wired” employees to share, collaborate, and test new ideas for improving City services.

Well, when myCityInnovation launched in May of 2016, Calgary didn’t just send out an email blast and call it good. They launched a full internal multi-channel marketing strategy. This included nine different channels which included in-person events, meetings, blog posts, newsletters, social media, print media, video, website advertising, on top of the tried and true email.

But that was just to invite people to participate. After members started participating, Calgary continued the conversation by helping their moderators respond to ideas. This meant that advisors and leaders were encouraged to participate, add comments, and provide feedback. In this way, all ideators knew that their ideas were valued.

Finally, ideas were intentionally moved on a “semi-regular” basis from Ideate to Assessment with the goal of establishing a predictable rhythm for the community. This is perhaps the most important engagement tactic you can use: responsiveness. If participants see that real ideas can gain traction (even if they’re not their own) they will develop faith in the program and employee satisfaction increases.

To learn more about the City of Calgary and their myCityInnovation program, download their case study. 

Open Innovation: Your Guide to Harnessing and Managing the Best Ideas

open-innovation-your-guide-to-harnessing-and-managing-the-best-ideasIf you’re tired of not being able to compete with bigger companies in your industry due to a lack of research and development (R&D) budget, the good news is that’s no longer a problem. Open innovation allows everyone to compete equally, whether their development budget is large or small.

What is Open Innovation

Open innovation is a paradigm shift that assumes organizations can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas to determine as path to market and advance technology. Useful knowledge has become widespread and doesn’t always come from a centralized location within a single business, like the R&D department many organizations employ.  This new way of thinking offers fresh ways to create value and can be used to collect ideas internally from employees or externally from customers or the public.

The act of implementation, of effectively turning new ideas into new processes and products, is now the primary differentiator between success and failure. Businesses still must take the new ideas and processes that are generated and do the hard work of converting promising concepts into products and services that serve customers.

Why Open Innovation is an Equalizer

Historically, internal R&D could be an organization’s greatest asset. Powerhouse companies could keep companies at bay simply because they could invest more in development, and as a result reap the highest profits.

Today, however, the Internet and information economy has changed the story. Businesses, even startups, are able to get ideas to market using a different process which includes crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and implementation only after the market is proven. The boundaries between an organization and its environment have become less distinct, with the market impacting the company and the company impacting the market.

The Shift in R&D

R&D is shifting from internally focused to expansion outside of the department and beyond the organization’s four walls. While you can still have experts in the R&D department, you can also engage employees and external groups to solve any problem.

  • Employee Open Innovation: Princess Cruises gathers thousands of new ideas, engages more than four thousand employees, and manages it all through one innovation team.
  • Employee Open Innovation Dick’s Sporting Goods was a runner-up in the 2016 Innovation awards. The company stays ahead of the curve when developing new products by using open innovation internally. A “Concept Locker” allows employees to submit product ideas, comment on submitted concepts, and win rewards for participating.
  • External Open Innovation: TechSmith Software creates screen capture and recording software that is used in over 30 countries. Through open innovation, they were able to collect hundreds of ideas for improvements and upgrades, collect thousands of votes, and even assist the PR team with responding to inquiries.

How to Use Open Innovation in Your Organization

To use open innovation in your organization, you first must shift the mindset of the leadership and stakeholders to understand the crowdsourcing mindset. Once everyone is on board, consider implementing systems that help you prepare for the complexity of idea management. You’ll need a way to:

  • Collect ideas from a diverse array of sources
  • Organize ideas in one location
  • View and evaluate new ideas
  • Develop ideas
  • Get approvals
  • Communicate progress

Open innovation isn’t optional, it’s an essential way to bring in new ideas at a significantly lower cost than ever before. With the right system, you can gather ideas, process feedback, prepare ideas for implementation, and get funding approval, all within the same platform.

As you seek to implement or improve your open innovation programs, you’ll want to have a process in place to harness and vet the multitude of ideas. Our latest whitepaper shares guidance and best-practices from organizations who do it right. Download it today.

Find your worst nightmare… and make it come true!

pasted_image_at_2017_03_14_14_12_720The next wave of disruption

Uber disrupted the world taxi market in a couple of years and even the courts are having trouble slowing their growth. Even in other less-Uber-dominated markets, you can still find similar locals services. But in either case the process of disruption is the same.

An industry with a tradition reaching back to the time of horse-driven coaches has been turned upside down and been disrupted by a new service only possible because of available technology with minimal initial investment.

Yesterday I took a ride with Uber in Berkeley and the driver wasn’t doing the job for money. He is close to a public launch of his third startup and drives Uber for three hours each day to recruit students from UC-Berkeley for his startup.

The story entertained me, but it also demonstrated that that the driver has the potential to disrupt the travel industry! It shows that beside the startups already existing, hundreds are waiting behind the scenes “to take over”.

And Uber? It’s commonplace knowledge that Uber’s next big leap will be to disrupt the traffic and automotive industry by introducing autonomous driving on a big scale. Even after they’ve already disrupted an existing industry. In this respect, they are doing exactly what companies should do: planning for the next big leap while they are still establishing the current one.

It’s also what most companies are forgetting to do…

The major obstacles for established companies

As a person working in innovation management with clients around the globe I sometimes can’t believe how little some clients seem to care about a question that should be their number one priority:

“How will the startups waiting behind the scenes disrupt my business?”

But to answer that, they need to consider two additional problems:

  1. Lack of awareness of vulnerability
  2. How to facilitate being disruptive as an established player

When we talk about missing awareness, this doesn’t mean that those company are not thinking about risks. That happens all day, what is missing is a structured process to identify the biggest risks and to develop strategies to be unleashed and implemented at any cost once evidence is given that the identified risks are inevitable or likely to hit.

Identify your biggest nightmare!

To do that a company need to create hypothetical scenarios, which outflank the business in the worst imaginable way. If a company can identify its biggest nightmare, they can bet that they also just identified what they must do in the future.

Tesla is a great example for the automotive industry because it’s not a car. It looks like a car from the outside but it’s as much a car as early cars were coaches (when they still looked like coaches).

Turning a nightmare into a dream!

It’s a total nightmare for car builders because they can write off the biggest part of what they deliver today if they would try to do the same. But there is little doubt that electric vehicles will dominate transportation in a time span that it takes to grow a newborn child into elementary school. And if one of the established car builders had been developing an electrical car in the same radical way as Tesla did this company would still be selling standard cars but would have the ticket into the future in the pocket – as a leader!

In theory, the market leaders of today have the resources to reinvent their market space and be the biggest innovation force in there.

So, why is it so hard for them to do groundbreaking, disruptive innovation and avoid what happened to Blackberry, Nokia, Yahoo and Kodak? And why is it so difficult for big companies to establish (and maintain) the ability to innovate, while all of them have innovation programs, innovation departments, and/or innovation officers?

The innovators dilemma haunts us all!

One major driver is the Innovator’s Dilemma. It arises when companies are dominant and start to believe they need to protect their market. From that moment, their focus moves from disruptive innovation to sustaining innovation.

When a company does only sustainable innovation it is inevitable that at some point, a competitor will emerge who outflanks the business with a better alternative. On the other hand, pushing disruptive innovation too hard can minimize the time you have to sell a great and mature existing product.

Because disruptive innovation is a bet on the future with a substantial risk, a lot of companies retreat completely to sustaining innovation. A fatal mistake.

A perfect example is the music industry in the end 90s, which got inventive in creating CD protection… while others disrupted the space completely.

Innovation Strategy

The problem is not the risk of failure but the lack of innovation strategy. A good innovation strategy can resolve the innovator’s dilemma because the root cause of the dilemma is timing and the level of preparation. With a good innovation strategy, a company knows when disruption and when sustainability is more important and the next leap can be prepared behind the scenes, waiting to be revealed once its time has come.

Next Wave of Disruption

The figure “Disruptive/Sustaining Innovation Cycle” (above) shows that sustaining and disruptive innovation typically happen in parallel. Sustaining innovation starts at the “saturation point” and the disruptive product takes over at the “break point.” The break point is inevitable and the figure reveals what happens if companies do not innovate disruptively in parallel to sustaining innovation efforts: another force from outside will takes over.

In reality, the picture is more complex and similar cycles exist in parallel depending on the structure of the company. The “domination gap” is the most critical part and parallel running processes, which represent success diversity will help to mitigate the gaps.

However, a good working innovation strategy is the only way to control and optimize all these processes including the length of the gaps. Having no innovation strategy is the best way to get surprised by the break point and face a company-wide exponential decline for which BlackBerry and Nokia are again representative examples.

To establish an innovation strategy with the capability to create disruptive solutions in parallel with a perfectly-running product portfolio and business model, a culture of innovation must be established which is executes sustainable innovation in parallel with the worst nightmare scenarios… and then makes them happen!

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 Hans Dreis, Chief Innovation Officer at IdeaScale.

Three Interesting Examples of Crowdsourcing in the Financial Sector

Crowdsourcing can add up in surprising ways.

Can finance benefit from crowdsourcing? While open innovation and crowdsourcing are incredibly popular in other industries, the financial industry is necessarily more conservative about the technology it uses and the consumers it listens to. “Move fast and break things” isn’t the attitude you want from somebody selling you a mortgage, after all. But crowdsourcing has undeniable benefit for the financial industry if done with an eye to its specific needs, and with a little out-of-the-box thinking.

Open Innovation As Customer Service

The financial industry is all about customer service, and thus a good place to start with crowdsourcing is by asking customers about what they want out of their financial services. Banchile Inversiones, for example, put that question to their customers and got back over 100 ideas to improve service, five of which were implemented.

Beyond just getting ideas to improve, this also offers a powerful message: You’re listening to your customers, and you want to hear what they have to say. This alone can make you stand out, as more often than not, even the loudest complaint can be helped simply by ensuring it’s been heard.

Looking Outside The Industry

One of the fundamental powers of crowdsourcing is that it offers a new perspective on your industry, one you might not run into otherwise. In any industry, we’re so focused on the details that stepping out and seeing how they come together in the big picture can be a challenge for even the sharpest and most in touch. By crowdsourcing, and presenting certain problems to the crowd to consider and offer solutions for, you can pull solutions from surprising places that work more effectively than conventional wisdom.

One excellent place to apply this is social responsibility. Standard Bank wanted to both raise the profile of their commitment to clean water in Africa and to find solutions to the thorny problem of sanitation in the Developing World, so they used a crowdsourcing platform to ask for and refine ideas. They provided the structure and some prize money, and in return got an overwhelming response of good ideas that are being used to improve life in some of the toughest places in the world.

Crowdsourcing and finance often make sense.

Community Engagement

Another aspect worth considering is that many finance customers share common ground, which can be both a point of curiosity and a way to offer crowdsourcing as part of your services. HSBC, for example, was working on banking services for expatriates and found that backing a community board where expats could ask questions and offer each other support was invaluable, both for keeping HSBC in expat minds for banking and as a service for their customers. While any message board needs at least some moderation and engagement, it can be highly meaningful and form a relationship well beyond just deposits and withdrawals.

As you can see, crowdsourcing can be used in any number of ways in the finance industry. Whether it’s applied to social responsibility, used to bring customers closer together, or as a tool to improve how your institution and its members communicate, there’s wisdom to be found in crowds. Interested in learning more? Download our Crowdsourcing in Finance white paper now!

The Connected Leader: Relationships that Produce to Results

the-connected-leader-relationships-that-produce-to-resultsNo one is smart enough to solve really important problems alone. Networking is critical.  Being able to find, build, and test ideas through a network of diverse perspectives offers leaders, teams, and innovation projects the benefits of new insights and novel points of view, which increase the chance of uncovering real breakthroughs. Having a rich network of productive stakeholders can open doors for your employees and accelerate innovation across the enterprise.

The Core of Networking

Networking is, at its core, relationship building and learning. Sometimes these relationships are tied directly to the development and implementation of new ideas and other times the focus is on gaining new perspectives on the world. The goal is to expand your network inside and outside your organization, to extend your sphere of influence, and to expand the expertise and diversity of your peer group and potential innovation partners.

The Role of the Networker

A networker’s primary task is to work across organizational boundaries to engage stakeholders and secure innovation support. Playing the role of a networker means you are able to:

  • Build productive linkages and coalitions across organizational boundaries within your organization.
  • Draw others in as joint sponsors for your teams’ projects.
  • Search outside the organization for innovative ideas and individuals who can help your projects.
  • Maintain a strong professional network outside your organization.
  • Build relationships with those who want to support innovations in your field.

Internal Networking

Internal networking within your own organization is important, as many ideas and projects will cross the boundaries of your own area of the enterprise. Many ideas and projects can benefit from the expertise, skills, perspective, or even the contacts and working relationships that exist in other parts of the organization. Also, support from others whose work would change in response to an innovation can be crucial to getting buy-in and approval for projects with far ranging impact.

Networking is “playing organizational politics” in a positive way. The most effective internal networkers are those people who consistently push for win-win outcomes. They work from a mind-set that making connections and reaching out to others will help all involved, including the company and its customers.

Breaking down organizational silos is vital to encouraging communication and building relationships across the enterprise. Effective networking supports the role of barrier buster, as trusted relationships can bridge the interdepartmental chasms that too often hinder the flow and support for bold ideas.

External Networking

External networking is equally important. Getting out of the office to interact with other leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, educators, artists, or thinkers from around the world enhances creativity and innovation skills. Expanded horizons often make it easier to see a larger solution set.

Networkers go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their knowledge and expand their paradigms. For example, Starbucks founder Howard Shultz’ travels through Europe allowed him to meet coffee experts and cafe owners, and to crystallize his thinking about how Starbucks could bring a new coffee culture to the United States. Schultz was later able to draw on this community of coffee aficionados to guide his vision and to help him grow the business to unprecedented levels.

Digital Networking

In addition, in today’s digital world, innovation leaders now have a wide range of choices of online tools to enhance networking. Business-oriented social media, online innovation platforms, and knowledge management systems enable leaders to search for individuals with the specific expertise, connections, or perspective they need. An example of one of these systems is IdeaScale.

Internal online communities connect members within an enterprise and sometimes extend to include key partners, suppliers, or customers. Individuals can ask for information and expertise, for feedback on ideas and value propositions, for people with needed skills, for connections to individuals who could support or fund projects, and even to help find barrier busters when needed.

External online communities also now offer connections and discussion groups for linking individuals with similar interests across the globe (e.g., LinkedIn groups, industry associations, user groups, or specialty topic organizations). These communities exist for the express purpose of network building. They typically discourage individuals from simply trying to sell their own products or services, as they want to preserve the true working network. When there is a genuine question or request where members can help further a serious innovation effort, exchanges are generally quite lively as members enjoy the chance to contribute their insights and support.

Networking Opens Up Possibilities

Through network connections and experiences, leaders open themselves up to new possibilities and build their ability to embrace ideas that can be recombined in new ways. Successfully connecting seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different people or fields, is an invaluable asset to a leader and his or her team.

Networking is crucial in today’s innovative organizations. In the next installment of the series, we’ll dive deep into leading an innovative culture. If you’d rather not wait, download the complete chapter of Leading Innovation Ten Essential Roles for Harnessing the Creative Talent of Your Enterprise today.

This blog post is part of the Leading Innovation series authored by Laszlo Gyorffy, MS. Laszlo is president of the Enterprise Development Group, an international consulting firm specializing in business strategy and innovation. He also is an accomplished speaker, certified instructional designer and trainer, and co-author of Creating Value with CO-STAR: An Innovation Tool for Perfecting and Pitching your Brilliant Ideas and The Global Innovation Science Handbook. Laszlo recently developed the One Hour Innovator a cloud-based toolkit that teaches people how to successfully generate and champion bigger, bolder, and better ideas.

Add Rocket Fuel to Your Innovation Process with Gamification

Improve your innovation process with gamification.

The ideal moment in any innovation process is when innovating becomes fun. But it’s tricky to take something that, while rewarding, is still work and get the joy out of it. That’s where gamification comes in, and it can blast your innovation onto a whole new plane.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the addition of game-like ideas and rewards to a work process. A good example of it can be found in fitness apps. Notice how fitness apps will compare you against your friends or other users? How it slowly fills a meter as you reach a set number of steps or hit a specific number of minutes? That’s a good example of “gamifying” fitness, an extremely popular strategy.

Gamification can take a number of forms, and draw from a number of tropes, especially when combined with crowdsourcing. One common way to draw from the wisdom of crowds with gamification is to offer badges, like the popular beer-tracking application Untappd does. The more different types of beers you consume, the more badges you rack up, and coincidentally, the more data Untappd has about shifting tastes among beer consumers.

Essentially it boils down to completing tasks and receiving some sort of reward for it. And it absolutely works; it’s been found that gamification can increase engagement by up to 20%, regardless of the audience. Everybody’s had a game that they get unexpectedly, deeply into, and gamification can harness that power to improve your innovation process. So how do you combine fun and work?

Implementing Gamification

Where to start with gamification?

Sometimes this can be as simple as offering a prize. Google, for example, has established a $30 million prize purse for what it’s calling the Lunar X-Prize, asking scientists and engineers to invent and launch new lunar rovers to explore the Moon. It offers extra cash prizes for meeting certain goals, like traveling beyond the minimum required distance or visiting an Apollo landing site. That was really all the motivation many people needed; Lunar X-Prize competitors will start launching their rovers in 2017.

In other cases, it’s worth considering how the “game” will be constructed and what you want to achieve. By far the most successful example of this remains FoldIt, an actual game constructed by a scientific team to test how proteins are folded. FoldIt users started examining a thorny problem involving HIV proteins and beat it in weeks, where researchers had spent twenty years looking at it without success.

Regardless, there are a few standards worth following. First, make sure all competition is friendly and collaborative; it should make more sense to work together to solve a riddle or reach a goal than it should to compete against each other in your design. Rewards should be reasonably placed and feel tangible; a badge, going “up a level” like in a role-playing game, or some other structure will help drive engagement. And most importantly, your goals need to be clear. People should know what they’re playing for and why.

A well-designed gamification strategy can super-charge innovation if done right. To get started, join an IdeaScale community.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a Great Innovator Because they Nurture Innovators

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a Great Innovator Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is an American multi-program science and technology national laboratory. It is the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy system and its programs focus on materials, neutron science, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology and national security.

In order to meet program objectives, ORNL launched JUMP. JUMP is an online crowdsourcing community launched in 2015. Its an online place where innovators, particularly small entrepreneurs, can present ideas for new technologies for energy-efficient buildings to private and public sector leaders in research and development. Additionally, JUMP includes opportunities for all users to comment and vote on the posted ideas. This community discussion helps DOE, the labs, and industry partners gauge the market’s interest in the topic and potential solutions.

But because the program emphasizes the need to reach out to and grow budding entrepreneurs, they’ve baked mentorship right into their program. Although all ideas move through a five stage process of refinement and evaluation (challenge launch, idea submission, voting feedback, judging, and the announcement of winners), it is that final stage that is the most interesting.

Upon announcement of the judges’ decisions, the innovator (the submitter of the winning idea), Lab technical advisor (a technical member of a national laboratory with relevant technical expertise for the call at hand), and industry partner collaborate to move the technology forward. This three-way partnership is highly customized depending on the skill set of the ideator, the requirements of the technology and its potential applications. In some cases, the Labs are able to connect with and establish partnerships with accelerators programs to further support and expedite the technology to market. This means that the merits of the idea aren’t limited by the boundaries of the organization OR the capabilities of someone with a great idea.

To learn more about Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s use of crowdsourcing for innovation, read the full case study here.


Five Components of a Repeatable Innovation Portfolio

five-components-of-a-repeatable-innovation-portfolioCreating a repeatable innovation portfolio helps you plan more efficiently, scale resources, and gain insight for the growth of your innovation program. There are five key elements of a repeatable innovation portfolio:

  • Opportunity Identification and Campaign Creation
  • Idea Collection and Inspiration
  • Proposal Generation
  • Implementation
  • Performance Tracking

When these components are in place, your innovation process becomes predictable and encourages participation across the spectrum.

Opportunity Identification and Campaign Creation

Innovation and problems go hand and hand because problems are the source of which opportunities to implement new ideas are born and iterated upon.

Train your staff to recognize that problems that they hear from other employees, customers, leads, and prospects are always opportunities for innovation. Better yet, have them go out into the field to see first-hand what the users, purchasers,  and influencers of your product or service do with it. What problems does each group encounter with your product? Are your competitors focusing too much on one group, giving you an opportunity to capitalize on another? These questions will show you opportunities for innovation.

Once you’ve identified your innovation focus, create a campaign. By implementing specific stages for each innovation project, you’ll be able to lay out a clear path from problem to solution. As you sift through the crowdsourcing, internal ideas, and feedback data, consider that although feedback is individual, some of the ideas might build upon each other or be related in some way. These pairings might help you build steps in your campaign or help you plan for risks.

Idea Collection and Inspiration

It’s said, “No man is an island,” and no organization or innovation project is an island either. You should look for ideas and inspiration in as many places as possible.

Crowdsourcing is a great way to gain ideas for your innovation project. By crowdsourcing, you can draw on the experience of people in different areas of the country, different parts of the world, and different industries in business. You can choose who to invite into your idea collection process, from employees to customers to the general public. By running contests and offering incentives, you can get the best and the brightest to contribute to your project.

Don’t stop collecting ideas just because you don’t have an active innovation project, though. Having new ideas about how to do things can bring breakthrough ideas in other areas. Become an active idea collector at all times!

Proposal Generation

Once you have identified your problem and collected ideas, it’s time to narrow down your options and create a specific proposal.

You can have an internal innovation project team tasked with evaluating the feasibility of the best ideas. You can also assign idea champions to a select few of the concepts, and create incentives for them to come up with the best possible proposals.

Proposals will need to be reviewed by key stakeholders from every department. Don’t leave anyone out. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a great innovation project slashed because one department or leader feels slighted or doesn’t have enough information to make a decision.


Unfortunately, implementation can be the biggest hurdle for any innovation project. An organization that can execute the ideas it creates has a tremendous advantage over other companies.

Here are a few hurdles that can derail implementation:

  • Budget: Make sure that the leadership team is committed to a budget not just for initial launch, but for ongoing maintenance of the new process. You may need to select fewer innovation projects each year as a result, but it’s worth it to get them implemented!
  • Buy-in: Identify key stakeholders in your organization that need to be persuaded that the new idea is impactful. Also, identify influencers in your organization who can help employees adopt and embrace the new process.
  • Overload: Don’t try to change too many things at once. People can only adapt to so much change. You may need to space out projects or focus on different areas of the company each time.

If you can overcome these issues, you can skyrocket past your competitors. It’s not how many ideas you have; it’s what you do with them!

Performance Tracking

Performance tracking is essential not only to evaluate and tweak your current idea, but it also serves as proof of progress to leadership and stakeholders. A highly successful innovation project is likely to increase the support and funding available for your next effort.

By tracking the performance of your new idea, you can show the return on investment that the company realized from the innovation. Not only is this helpful for maintaining current funding, but it’s also a great way to motivate employees and increase buy-in for this new process and future ideas.


Many innovation project managers believe that successful innovation is a lot like catching lightning in a bottle – unpredictable, hard to plan, and not repeatable. Fortunately, that isn’t true. When you create an innovation process that you follow on a regular basis, you can plan for and predict when your useful innovation projects will happen.

To use these five components to create a repeatable innovation portfolio, you’ll need the right systems in place to support you. IdeaScale has comprehensive innovation planning and implementation tools that can set you on the right track and keep you going. We’d love to help you create a repeatable process going forward.

To learn more about creating a repeatable innovation portfolio, watch the Open Nation: Trends in Innovation Management presentation and download the slide deck here.

Is Innovation Just a Buzzword?

is innovation just a buzzwordI moved to the Bay Area three years ago for an exciting new job with IdeaScale. From the first week in town I was meeting new people constantly—people here really love networking. It was amazing, it was exciting, it was … endless. When everyone is looking for their next opportunity, social gatherings can easily resemble games of buzzword BINGO. Conversations often start with, “Do you work at a startup?” Everyone exchanges mission statements that begin with, “We’re making the world better by disrupting…” or, “We’re the Uber of…” Some of the lingo is helpful shorthand, like B2B and B2C. Other terms are ambiguous and only make the speaker look or feel impressive—“hack” is my personal favorite.

Pretty soon I had developed an elevator pitch (another insider favorite) of my own for these occasions. It included crowdsourcing, SaaS, cloud-based, B2B, ideate and the big one: INNOVATION. This pitch made startup CEO-in-training types drool, but drew eye rolls from everyone else living in or near Silicon Valley and worse yet, blank stares from most out-of-towners and my family back home. Were they right to be bored? Could these terms I’d learned to love and believe in be merely empty promises?

Tepid responses weren’t going to do me any good. A pitch only works if it starts a conversation. I started following up my intro pitch with examples of what my current favorite customers were doing. I got to talk about city governments looking to save money found success by inviting all employees to share ideas like the City of Atlanta or space nerds and NASA working and wondering together about Mars. It turns out, not many people know much about crowdsourcing, because they hated the term but loved the real-world stories.

I love hearing what our customers are doing with our software, what they are making possible, and what they are learning. For me, this is the real answer to, “What does IdeaScale do?” We enable our customers to use crowdsourcing for change and improvement within their organization or beyond. What innovation actually looks like differs from customer to customer, from campaign to campaign, from objective to objective. Innovation is more than a buzzword, it’s the goal—be better than those before you and those surrounding you. Crowdsourcing isn’t just a fad.

  • It’s customizable. Crowdsourcing works best when you bring together a diverse group for a common goal. The crowd can be anyone: customers, employees, followers, experts, enthusiasts, you name it. The goal is whatever topic or challenge you want new insight into.
  • It’s powerful. Wielded properly, crowdsourcing can solve any problem and answer any question. Look at sites like Quora and Wikipedia, both are powered by the crowd. Now imagine what could be possible if you got those minds together to tackle topics and challenges faced by your organization.
  • It’s sustainable. All it takes is a topic, a goal, and an engaged audience. Some organizations run crowdsourced challenges and campaigns on a requiring basis, tapping into new audiences and new advances each time. Some organizations apply crowdsourcing to different areas for improvement and exploration with each engagement.

It’s been three years and these stories about the amazing things our customers are doing are still my favorite part of the job. We help our customers use crowdsourcing as the mechanism to achieve innovation, and it amazes me every time to see it in action. In social and professional gatherings I now see myself as an ambassador for crowdsourcing, because it’s my job to teach the value beyond the buzz.


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 Lindsay Rentz, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale.

Best Practices for Asking for Employee Ideas

Creativity should be rewarded, but you need to ask for it.

Can an employee ever offer you the unvarnished truth? Many of us would like to say yes, but stop and think back to the jobs you held before you took a leadership role. If your boss had asked for the full-on truth, would you have given it to them? At the same time, though, your employees are often your best source for the necessary innovation you need to drive your business forward. So implement these best practices for encouraging honesty and openness.

Set the Tone

It really starts with leadership. Just like employees are reluctant to be honest about the tough questions with their bosses, leaders can sometimes find themselves wanting to soften the truth. Really, that’s just human nature, especially with tough news.

So, practice the golden rule: Treat your employees the way you want them to treat you. Setting that tone will ensure they offer you their true opinion, instead of holding back.

Give Them Ways to Communicate

Another roadblock is that even if you’ve got a positive idea or contribution, it can be hard for some of us to put ourselves out there. So, work out ways employees can communicate, and make sure it’s voluntary both in submitting and in identifying themselves. Some people simply don’t enjoy a spotlight, or their idea might be a positive for them but a seeming negative for others, so anonymity is important. A simple suggestion box, an open door policy, brainstorming meetings, and even just making it clear that if they need to talk to you, you’ll find the time to make it happen will give your employees the chance to shine.

How will your employees surprise you?

Give Them Latitude

Not every idea is going to work for your business, specifically. Even truly great ideas sometimes just don’t fit with a certain company or industry, for some reason. And that can be discouraging, if you let it be, so make sure it isn’t. Make it clear that there’s no such thing as a bad idea, just an idea whose time hasn’t come yet, and make a point of thanking people who step up, no matter how their ideas shake out. If employees understand that what matters is that they have something to offer, not that their ideas must be brilliant, they’re more likely to offer you more innovation.

Reward Creativity, Personally

Another key is acknowledging creativity personally. Something as simple as coming by somebody’s desk and thanking them in person, giving them a shout out at the start of a company meeting, or otherwise personally acknowledging they helped out can be a huge boost to any employee. Part of the advantage of innovation is your employee being able to point to something, whether it’s an enormous breakthrough or just something that shaves a few hours off a dull task, and say “I built that.”

Innovation is the lifeblood of any company. A company without innovation is one that will either begin to fade in importance or be shaken up enormously by a sudden change. However, if you work with your employees, you’ll soon find they’re your greatest resource for innovation. To get started, contact us.