Insights and sneak peeks into innovation and IdeaScale.

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. 

How to Execute on Ideas

How to Execute on IdeasAs we’ve discussed before, once you’ve arrived at a clear decision, it is critical to act on the decision. A common pitfall at this point is inaction. Too many ideas reach decision, only to lay fallow without action. Inaction results in effort wasted, opportunities missed, and value lost for your organization.  Implementing ideas is the key to delivering significant and measurable value to your organization and stakeholders, and setting yourself up for robust crowd engagement in the next round of crowdsourcing.

To this end, we recommend the following best practices:

Specify each decision or conclusion.

I recently read a book called Crucial Conversations. In the chapter called “Move to Action,” the authors describe four key components to a well defined decision or conclusion…

  1. Who is responsible? It is essential to assign a name to each responsibility. “Everybody’s business is nobody’s business…’We’ is code for “not me.”
  2. What are the expectations? Specify the target outcome. Clarify the details of the deliverables.
  3. When is the deadline?  Each assignment requires a timeline with milestones. “Assignments without deadlines are far better at producing guilt than stimulating actions.”
  4. How will you follow up? Decision makers should define their expectations around follow-up. What is the method for follow up and how frequently should the implementation team follow-up?  That is, shall the team follow up with weekly emails or with periodic posts to the IdeaScale community, or through some other method? “If you want people to feel accountable give them an opportunity to account. Build an expectation for follow up into every assignment.”

You can do all of this in IdeaScale with a simple refine stage. If you would like a more sophisticated method for making assignments, you can also use our team build or idea ownership features.

Act on each decision

While the lead and team are implementing the idea, periodically check in on progress and support the team in resolving issues as they arise.

Report back to the community and stakeholders

And finally, it is absolutely essential that the lead and team report back to the community and stakeholders.  I recommend requiring that ideas teams report back on:

  • Tangible Benefits
  • Intangible Benefits

Tangible benefits are net value or return on investment. Intangible benefits are  lessons learned or the organizational priorities and values that were supported through the implementation of the idea. You can see how you’d report on this in IdeaScale below.

This is your best engagement tool. People want to participate in a program that is making an impact and effecting real change in the world. So don’t miss the opportunity to capture data on that impact once the idea is implemented. You will also appreciate this after 6 months or 1 year has passed and a colleague ask how your crowdsourcing program is going. Having captured data upon implementation, you’ll be armed with the high level figures of return on investment and the benefit of your program to the organization. Once you’ve started implementing ideas, don’t forget to take your victory lap to publicize the outcome and celebrate success!

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 Whitney Bernstein, Innovation Strategist at IdeaScale

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].

Key Takeaways from Open Nation 2017

Key Takeaways from Open Nation 2017Last week was IdeaScale’s third annual Open Nation summit – our in-person user conference where innovation practitioners from all around the globe share their stories and best practices. It’s a great opportunity not just to learn from some of the leading innovators globally, but also a great chance to connect and have fun. In the next few weeks, we’ll upload the presentation content from the day, which includes some great thoughts from the United States Coast Guard, IKEA, and others, but in the meantime, please enjoy some of these key takeaways that surfaced over the course of two days:

Not every problem is a problem to be solved by crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is powerful and when you’ve had some success with it, you want to adopt it in other places, as well. In other words, when you have a crowdsourcing hammer, sometimes you start thinking that every problem looks like a nail. But crowdsourcing is a tool for specific challenges. And it has multi-faceted benefits (from increasing empathy and positive sentiment, to developing truly novel approaches to solving a problem), but if what you need is some straightforward market research, you could still use a survey or if you’re looking to collaborate in a small group setting, the in-person meeting is still a great tool.

Innovation processes may differ, but they share some of the same qualities. Most start with ideation and connecting the dots, then they move through a period of development and alignment, and then they’re prioritized. Different organizations name and order stages slightly differently but everything moves between periods of broad brainstorming to concentrated decision making – sometimes in a cyclical manner.

Having defined criteria is a good thing, not a limiting factor. Innovators that outlined key success criteria from the start actually saw more creative ideas and more ideas that went all the way to implementation. Knowing what you’re looking for and what you can deliver on helps with buy-in and breeds trust with those that participate in a crowdsourced innovation system.

Innovation leaders are great facilitators and connectors. You don’t need to be the person with the big idea in order to be a leader in innovation. What you need to be able to do is draw connections between different idea fragments, projects, people, programs, and continuously check-in to see things through. The path isn’t always straightforward, but those that can deliver on new ideas will eventually be leaders in their organization.

Learn from all our Open Nation presentations by watching them on our resources page. 



Observation: The First Step in Innovation

What do you see, in the world around you?

In 1602, Galileo Galilei noticed the swinging of a chandelier after it had been lit. It seemed that, regardless of what angle the chandelier swung, the period – that is, the time it took to complete a swing – remained constant, something he confirmed using his pulse to time it. Galileo theorized that this pendulum motion could be used to create more precise timepieces. It turns out that he was right. Even though he never built one in his lifetime, the pendulum is, indeed, a reliable measure of time.

This story underscores the importance of observation in innovation. Innovation doesn’t emerge out of a vacuum, but from observing the world around us. So, how can we better observe, and apply our observations to innovation strategy?

Becoming A Better Observer

This story of Galileo is, in of itself, a perfect summary of observation’s role in innovation. Galileo

  • noticed something,
  • formed a theory about it,
  • and confirmed that theory.

That theory served as the building block for a larger idea. And so it goes with observation.

Observation is the bedrock for innovation. It starts with raw data, be it the world around us, as in Galileo’s case, or with something as simple as a sales spreadsheet posing a riddle like “Why does one product sell but another barely makes a dent?” You, and those innovating with you, need to observe our world critically. If something is one way, why is it that way? Could it be another?

That said, it can be tough to toss theories out there. After all, you can observe all the data you want, think hard about it, and put together an intelligently considered theory that’s absolutely wrong. But here, again, Galileo is instructive.

Getting It Wrong To Get It Right

Observation is where innovation starts.

Ironically, Galileo turns out to have technically been wrong; the exact period of a pendulum will vary slightly. This wasn’t his fault. Today, we’d be able to prove it to him with the clocks cued to the decay of atoms. Our smartphones sync to show perfect time. We can explain the concepts of airflow and friction that he, and every other learned man of his time, didn’t yet understand. But, he was working with the tools and the information he had. It was later on his observations were refined into innovation.

This illustrates another aspect of observation. That Galileo got it wrong, technically, doesn’t matter. He got it right enough to deliver a meaningful observation upon which others could build. Without his observation of pendulums and their regularity, we wouldn’t have those atomic clocks. His theory may have been wrong in the details, but fundamentally, where it counted, he was correct.

Remember this as you observe. What matters isn’t that you nail everything in all the little technical details. That’s impossible unless you’re a savant or dealing with a very granular situation. What matters in observation is gathering data, applying theories, and imagining what could come out of those theories. When you do that, you’re on the road to innovation.

Building an innovation strategy can be tough. Make it easier: Join the IdeaScale community

Culture: Innovation’s Biggest Challenge

Innovation CultureWe asked our customers what their number one priority was for the coming year and the leading priority was: culture. We were a bit surprised by this answer. We thought that maybe our customers would be focused on generating new ideas, implementing new ideas, understanding the value of new ideas, but in the end it came down to the environment those ideas lived in – an organization’s culture.

The more we thought about it, the less surprising it seemed. Culture is the starting point for the success of all innovation programs and it is also a project that is never complete. One of the things about working at startup company like IdeaScale is that it’s almost an entirely different company every year. It’s the same for innovation culture – the problems you solved last year are different than the problems that you need to solve this year. Maybe last year you focused on developing innovation leadership skills within your workforce, but this year you need to focus on nurturing diversity and developing rules for innovation governance. But culture is multifaceted and a quality innovation culture influences a number of different things. Here are just a few things it might impact:

Employee Engagement. If employees believe that their voices will be heard, that their ideas play into the larger mission of the company, you’ll see higher levels of participation as well as employee engagement. Companies that want to impact engagement scores should work on building innovation culture.

Idea Quality. Companies with a positive innovation culture (one that allows for failure and celebrates success – among other things) will allow for more interesting and more diverse ideas. Organizations that want higher quality ideas, should work on building innovation culture.

Predictable Innovation. Innovation should be repeatable, but the only way to make innovation continuous is to have it top of mind every day. Many companies that aren’t considering innovation on a regular basis, lose their competitive edge. How will you keep innovation top of mind?

Idea Implementation. If you build a culture of innovation, more people will volunteer to implement ideas, steward, and become company intrapreneurs if you encourage a culture of participatory innovation. You have to both empower and encourage people to try new ideas – even to fail and live with that failure. If you do that, you’re going to force multiply your implementation capabilities.

To read more findings from our 2017 Crowdsourced Innovation Report, download it here.