Insights and sneak peeks into innovation and IdeaScale.

3 Tactics that Make Innovation Management Easier

IdeaScale learns from all its best customers, but in our latest interview with Redwood Credit Union we learned three things that make innovation management easier:

  1. Pre-Populate Your Campaign. When RCU launched their first campaign that asked for ideas that would help improve the member experience, they seeded that campaign with ideas that they had received in the past. This made participation at the launch of the campaign less intimidating to community members since no one had to be the first person to make a suggestion. It also allowed the customer experience team to collect feedback on existing ideas right away.
  2. Attach Ideas to Existing Initiatives. In order to maximize the number of ideas that are implemented each year, the implementation team works first to find existing in-development programs and projects that align to promising ideas and attaches the idea to that project. Instead of having to find new resources and buy-in for those ideas, they were able to fast track their implementation by improving existing programs and working with existing resources.
  3. Reward for Impact and Participation. Redwood Credit Union has a culture that thrives on friendly competition and employee pride. Awards were given not just for the ideas that delivered the most impact (the voyager award) but also for the groups with the most engaged participants (the TME Award) and both were highly coveted by the program participants. And, there’s even research to suggest that rewarding for engagement not only increases participation but also improves overall idea quality.

By doing this, the team at Redwood Credit Union has engaged over 70% of their staff in improving their member’s customer experience and implemented 85 new ideas in their first year. Those ideas are helping to improve the overall customer experience and helping Redwood Credit Union maintain its reputation for providing “exceptional service to its members and to each other.”

To learn more about Redwood Credit Union’s idea management initiative, download the case study here.

Understanding the Source of Employee Innovation

Boredom is one of those facets of life that consistently amaze. How can any person be bored when there is so much around us that stimulates our intellect and inspires our awe? And why do we continuously and mindlessly scroll through television channels and facebook feeds instead of focusing our energy on creating something of beauty or value?

Boredom persists. In the workplace, we call this phenomenon, disengagement. All managers dread this and go to great lengths to improve engagement in the workplace. Whether it’s motivating staff, reaching customers, or simply having a conversation, employers want engaging interactions. They crave opinions and other forms of employee feedback, especially when those choice pieces of feedback help to directly further company goals.

The dilemma is, how do managers create engagement? Employees can’t be beaten with sticks (you can try but your HR team will likely frown upon it). You can’t yell at people to not be bored or to focus more.

No, the secret to employee engagement is curiosity and challenge. When people are challenged, their minds will naturally start formulating solutions. We call this, creativity. Marketing people call it, innovation. What follows are a few pieces of advice to encourage innovation (or creativity) from your employees.

Engagement Powers Activate!

Each day, we are flooded with information and stimuli. Take, for example, that little number in the corner of your inbox that numbers emails in the thousands or tens of thousands. Those are pieces of information that we have to analyze, prioritize and process. Our brains sort this information into two buckets — interesting and unworthy.

We actually have a dedicated neural network that manages this process which is called, The Reticular Activating System (RAS).  The RAS has two main functions; 1) highlighting relevant information in real time, and 2) stimulating pattern recognition to fuel innovative thinking.

In terms of our biology, the RAS monitors our shift between rest and wakefulness. Functionally, as it applies to how we communicate and perform throughout the day, the RAS determines whether we should tune stimuli out or tune them in.

Recognizing how the RAS functions provides an opportunity to improve engagement in the workplace. It can help us determine how we communicate and how often. Should we send someone thirty emails or have a ten minute conversation?

Are people falling asleep in meetings? If they look disengaged or bored, they are tuning you out. That means it’s time to change the content or format of your meeting. When people are engaged, they are attentive and responsive in meetings. They inspired to be more creative in their tasks and find new ways to accomplish their goals.

Reinforcing Engagement

Useful information activates the RAS to pay attention. When new or interesting information is in front of us, we focus. When that moment passes in a meeting, and we are told information that is irrelevant or that we already know, our RAS prompts us to disengage.

The best way to engage employees is to give them something that inspires curiosity. Being told a statement requires no thought on the part of the person to whom information is being conveyed. Being asked a question, though, prompts us to think about the answer.

The more questions we ask others, the more that they feel engaged – and that engagement persists over time as long as the questions remain pertinent. A question becomes part of our subconscious, and as time goes on, we are drawn to information that relates to what we were asked.

Leading Staff to Innovate

People managers can use the Reticular Activating Systems of their employees to engage staff in positive directions for the company. But do people always view the company’s success as their own success? How can you keep your staff focused and have them care about outcomes?

One way is to engage your staff by enrolling them in creating their own personal quarterly objectives that are tied to the quarterly objectives of the team and the company.

Another way to engage your staff is to move them away from a focus on individual success and towards a focus on success for the team. You can ask them what can be done to improve a situation and encourage them to crowdsource ideas from the rest of the staff. People who are challenged and curious and who are working towards a collective goal are more likely to innovate, instead of just passively doing their jobs.

Finally, let them know that their ideas have value through consistent recognition and reward.

Companies can provide personal incentives (a bonus or recognition of a job well done) to motivate individual participation. Employees learn that contributing to the company’s success will produce personal success for them as well.

Low employee engagement continues to baffle Human Resource professionals, middle managers, and company leaders the world over. But the solution is really not that complicated. Pay attention to employees and notice when they tune out and when they tune in. Then ask questions to keep them curious and challenge them so that their natural propensity towards innovation remains activated.

This blog is a guest post by David Mizne, Content Strategist of 15five

What is an Idea Worth?

The world of ideas is vast, but what’s their value?

What’s the value of an idea? What makes an idea truly valuable? It’s a more practical answer than you might think.

What’s An Idea Worth?

There is an old adage that there’s nothing new under the sun and it is, to some degree, true. We’ve all heard about the man who invented both the iPod and iTunes in the 1970s or how science fiction authors like Jules Verne or H.G. Wells correctly predicted aerial warfare or the moon landing. But it wasn’t the supposed inventor of the iPod who changed music, it was Apple, and Verne didn’t even live to see his prediction of the moon landing come true. So what does that tell us about the value of ideas?

It says an idea is only as valuable as your ability to execute it. The moon landing, in fact, is an excellent example: Verne predicted we’d land on the moon, that we’d launch from Florida, and that gravitational force would be a key point of concern. What fans often forget is what Verne got wrong, which was nearly everything else. His mechanism was essentially a giant gun, fired upward, which fell victim to both economies of scale and the gravitational force issue. Verne also predicted that it would be cheap enough to be built privately (which it wasn’t) and that the engineering would be relatively simple. It was actually one of the most complex endeavors of engineering ever achieved by man.

What’s the value of an idea?

Ideas vs. Execution

One of the great enemies of innovation is an insistence that every idea is impractical, which simply isn’t true. But hidden inside that objection is a truth any innovation strategy needs to reconcile with, an honest, clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent to achieving the idea. For example, the 1970s iPod never became reality at the time simply because the technology at the time wasn’t able to deliver on the idea. Thirty years of shrinking microprocessors, improved data compression, and cheaper storage made it a reality.

Once you have a sense of the challenges, ask yourself how you can overcome them. For example, say an idea requires you to create new molds for a product, an expensive proposition. Can you, perhaps, 3D print the parts first, and test them to refine the idea before you buy the molds? If an idea requires complex data architecture, perhaps a solution has already been built and you can simply pick up a turnkey solution.

The most important point you can take away here is the flipside of “nothing new under the sun.” Think of it this way: Every idea has more value than we realize. The originality of the idea itself isn’t important. If somebody has had the same idea before, that doesn’t mean it should be discarded. Innovation starts with an idea, but the smart execution and careful planning are what make it brilliant. It took thirty years to deliver the iPod before the full value of the original idea was able to be realized

Ready to get started on your innovation strategy? Join our newsletter.

Have You Read Adam Grant’s Originals?

originalsAt IdeaScale, the employees like to encourage an atmosphere of  continuous learning about innovation by  hosting book clubs that relate to our industry. Earlier this year, we read Adam Grant’s Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World. The book came to our attention, because one of our prospects had read the book and was convinced that they needed an open and transparent system for sharing ideas. Naturally, we decided that any book that could galvanize someone like that is one that we needed to read, as well.

We took about a month to read it (although some of us read it in less time) and we each came away with some thoughts about how to encourage original thought and nurture innovators within an organization. Here are just some of the ties that we saw:

Being Creative Encourages Better Idea Evaluation. This principle was one that surprised us and made us think perhaps all judges should be required to first submit at least one idea before they evaluate any ideas.

The Best Ideas Will Arrive at the End. Lots of customers get nervous when the end of their campaign is drawing near and they still don’t have that many new ideas. Adam Grant presents the idea of strategic procrastination wherein creators don’t just dump new ideas out, they take time to consider and contemplate them. Aligning yourself to one idea too early on shuts down the possibility that you will consider and reconsider and perhaps stumble across something totally novel.

Someone Can Play the Role of “Objector.” Sometimes it makes it easier to avoid groupthink and unified belief structures if someone is assigned the role of being contrary. Maybe it would be best if there was a moderator who simply went around and commented against the grain of everyone else.

To learn more about Originals and how to support innovators in the workplace, download the infographic here.

4 Ways to Use Google Analytics in IdeaScale

As you may already know, it’s pretty easy to integrate Google Analytics with IdeaScale (seriously, we’re talking data insights that are basically 2-3 clicks away). But maybe you don’t yet know what sorts of things you might want to look at in Google Analytics. Here are some great ways to learn more about your community.

Traffic to Your IdeaScale Community. Like any Google Analytics dashboard, adding analytics to your community allows you to view traffic patterns. How many people are visiting your site? How many return? How long do they spend in the community? How many pages are they looking at? You can even separate audiences (your regular community members from your admins/moderators, for example) and compare their trends over time.

Demographic Data. Don’t you want to know more about who’s visiting your community? Google Analytics allows you to see some top-level data about who your visitors are: where they live, which devices they use, what sorts of interests that they have – all anonymized, of course. But this type of information could help you build better audience profiles for future campaigns.

Set Goals for Particular Activities. “Goals” in Google Analytics means setting up some parameters around particular actions so that you can start measuring them. You can set goals for people who reach a particular URL (for example: the idea submission form), goals for duration of time spent on site, or particular activities (things like playing a video). Once you start developing goals, you can start measuring progress around them.


Look at Trends Beyond Votes. Maybe you’re not interested in which idea received the most votes, but which idea was viewed the most times. You can look at impressions and interactions on different ideas. You can also look at all of this over time across different audiences. Start seeing which ideas lead someone to the next idea by looking at behavior flow and get beyond the idea of votes alone.

Are you ready to deploy Google Analytics on your IdeaScale community? We want to know what you learn. Share your findings here.



Innovation or Incremental Improvement?

Short-term or long-term, what goal is your team working to achieve?

Innovation or incremental improvement? It’s a question that faces any business looking toward the future. Do they go in a radical, and potentially risky, new direction? Or do they stick with what works, steadily building on what they’ve already done? While it’s rarely an either/or situation, it’s often a tough divide to straddle. So, which do you choose, and when?

Innovation Vs. Incremental Improvement

We should define what we mean by both.

Innovation, in a business sense, is a big, sweeping change. Think how the iPhone changed the mobile phone industry overnight or how Tesla disproved, in the most dramatic way possible, that consumers do, in fact, want electric cars.

Incremental improvement is the difference between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 6, or the Tesla Model S and its upgrades. This is important because it shows smart companies judiciously use both strategies.

Both, however, have risks. Innovation is a gamble and sometimes you lose, while incremental improvement can look like spinning your wheels. So how do you balance the two for your business?

Encouraging Innovation

First of all, it costs nothing to consider ideas and to encourage your team to think big. You and your team should constantly be asking yourselves what the future of your industry is, be looking closely at how your customers are using what you build, and how what you build might be applied in other ways. One eye should always be focused on the future and all avenues to it should be explored.

Encouraging Incremental Improvement

The tech industry is obsessed with “feature creep.” A great product comes along, then, slowly, more and more ideas are bolted onto it until it’s a jack of all tools, but a master of none. Look no further than the legendary Swiss Army Knife. While you can still find the elegant, classic knife, you can also find staggering monstrosities that exist mostly to serve somebody’s ego instead of being a functional pocket tool!

Open the door to a better business.

Feature creep is a good illustration of the perils of incremental improvement, but the benefits of making your product better are clear and often obvious. Why wouldn’t you add features customers demand or overhaul the features they wish were better? It’s just a matter of ensuring that you don’t put the cart before the horse. After all, are you more likely these days to use a Swiss Army Knife for a job around the house, or pull out a Leatherman?

Balancing The Two

There can, and should, be room for both strategies. Innovation often launches from incremental improvement. The laptops we all use now started as room-sized monstrosities, with technology slowly refined across decades of subtle refinements. The real innovation wasn’t a faster processor or better memory. It was a spreadsheet program businesses could use to run their own books. That made the exorbitant price of computers at the time finally justifiable to many businesses, spreading computers far and wide, making them a feature of business. In turn, the ubiquity of computers meant that businesses found value in the formerly obscure discipline of connecting them via phone lines, creating the internet.

So, look closely at how you can improve in the short term. But always, always keep an eye on the future. Need help with either? Join the IdeaScale community

The 2017 Innovation Management Awards Are Open

For the fifth year in a row, IdeaScale is hosting the Innovation Management Awards. This annual contest is open to all IdeaScale customers who have a story to share. Particularly if that story demonstrates innovation thought leadership when it comes to engagement strategies, innovation processes, or idea implementation.

And this year (as every year), IdeaScale offers the winners in each category the following awards:

An Apple Watch

5% discount on the 2018 IdeaScale subscription

One Free 3-Month IdeaBuzz Challenge

VIP Open Nation Invite

Promotional PR Packet

Past winners have included Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Yale University, the Department of Energy, Ushahidi, Innovate Your State, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and many others (you can see a full list of IdeaScale’s case study library on the IdeaScale resources page). And those winners have demonstrated innovation sophistication in everything from energy & sustainability to financial technology and government services. But best of all, they represent best practices from real life innovation practitioners who have succeeded in repeatably delivering value in their innovation programs.

This has always been one of IdeaScale’s primary focuses: creating community when it comes to innovation. The Innovation Management Awards, Open Nation, online webinars with customer guest speakers, all are efforts towards building a community that supports one another cooperatively as we collect and manage ideas.

All IdeaScale customers are welcome to participate in this open call. They simply have to answer some survey questions and tell their story by November 10th. Learn more about the Innovation Management Awards and how you might participate today.  Obviously, customers that can rigorously demonstrate their program’s success with metrics and data will have an advantage, but IdeaScale wants to hear all your stories regardless of how you measure success.

Entry forms must be completed in a single sitting. To request a copy of the entry form in advance, please contact [email protected].

Four Ways to Improve Your Creative Confidence

improve-your-creative-confidenceSo, your company is investing in innovation, but do you lack the confidence to be creative?

A 2017 Crowdsourced Innovation Report published by IdeaScale noted that more and more companies are embedding innovation initiatives at their organizations. 53% of the innovation programs are focused on leveraging the collective wisdom of employees. The report list below the six innovation priorities that companies are focusing on in 2017.

Company Innovation priorities for 2017 (in order of importance):

  1. Building a culture of innovation
  2. Improve employee engagement
  3. Gather more ideas
  4. Implement breakthrough ideas
  5. Improve innovation leadership
  6. Scale innovation programs

Is your company expecting you to be creative in tackling one of these initiatives?

In their article “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence,” Tom and David Kelley describes creative confidence: “It’s the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.”

Their article shares stories and offers practical advice on becoming more creative by dealing with the “Fear of the Messy” and the “Fear of Losing Control.” Below are a few of my own practices that I employ to build my creative confidence.

#1  Take a break:

Per Kelly and Kelly individuals should take a scheduled break daily.

“Schedule daily ‘white space’ in your calendar, where your only task is to think or take a walk and day dream.” Studies have shown that taking breaks help to reboot your cognitive thinking. I bake into my schedule each day is at least 15 minutes to walk, pray and ideate.

#2 Brainstorm multiple uses for things:

I like to look at objects and imagine how I might use it differently in a situation. Once when I was catering for a very large group, I needed to obtain a large clear serving platter. I had little time before the event to get one. Looking above me I noticed the rectangular cover of the florescent light bulb. It was the perfect size for our needs. We took it down cleaned it and used it to display for our tasty desserts. What common everyday items can you repurpose?

#3 Connect the dots

Similar to the above is drawing upon past experience and making an association. I am a connector. I am a naturally curious person, and one of my strengths is the ability to make a note of various things or concepts I encounter daily and apply them in a new context.

Steve Job’s said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

#4 Focus on inspirational things.

I set aside time during of my day to focus on inspirational things.

Whether, it is listening to a talk by my favorite speaker, or listening to a song like, “I Believe I can Fly” by R. Kelly, I make sure I listen to something motivational before and after work. This helps me to stay inspired, encourage, confident and inventive.

Finally, I live my life each day by this quote from Dr. Myles Munroe: “What you have done is no longer your potential.”

In what ways do you build your creative confidence?

4 Ways to Promote Innovation Without Crowdsourcing

The crowd you source from doesn’t have to be outside the company.

Crowdsourcing is just one facet of innovation strategy. For some, it may not be the most workable. Perhaps there are legal concerns that make it impossible. Maybe your industry is so specialized you just don’t have that big a crowd to source from. Or perhaps there’s just institutional skepticism to deal with. So, if crowdsourcing doesn’t work for your specific issue, here’s how to bolster innovation without it.

Look Internally

Clearer, more open lines of communication all up and down your company is important in a number of contexts, but particularly when it comes to innovation. Members of your team should be able to put a problem out there in the company for everyone, as much as possible, to consider. Fresh eyes are useful for any problem, no matter what it is, and just as important, it involves stakeholders across the board. They’ll be able to spot problems, offer suggestions, or just give a different perspective that’s useful and that may ensure, as your work comes closer to release, a smoother, simpler rollout.

Listen To Your Customers

Any company worth its salt has a good relationship with its customers. Customers always have ideas and suggestions. They might ask if there’s a feature in the works, or say they’d love to use your product elsewhere in their business, except for one thing. Ask your sales team about what they’re hearing, and take a look at what’s workable.

Similarly, understand how your customers are using your products. The micro plane is a great example. They’re common in the kitchen now, but ten years ago, you could only find them in hardware stores. They were designed to grind down hardwood and metal. You can still use them for that, of course, but micro plane manufacturers quickly discovered home cooks were using their rasps as more effective, precise graters, so they began putting their products in kitchen stores. Learn how your product is actually used, not just how you intended it to be used when pursuing new ideas.

Tap your company’s internal genius.

Encourage Internal Experiments

Innovation is a situation where we only hear about the successes. Everybody likes to talk about the iPhone, but nobody mentions the decades of work Apple put into portable, connected computing, from the Apple Newton to a landline with a liquid crystal screen that was basically a proto-iPhone. There needs to be room in your organization to experiment, to engage in small projects, and test out ideas. For every great invention from a brilliant inventor, there are dozens of others that fail miserably, but they often build upon those failures to achieve their successes.

Follow The Competition

There are plenty of ways to legally and ethically keep an eye out for what your competitors are developing. Pay attention to their press releases, who they’re hiring, and what areas of your market they’re penetrating. Don’t copy their moves. Rather, ask yourself why those moves are happening and what they might say about the overall direction of your industry. That will point you toward new ideas and ways to upgrade and innovate.

Innovation is a process driven by every member of a company. Crowdsourcing can be incredibly useful to your innovation process, but it should be just one aspect of it. To get started with your innovation strategy, join the IdeaScale community.

Lunch Thoughts: What to do with Recycled Glass?

What to do with recycled glassOur office kitchen only has one microwave and I always get hungry at peak lunchtime. I place my Pyrex glass container of leftovers at the end of the microwave queue of different shapes, sizes, and brands of glass containers, and wait my turn.

From Mason jars at weddings, to glass water bottles at the gym, and glass carafes for endlessly cold iced coffee, it’s clear that glass is being used in just about everything. Glass has so many benefits: it’s reusable, easy to clean, BPA free, and sustainable. Yet, even with these benefits, glass recycling in the U.S is dismal.

Glass is 100% recyclable, and can be recycled again and again without losing quality or purity. However, in 2013, only 34% of glass products were recovered and recycled, meaning that the rest most likely ended up in landfills. Today, glass is one of the least recycled common materials on the U.S. market, and many cities are ending curbside collections of glass. It’s time for a shakeup in glass recycling – and you can help!

A leading food and beverage company has issued an innovation challenge with IdeaBuzz to source novel ideas for how cities can leverage recycled, multi-colored glass. How would you use recycled glass to solve fundamental urban infrastructure needs and challenges? Could it be used to replace cement, as insulation, or even converted to sand for city beaches?

The online-challenge provides a forum for cities, researchers, urban planners, and sustainability advocates to come together and propose ideas and solutions. It’s not an easy challenge, but it’s a great opportunity to leverage glass for cities. Not only would you help make a difference in cities, but you’d also be eligible for a cash prize of up to $2,500.  

All ideas must be submitted by October 13, 2017.