Insights and sneak peeks into innovation and IdeaScale.

The Stages of Innovation. Where Are You and What Does That Mean for You?

A brilliant innovation starts with a single step.

How does innovation happen? That’s a question that bedevils even the most creative of companies. Innovation is necessary for corporate survival, but where is your company in the five stages of innovation? And what’s entailed in each of them?

Step 1: Ideas

The good news is that the first step is the easiest. Cultivating a rich, deep base of creativity is a relatively simple step; ask your customers, ask your employees, and look hard at your industry. But remember that you have to bring your ideas down to earth, and figure out how to implement them.  Work to filter ideas so the best, most thoughtful ones take priority.

Step 2: Advocacy

Once you have some ideas that you think will work, those ideas need support. And even the greatest innovators can have a crisis of faith. In 1901, after the failure of their test glider, Wilbur Wright told his brother Orville that “Not within a thousand years would man ever fly.” It can be tough to fight institutional inertia or tradition. That said, though, there’s something to be said for refinement; any idea needs to be looked at by stakeholders across the board for feedback. But remember to ask what’s next the entire time. Ideas need to become tangible in some way, and often need refinement.

Step 3: Experimentation

No brilliant idea emerges fully formed from the meeting or the laboratory. Robert Heinlein, the famous science fiction author, famously claimed he never wrote a second draft unless an editor told him to, but keep in mind: An editor often told him to rewrite something. An idea is rarely so brilliant it can’t be made better, so try it out. Run a pilot test. Create a prototype and put it through its pace. Let people handle your idea and offer suggestions.

Teamwork and refinement make innovation better.

Step 4: Commercialization

Once you have an idea of how your refined idea will work and who wants it, the next question is: How do you turn your prototype into a product? That can be tougher than you think. Ever wonder how long Apple worked on the iPad? Four years? Ten years? Try since 1983; the iPad has its roots in an unusual product Apple experimented with that attached an LCD screen to a tabletop phone. But there just wasn’t a market for the idea, as cool as it was, so Apple kept it handy as it innovated elsewhere, and brought the idea to market when it was ready.

Step 5: Diffusion

This is the step that gets the whole company on board. Now that everything is in place, you and those who worked on the project talk about what it is, how it works, and why it’s important. Think of this step as the dry run to selling your innovation to the wider world. Here’s where you’ll get to try out how to best explain it and show how it makes your industry better.

Innovation is a journey, and even the hardest journey is a little smoother when you have a map. Keep these steps in mind, and if you need more help, join the IdeaScale community.


FinTech and Machine Learning

fintech and machine learningWhen people talk about machine learning they are a referring to a type of artificial intelligence that has the ability to learn without explicit programming. These programs can grow and change on their own once they know how to learn and some financial companies are beginning to use machine learning for a variety of different reasons.

According to Fortune Magazine, some of the top financial technology trends for 2017 are consumer trust, buying behavior, mobile banking, blockchain, cybersecurity, and access. And machine learning could be applied towards many of those already (for example: using data to optimize for consumer buying behavior). But some financial companies are already using machine learning to solve some of these fintech problems today.

Standard Bank was established in 1862 and it is now one of South Africa’s largest financial services groups, operating in 20 countries across Africa and other key markets around the world.

Their ATM-CIT Route Optimization Project Navigator used artificial intelligence (machine learning algorithms) to manage risk, cost, and service in the distribution and collection of physical cash in the ATM supply chain. An employee built a bespoke tool (dubbed ‘Navigator’) that used a highly-customized optimization algorithm to optimize service levels and reduce costs based on user-input and new techniques for the route optimization problem were developed in the process of creating this tool. But perhaps best of all this prototype tool reduced failure demand (i.e. downtime) significantly (between 20% – 23%).

This idea was shared in an internal innovation program called Up Squad. Up Squad is an annual competition open to all PBB SA, G2, RoA, Channel and PBB Enabling Functions employees, during which they knowledge share their implemented innovations that they are using to change life in the Bank. This knowledge sharing meant the gains in this one prototype could be shared elsewhere in the bank – a great opportunity for those hoping to optimize financial services.

To learn more about Standard Bank’s internal innovation community, download the case study here.

“Why are You Showing me That?” The Decision-Making Behind IdeaScale’s New Reporting

Over the next couple of months, IdeaScale will be rolling out a suite of new reports alongside improvements to our ability to integrate with Analytics and BI tools. Upgrading our reporting has been a long-held goal of our team and we’re excited to start letting customers get their hands of the Beta version of the new tools.

As we get ready to roll out the feature, we wanted to take some time to talk about how it works, why it works like it does and how our IdeaScale feedback community is going to help us with the next steps.

I honestly don’t want to tell you when the first mocks for reporting improvements were made here at IdeaScale. It was a while ago. Actually, it was a little more than a while ago and it’s kind of fun to look back and see what has changed and what hasn’t. The oldest version I can find looked something like this:

old reporting
What strikes me most about this mock is a key similarity to what we ended up releasing; it’s relatively simple. The experience we wanted to create with these reports was one that encouraged action by focusing on the key data that administrators need to get their job done. There are only 3 graphs and 3 tables in this initial release, but each can be segmented according to the four factors our customers use most commonly to organize their community: campaign, group, custom field response and/or by custom profile question –  and each has a particular set of use cases in mind.

Administrators monitoring the activity in their campaign can now quickly and easily check total activity and track user conversion from visits to participants. This data will help you make real-time decisions about messaging. Have high visitor numbers, but few ideas? Try targeting existing users with content that encourages submission and removes the fear of a bad idea.

Administrators managing complex moderation processes can check that key actions are taking place. Administrators can also monitor moderator activity over time, and break it down by campaign or group. Check that at least 1 moderator action is being taken per idea and ensure that certain campaign are not being overlooked with the “Moderator Actions” activity type in Activity Trends.

A gif of the Engage section of reporting being tested on our QA server.

Community Managers can monitor the delivery of ideas to the real world. You can track both the number of completed and selected ideas in the new Outcomes page, allowing you to track and summarize the rate at which your program impacts the world.

Administrators can make sure they never miss key information using our in-built Innovation Assistant, which lets you know early about any worrying trends in your community. These alerts are also sent to your IdeaScale representative, so that both your team and our team are always on top of what is happening in your community.

A mock of the Outcomes section of reporting currently in development, including some Innovation Assistant notifications.

Reporting in an Analytics Ecosystem

While we have focused our reporting dashboard on certain key actions, we have also attempted to broaden the ways our customers can use existing Business Intelligence and Web Analytics tools to build a broad picture of the behaviors taking place in their community. Meaning that almost any data you could wish for can be extracted from the IdeaScale system and merged with your existing reporting tools.

Web Analytics

IdeaScale supports single-click integration with Google Analytics and supports a number of similar web analytics products. The first step is to install your tracking code by simply copying and pasting it into the Integrations panel within your Community Settings.  This code then automatically inserts itself into the header of each of your IdeaScale pages and immediately begins tracking page analytics across your site.

Not only does this track the overall page views, sessions and users, it also contains inbuilt custom dimensions that allow our customers to break down activity by community role (Admin, Moderator and User) and # of ideas submitted. Below is some data from our community showing sessions over the week of the 4th of July, broken down by how many ideas each user had submitted. You can see that, due to the high activity among our internal team, we tend to get a lot of visits from users with more that 3 ideas submitted.

Google Analytics (and similar tools) have a lot of great features and we recommend you give this integration a try. As a final example, here is a global breakdown of sessions with all users shown in blue and sessions from admins & moderators appearing in orange:

Business Intelligence

In addition to this simple support for Web Analytics, we have optimized certain aspects of our exports to allow for flexible integration with Business Intelligence tools. This is done through two key features of IdeaScale’s BI focused exports; (1) the ability to set up automated delivery of iterative exports to a customer owned data store; and (2) the structuring of the data around a central events table, allowing for cross table analysis of data in almost any configuration desired.

Using these two key attributes organizations with an established BI suite can create a range of custom reports tailored to their use case and integrated with the rest of their business reporting. We are already running this system successfully with some key customers and are happy to work with any internal BI team interested in integrating with IdeaScale.

Not the final product

All the above is coming very soon and as you begin using it we truly want your feedback. You are invited to contribute to this campaign where you can let us know what we got right, what we got wrong and what more you’d like to see. While we won’t be able to implement every idea we receive we will be monitoring this conversation carefully and are keeping back some of our developers to take the best and most impactful ideas and add them to this new reporting. We hope you like what we’ve built or, at the very least, let us know about something that would make it better.


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 James Baillie, VP of Product at IdeaScale

Creative Analysis – Innovation’s Secret Sauce

The brain is your most powerful innovative tool.

Are you a “right-brain” thinker or a “left-brain” thinker? The idea that certain hemispheres of the brain can be stronger in different people and lead to different styles of thought has lingered in our minds, and our approach to innovation, for decades. But the secret of innovation is that we can engage our mind on all levels, with creative analysis.

The “Sides Of The Brain” Myth

The brain is a complicated organ we barely understand, but the right brain/left brain dynamic is something of a myth. The truth is that different activity is more likely to happen on different sides of the brain, but that every activity, from speech to mathematics, has ties to multiple areas of the brain, left and right. Nobody is truly “right-brained” or “left-brained,” in the sense that the myth implies.

There is, however, a degree of social truth to it. There’s a difference between creativity, which generates a new way to tackle an opportunity or challenge, and analysis, which looks at what’s happening and evaluates it. But that doesn’t mean creativity can be separate from analysis, or that the two are antithetical to each other. In fact, the best of innovation often combines them. The trick is using the right one at the right time.

How Creative Analysis Works

It helps to start with what creativity is. At root, creative work is a series of choices, often inspired by an opportunity or challenge. A great example is the story of the Apollo 13 oxygen scrubber, which is a true masterpiece of creative analysis. The Apollo 13 astronauts desperately needed fit, literally, a square peg in a round hole: They needed to fit oxygen scrubbers from one module into another in order to breathe.

It’s teamwork that defines innovation.

NASA put its ground crew on the task, limiting them to the tools and objects found in the module. Under time pressure, forced to improvise, they created an entirely new method for attaching the scrubbers, using creativity to combine new objects in novel ways while also using analysis to think a few steps ahead and anticipate problems.

In short, creative analysis is about forethought and perspective, being creative in how you apply analysis. A solely analytical approach would insist that you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. A solely creative approach would feel stifled by having only limited tools to solve the problem. But the two in conjunction literally saved lives.

Applying Creative Analysis

The trick with creativity and analysis is to use both in equal measure. When first innovating, look closely at the solution you’ve been presented and the assumptions it’s built on. Does addressing those assumptions solve the problem more effectively? Are there limits to the question you need to get around?

As you move through the process, look a few steps ahead. Where is it taking you? Is that where you want to be? Are there other paths to your goal?

Creative analysis, as you can see, is what drives innovation. There’s no right-brain or left-brain, just using the brainpower of your team for a better solution to a challenge. To get started with your next step in innovation, join the IdeaScale community.

Harnessing Good Thoughts: Innovation Management as a Volunteer Opportunity

innovation management as volunteer opportunityTHE DISHARMONIUS GOOD INTENTIONS OF STAKEHOLDERS

Every nonprofit has them, mountains of well-meaning good ideas from passionate supporters, true believers, and entitled stakeholders.

There’s just so darn many of them. Ideas AND supporters. Ignoring one mean can means losing the other (people leave when they feel they aren’t being listened to), but nonprofits just don’t have the time to give every idea the consideration it deserves. Heck, they can’t even slow down long enough to sort things into buckets of yes, no, and maybe later. There’s just too much to do, too many volunteers to manage…

…hey, waitaminnut!

What if you could harness your volunteers to help you sort all the good ideas? Even better, to HAVE good ideas for you?!? What if it wasn’t any harder than managing any other volunteer opportunity? Sure, someone would need to set it up properly, plan it, provide tools, training, and guidance for success, but you do that all the time already. You know how to do that. You have plans and resources and more online guides for that than you can count.

It’s just changing the goal a little, rotating the volunteer dial from “deliver service” to “improve processes” or even “help set strategic priority.” Crazy? Nope, it’s just common sense.


People want to help. They want to buy in. They want to feel like they belong. That they matter. Some are content to show up on a “volunteer day,” but the best want to do more. They have ideas and skills and experience they want to share. They see a way to deliver service more efficiently or be better stewards of resources or stronger allies to your community. They have GREAT ideas. And you know that if you find the best ideas and implement them, not only will it make you stronger as an organization, it will gain you a committed partner. Nothing strengthens the ties that bind like shared success. You want people to buy in like that. Lots of people. Funding follows that kind of commitment.

It’s about harnessing random good intentions and focusing them into collective action in support of a common cause. You set clear goals, provide the right tools and direction, check in and offer guidance every so often, and then celebrate shared success.

You could, in effect, use familiar processes to create volunteer opportunities at a strategic level; you just might need a new tool or two.

This is where managed collaborative innovation comes in. You can partner with supporters in answering difficult questions and meeting tough challenges much the same way you would in rebuilding a community, delivering a hundred meals, or reading a thousand books. With clear goals, a well-defined process, and a lot of teamwork. Some simple examples:

  • Ask your volunteers to develop or improve the training program for new volunteers.
  • Ask your stakeholders to co-create priorities for the upcoming year (or more).
  • Ask local leaders to draft new ways that your services could better serve their communities.
  • Ask your most vocal advocates to present new ideas for fundraising.

Done well, it accomplishes three things at once: 1) harnesses the otherwise wasted resource of good ideas from passionate audiences 2) deepens engagement with those audiences through a sense of shared success, and 3) provides a guiding framework that keeps those ideas firmly aligned with the mission and vision of your ongoing work.

Like any other volunteer opportunity, success is going to depend on how well you set it up, manage it, and engage with your volunteers. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is simple. Done thoughtfully and carefully, it makes good use of a previously untapped self-renewing resource. With clearly stated goals and constraints, well-crafted questions, effective community engagement, user-friendly tools for ideation and collaboration, and transparent evaluation and reporting processes, you can turn the smart ideas of your most passionate supporters into plans ready for collective action.

Nonprofits are among the most resourceful organizations at finding new ways to access previously untapped potential in support of a common cause. Solutions like IdeaScale can provide the tools necessary to take this potential and refine it into both useful, actionable innovation and an increased sense of engagement, inclusion, and commitment.

You already know how to engage a community of volunteer doers, take the next step and learn how to engage a community of volunteer thinkers.

This blog is a guest post by Tim Parsons, COO of 5:00 Films & Media

Learning About Crowdsourcing with IdeaScale!

Crowdsourcing is the practice of asking a large number of people, usually using the internet as the medium, what they perceive as problems within an organization, municipality, or non-governmental civic organization.  Crowdsourcing can take many forms.  A city planner may ask how can the city better accommodate people of varying ethnicities.  Which is an open ended question meant to elicit a wide ranging number of respondence from the participating population.  Crowdsourcing can also work towards a singular goal that could involve a contest with a prize involved.  These type of contests usually involve designing the best mobile app for a city or a best designed logo.

IdeaScale is a platform which allows crowdsourcing to take place.  There are two main tiers in the hierarchy of IdeaScale from the administration side of the site.  At the top is Community Scale, which can host a multitude of Campaigns, the secondary tier within the website.  With the Community’s ability to host several Campaigns you can host extremely targeted topics on the same platform and see if one answer can interrelate to another problem posed in a different campaign.

There are three main ways to participate on IdeaScale as a user.  First, you can submit an idea to the question posed.  This can done by hitting the blue button on the top right of the screen “Submit New Idea.”  Once an idea has been posed in a community, other people can up vote the idea or down vote the idea or add comments to the original idea.

Due to the complexity of the website and the inability for people to comment without being logged in as members, IdeaScale could best be used as an internal crowdsourcing application for larger cities that have complex or jurisdictional overlaps.  Various city departments could use IdeaScale to come up better ideas to streamline internal processes and foster better interagency cooperation.

How Ideascale works

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 6.55.29 PM

On the Admin side when you first log in this is the screen that you see.  This screen show is scrolled down to show the link for manageing campaigns (right side of the screen just above the leader board.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 6.55.48 PM

One you click that button you are into the campaign manager.  With campaign manager you have the option of adding a new campaign to the community or you can manage your campaigns by grouping them together – kind of like a file folder on your windows 10 explorer or OS X Finder.

On the top left of the screen you can add a new campaign if that is an option desired, if not you can add a new campaign then all of the tools that are needed to customize your campaign can be found on the orange side bar on the left.  The engagement tool bar is open under this screen shot and it give you the option to manage campaigns which is pictured on the right.  This tool bar also allows you to set the time when you want to send out emails for engagement and the emails to which you wish to include in the campaign.   The tools you end up using the most are engagement, customization and workflow.


Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 7.08.34 PM


My campaign belongs in the community development side of planning.  The question asked is how can the city of San Luis Obispo increase ethic diversity in the city.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 7.11.55 PM

And these are the two responses that I received.

This article is a guest post written by a student who used IdeaScale in the classroom in order to aid in city planning. You can find the original post here.

Seven Critical Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t get frustrated with your crowdsourcing campaign.

Crowdsourcing and open innovation are great ideas. But like any great ideas, great results need smart execution. Too many ideas fall into a crowdsourcing gap, so here are the problems to avoid.

Unfocused Strategy

By far the biggest problem is people have an idea and decide, vaguely, to throw crowdsourcing at the problem. But throwing an idea at the wall to see what sticks isn’t going to work. You need a clear, detailed strategy before you start any crowdsourcing campaign. If you’re planning to expand your ideas, write a very clear outline of how you expect to progress, just like any other project.

Unclear Goals

Another surprising problem many crowdsourcing campaigns have is that they aren’t entirely sure how they want to use crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing will be tough if your crowd doesn’t understand why you need them. If you don’t have clear goals, your campaign will stall before it even starts. Set realistic goals; know exactly what you want, what your definition of success for the campaign is, and what you’ll do once the campaign has been wrapped.

Choosing Crowdsourcing Instead Of Open Innovation

Crowdsourcing and open innovation are two very different things. Crowdsourcing is a public, open idea pulling from the entire world, or at least the part of the world from which you can gain attention. Open innovation is a more limited process that draws from your company. Using the right type will help make your campaign successful and it will also generally make the campaign smoother. So look closely at how you’ll implement it.

Choosing The Wrong Crowd

Another factor that can derail your campaign is catering to the wrong crowd. Sometimes your consumers need to weigh in on a campaign. At other times, your business customers will be your primary audience. Any crowdsourcing program needs to target the right audience, or you’ll find yourself with no sourcing crowd.

Don’t make these mistakes with your crowdsourcing campaign.

Not Rallying Support

Crowdsourcing campaigns need to be supported not just by the crowd but also from the company running the campaign. Any crowdsourcing campaign can experience pushback at the beginning, sometimes legitimate, such as lawyers raising questions about IP law, and just naysaying about crowdsourcing in general. Before you launch any campaign, get your stakeholders on board. Address concerns where you are able, and get everyone on board.

Going It Alone

Another common mistake is assuming that you have to do absolutely everything, from building the platform to determining the rewards you’re offering and making sure they get delivered as promised. You not only don’t have to do everything alone, you probably won’t have the time. Working with a platform designed for crowdsourcing from the ground up can ensure a better campaign.

Ignoring Marketing

One of the big mistakes of crowdsourcing is assuming that the crowd will also take care of the marketing. In truth, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll catch and hold the attention of your crowd, instead of counting on word of mouth.

As you can see, crowdsourcing is not a tool to be used lightly. Before jumping in, know what you’re doing. To start building your successful crowdsourcing campaign, join the IdeaScale community.

Do you know how to select the best idea?

how to evaluate ideasGood innovators recognize that our ability to create meaningful, positive change doesn’t just depend on gathering good ideas, but on our ability to recognize great ideas. That means that we get a lot of questions from our customers about how to select the best idea – things like “how do I prioritize good ideas when I have them?” or “how do I control for the fact that I don’t have a lot of resources to implement ideas?” or “how do I make sure I select ideas that are going to have a positive impact on my organization?” and the good news is that having a good approach for idea evaluation helps with all these issues and more.

There are a number of different ways to think about evaluating ideas, but almost all of them are linked to your innovation process. And most importantly, participants in an innovation system should be able to look to the innovation process to feel that they’re looking at a system that shows a path to success and bolsters and builds up good ideas. It helps uses understand why some ideas move forward while others don’t, it helps users create submissions that are closer to the solutions that you can implement while also  providing predictability and transparency to your process. This is why you  need to know how you’ll be evaluating ideas when you’re building your process and vice versa.

But whatever kind of process that you use, certain kinds of evaluation are better than others as you move ideas through the funnel and filter them further. Generally, the more easy-to-understand, lower barriers appear at the front of the process and the more rigorous, in-depth evaluation towards the end of the funnel. That’s why one of the key pieces of advice from The Corporate Startup is “make sure you’re asking the right questions at the right time.”

Usually the pass/fail and popularity are assessed in the earlier stages. Buy in and additional research happen towards the middle of the process, and final in-depth alignment and evaluation measures occur at the end of the funnel. The reason this generally happens is because the evaluation in the initial stages often informs the evaluation in the later stages. For example, it’s difficult to provide a practical financial assessment without doing some more in-depth research and investigation in some sort of refinement or proposal-building stage.

If you want to learn more about idea evaluation, register for next week’s webinar on August 9th at 10 a.m. PDT. You’ll learn about how to integrate evaluation types align to innovation process and some common criteria used by company’s for idea evaluation.

Incentives for Participation or Incentives for Success? What Works?

incentives for participationIn a fast-paced corporate environment where there are many expectations and a steady stream of work, how (and more importantly) why, would you carve out time to contribute to your company’s new ideation platform?

Recently a customer asked me if I could share some insight as to what type of incentives really work to drive engagement across divisions and companies. This is an extremely common question for new customers looking to ensure that they can justify their investment in an innovation management platform by ensuring good participation volumes. This customer in particular was interested in the impact of career advancement opportunities on participation volume.

It’s a great question because career advancement is known to be an excellent motivator and yet despite the evidenceour recent report showed that only 8% of our customers included “career growth” as one of their explicit incentive offerings.

While extrapolating success simply based on this is a little too messy to create a clean statement of fact, it is worth noting that every one of these respondents indicated that their IdeaScale innovation management program proved value within the first month of existence.

It turns out that successful incentive programs require a flexible, multi-faceted approach. Here’s why: your incentive strategy should be driven by your crowdsourcing objectives. In other words, if your goal is to source high-caliber, implementation-ready ideas then participation volume is simply one of several things you might want to optimize. Given that you may be sourcing different types of solutions, consider also focusing on how your incentives will impact the nature of the participation (e.g. highly detailed and technical, casual and quick or out-of-the-box), the specific type of participation (e.g. voting, commenting, scoring…) and the roles and composition of the participants (experts, front-line employees, customers, etc…).

For more information I recommend an insightful book called “Wiser” by Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie. The book focuses on how to develop and leverage smart groups, specifically how incentives can lead to best solutions.

One of the most interesting things I learned was how individuals within teams perform better as individuals when incentives are offered for the team as a whole. In other words, if you offer a prize to the team/department from which the best idea comes from, you’ll achieve a few things: 1. The classic extrinsic reward-type motivation, 2. enhanced collaboration via shared objectives, and 3. reduced risk to individuals for stepping outside of groupthink (commonly accepted wisdom) or traditional hierarchy, thus leading to a healthier diversity of input and output.

Regarding the type of career advancement you can actually offer, you might consider creating the opportunity for the idea submitter to continue working on their ideas with flex time. based on the work some professors at the University of Michigan have done called “job crafting” which I wrote a little bit about here, This would be a great signal to all employees that you’re interested in allowing employees to drive positive change within their own roles and based on the job crafting literature, this can have some pretty powerful impacts organizationally and drive continued participation as employees would see the idea platform as a way to drive this process. From the Wiser perspective, by doing this, you’re also helping to inspire participants to share ideas that they are passionate about rather than what they might think management wants to hear and thus increasing the caliber of participation rather than simply volume. You can also find a list of non-monetary rewards to incentivize engagement on our resources page. 

Have you read Wiser or do you have other insights to share on what makes a great incentive program? Let me know [email protected] or on twitter @devinmcintire

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 Devin Mcintire, Innovation Technology Advisor at IdeaScale

Is Myopia the Biggest Threat to Innovation?

Innovation is all about the ability to see clearly. A lack of clarity can be deadly to companies in any number of ways, but one of the most deadly is how it can choke off innovation. Here are a few case studies and what organizations can learn from them.


Kodak was once the most powerful company in photography. Precious times with your family and holiday cheer were “Kodak moments.” For decades, it was the technological leader in photography. Until, suddenly, painfully, it wasn’t.

The Harvard Business Review’s autopsy of how Kodak lost its way reveals what happened. Kodak didn’t ignore digital photography, phones with rapidly improving cameras, or any of it. In fact, Kodak invented the first digital camera, invested in online photo sites, and did what its detractors said to do. What killed it was the fact that it couldn’t see photos becoming ubiquitous, posted to social media, no longer physical things kept in a shoebox.

What can we learn from this? That making the “right” moves doesn’t mean much if you ignore where your overall industry is heading. Ask yourself: Are you investing in the real future or just the future you hope is coming.


Blockbuster’s control of the home video business was so complete. It could dictate to Hollywood what movies were made. Just like Kodak, Blockbuster did more than people remember: It imitated Netflix when Netflix was still distributing movies by mail, but also used that subscription to let people rent directly from Blockbuster’s thousands of stores.

It should have been a perfect union. But Blockbuster made a fateful mistake. It treated its mail service much like its stores, stocking huge numbers of new releases while ignoring the “back catalog” releases Netflix users loved. People quickly grew tired of being able to watch only a handful of movies. Blockbuster was vulnerable enough that when video streaming arrived, it couldn’t catch up.

The lesson? When taking a cue from a competitor, don’t just imitate them. Understand why customers love their business model and apply that to the way you do business.

Ignoring change is often a bad idea.

The Music Industry

If you listen to music industry executives, piracy killed the music industry. But if you think about it, does that really explain what happened? How did Napster, which enjoyed a brief moment of popularity in 2001, back when broadband was limited mostly to colleges, kill a $14 billion industry?

The real answer is that piracy didn’t. Apple did. In 2003, Apple introduced the iTunes Store, which tied into their popular iPod. The problem wasn’t that people stole music. The problem was that piracy got people used to the concept of buying single songs, instead of albums. People were perfectly happy to find their music through legitimate means, but those legitimate means led to less revenue for the music industry. So don’t be like record labels. Take a hard look at what change in your industry means and what will be necessary to be ready for it.

Innovation is crucial to survival. Business history is littered with stories about those who failed to innovate. Each tells us a story that is important to learn. If you don’t want your business to be one of those stories, join the IdeaScale community.