Insights and sneak peeks into innovation and IdeaScale.

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

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

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

Why Collect Ideas?

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

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

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

Best Practices In Idea Collection

Gather many perspectives for the best innovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idea Estimation and the Reporting Dashboard

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

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

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

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



Who Makes the Decisions in Crowdsourcing?

Who makes the decisions in crowdsourcing?You will likely engage your experts and authorities at the earliest stages or your program through discussion. These are the people who know a great deal about the subject matter of the campaigns and can give you strong feedback on your problem statement and criteria for success. And these are the people who must agree and must give their blessing to your plan before you move forward in launching.

When scoping out the people who care about the subject matter of your campaign, the people with a vested interested in your campaign, you might discover that this constitutes your entire crowd. This is a good thing! This is the whole idea of crowdsourcing: to gather and synthesize the input of many minds! These people will certainly post ideas and comment on ideas, but you might even invite them in early decision making by allowing them to help you screen ideas. You give weight to the opinions of the individuals in your crowd and involve these individuals in decision making by setting rules to screen or filter ideas according to a certain threshold in votes or other scores.

In this example, you might involve your subject matter experts in transforming idea fragments into fleshed out concepts by engaging them in idea refinement.

Finally, you might involve your authorities in the final stage of evaluating and selecting ideas and slating ideas for implementation.

This is simply an example of how one might decide how and when the stakeholders, experts, and authorities participate in decision-making. We call this community governance. The governance that you develop for your community will likely differ from this example because it should fit with the culture and goals of your organization and program. If you’re not sure how to set up the governance of your community, you can set up a consultation with an IdeaScale Innovation Architect for guidance.

This entry is part of a mini-series dedicated to implementation. For the full story on implementation, watch our 20 min webinar or check out this blog on decision-making, this one on execution, and this one on identifying your stakeholders.

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

You Have Observed and Thought. Now What?

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

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

Planning In Innovation

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

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

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

Innovation isn’t a solo act.

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

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

Innovation Never Ends

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

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

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

Defining Your Innovation Metrics

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

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

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

Example Inputs:

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

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

Example Outputs:

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

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

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

3 Lessons Learned from Open Nation 2017

On a crisp early November day, innovators from around the world convened for Open Nation, IdeaScale’s annual conference celebrating innovation. They came to discuss how crowdsourcing ideas is changing their organizations and to learn best practices from each other.

With speakers ranging from Tesla to the Coast Guard and from Ikea to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America, the presenters shared an encyclopedic range of stories about how they are creating cultures of change.

A few of my favorite takeaways:

  • Crowd sourcing is co-creation.  Wing Tang of IKEA sat for a fireside interview (the fire was projected) with IdeaScale CEO Rob Hoehn to talk about how the spirit of inclusion that drives their crowdsourcing efforts. The company reaches out to universities, customers, suppliers and startups to cultivate a culture of collaboration. This has led to exciting developments such as an augmented reality app that helps shoppers envision furniture in their own spaces.

  • IdeaScale connects the workforce directly to senior leadership, aligning the organization around a common purpose. Andy Howell who leads innovation for the Coast Guard told us the dramatic story of how the field level Coast Guardsmen responded to Hurricane Harvey with tremendous speed and agility. They harnessed and adapted consumer grade technologies to aid their rescue efforts. They used map mashups to plot people in distress and used social media to monitor and respond to calls for help. Later, they ran an IdeaScale campaign to capture the lessons Coast Guardsmen learned in the response. Because they shared lessons learned in a transparent, online fashion, they were able to cut through military bureaucracy and put their ideas for improving disaster response directly in front of Admirals. If you watch only one video from Open Nation, watch this oneThanks for all you do Coast Guard!


  • KISS (Keep Innovation Simple Stupid) Parag Vaish of Tesla demonstrated his streamlined, direct and simple process for assessing ideas. His model works like IdeaScale’s ReviewScale in which a panel of reviewer assesses each idea based on a set of criteria. He challenges idea authors to keep their ideas to 140 characters or less so that reviewers can read and review ideas in one minute or less!

Cue the jazz band playing Metallica!

Hope to see you at next year’s Open Nation for more great discussion about co-creating for change! To tide you over until next year, you can view presentations from Open Nation 2017 here. And keep watching this space for news about IdeaScale’s Customer Advisory Boards where you can continue the conversation with your peers.

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 Kerry Seed, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale

Holiday Incentives – Let’s Get Festive!


Holiday Incentives - Let’s get festive

The holiday season is a great time to crowdsource, because creativity will be at its peak when people mix at holiday parties and share new ideas. But, it’s also a challenging time for engagement because there are plenty of competing priorities.

To capture the energy of holiday season with lots of ideas, we recommend:

  • Set a goal for idea submission
  • Set an incentive for idea submission
  • … and when it comes to outreach, keep it timely

Here are some fun incentives, both monetary and non-monetary, that you can offer this holiday season:

  • Close at lunchtime on the last day before break if xx% of the teamsubmits an idea
  • Company donation to top submitter’s favorite charity
  • Amazon gift card for gifting season
  • Recognition and photos with CEO at the holiday party
  • Recognition in the holiday newsletter
  • CEO sings karaoke at holiday party to song of winner’s choice
  • Private holiday coffee hour, cocktails, or meal with the CEO for top idea submitters and their spouses
  • Work from home for the last week before holiday
  • Tickets for your family to a Holiday show or event of your choice
  • Massage therapist gives 15 minute massages to the top 10 idea submitters
  • For each idea submitted, receive 1 hour of time off for last minute holiday prep.
  • Ring in the new year! – Park in CEO’s spot during the first week of the year.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility campaign: Submit ideas for a charity at which all employees should volunteer for a day. Author of winning idea gets a match of his/her holiday bonus donated to said charity.

Be sure to capture the energy and spirit of the season!

Top Resources for Driving Engagement

A key goal at Open Nation this year was to share best practices and top resources for driving engagement. To prepare for Open Nation, our team collected and shared some of our favorite resources on community engagement strategies. Now, we want to share them with you:

driving engagement

Take home message: Plan for multiple touch points throughout a challenge both in terms of channel outreach and messaging

Take home message: take time to consider the nature of the engagement you want to encourage and design your incentives accordingly

Take home message: Employees who feel that they are contributing to a greater purpose are much more likely to engage

Take home message: Target Influencers; Indulge Early Adopters & Listen; Make it Useful w/o Users; Create Exclusivity, Scarcity, Urgency; Give Users Tools to Evangelize; Seed Content & Communities

Take home messages: By increasing your employees creative confidence you will energize them to be more participatory in ideation and other crowdsourcing activities.  Sponsor workshops, host Ted Talk discussions, and promote articles in company newsletters that focus on Human Centered Design.

Take home message: A successful engagement strategy should seek to to build trust with participants to leverage the deep connections people, employees, and the crowd have with each other.

Take home message: From crafting campaigns that speak to your audience, to targeted outreach strategies, and meaningful rewards, success means understanding your target audience.

At Open Nation, our speakers put a special emphasis on how they are driving engagement with their own IdeaScale communities. Amway and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation both produced short videos to drive engagement. And United Way developed a powerful email drip to convert curious visitors to idea submitters.

Know Your Innovation Stakeholders

Innovation StakeholdersIn order to involve key stakeholders early, you must first understand who your stakeholder are.

I recently read a book called Crucial Conversations. In the chapter called “Move to Action,” the authors describe how to identify potential participants in a decision.

The authors recommend asking four questions:

Who cares? Who has a vested interest in the subject matter of your crowdsourcing campaign? Those people are potential candidates for involvement in the decisions around which ideas to advance.

Who knows? These are your subject matter experts.

Who must agree? These are your influencers or those with decision-making authority at your organization.

How many people? Finally, the authors recommend taking into consideration how many of these candidates for participation you can involved in a practical way, without burying the decision in tremendous complexity and inefficiency. I pivoted off this, because software can help you overcome the challenges that would usually bog down group decisions. A software solution allows you to efficiently gather and synthesize diverse opinions into a single decision. We will dive a deeper into how software allows you to make collective decisions efficiently a little bit later.

But for now, I would like to offer an alternative way to frame the fourth question…Instead of asking how many people can participate efficiently, ask yourself:

How and when will they participate? Of those people who I wish to engage in decisions, how can I engage them efficiently? And WHEN is the appropriate time to engage them?

Once you map out who cares, who know, and who must agree, you might not include each of these people in the decision-making process in the exact same way or at the exact same time, but you can use software to develop an inclusive yet efficient system. Check out this blog on decision-making and this one on execution. For the full story on implementation, watch our 20 min webinar

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

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!