How to fuel innovation while leveraging your internal resources – Part 1: Generating ideas in an idea campaign

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Innovation is a pretty big word and it might seem intimidating at first. However, as a larger company you have one great advantage – the knowledge of hundreds, maybe thousands, of employees is at your fingertips. The question is: How do you use these internal resources to fuel innovation?

It is key to implement an innovation infrastructure that allows employees both to submit ideas and to work on these ideas. A common way to go about this is to launch idea campaigns and to set up X-ators (i.e., accelerators, incubators, labs). As many companies struggle in the correct implementation, we use this blog to outline our lessons learned in building an internal innovation infrastructure.

Let’s start with idea campaigns! Ideation is at the heart of any innovation program and crowdsourcing has emerged as an effective mean to generate and capture ideas from within the company. According to Gartner, 75% of the world’s high-performing enterprises are using crowdsourcing in 2018.1 The idea is simple: Large groups of people are smarter than the smartest individuals. In the popular TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire?” candidates get to pick between polling the audience and calling an expert. While calling an expert produces the correct answer 65% of the time, polling the audience yields the correct answer 91% of the time.2 Similarly, we produce better ideas when involving more people in the ideation process, thus harnessing the power of the crowd – your employees.

Launching an idea campaign – here’s what you should keep in mind:

Platform. The platform for your idea campaign must be easy to use. The more prominently it is featured on the intranet and other channels, the better your response. Ideally, the platform can be accessed from anywhere anytime – including your smartphone. You want to provide a few categories to structure your ideas, yet you shouldn’t go overboard with it. Simplicity is key and with each category on top, you pose a new barrier to submitting an idea.

Participants. There is plenty of brainpower in your company. When launching your campaign make sure employees across geographies and business units can participate. The bigger and more diverse the crowd, the better the ideas you will get out of the campaign.

Submission. Beyond other things, submitting an idea is a question of culture: Do I believe my co-workers and managers will value my idea and treat it with respect? We found that very often people do not submit their ideas out of fear – fear that they could embarrass themselves. In companies with a zero-error culture, we therefore strongly suggest an option to submit ideas anonymously. Submitting an idea will ultimately become less scary.

Incentives. To further increase submissions, you might want to think about putting in place some incentives. These can be extrinsic or intrinsic. A common intrinsic incentive is to reward participants with the chance to develop their idea further in the company’s X-ator.

Allocated time. One of the biggest issues is time – often we don’t have time to step aside from our daily work to put together an idea. Therefore, we recommend introducing an official time for innovation (daily/weekly). It can be as little as half an hour per week or fifteen minutes per day, but it will have a big impact if lived and encouraged by management.

Leadership. We often hear that employees are criticized for spending time online instead of “getting work done”. If you are serious about becoming more innovative, you need to align with ALL hierarchy levels on this goal. At best, management leads the way and takes an active role in your idea campaigns by submitting ideas, commenting and so on.

As can be seen, there are a lot of pitfalls when launching an idea campaign. From our experience, idea campaigns are most successful when the tool is easy to use and – fun to use. If there is one thing you shouldn’t do, it’s implementing an ideation tool for the sake of it only. Why? The quality of your idea campaign is paramount to the quality of ideas you will be getting out of the campaign.

In our next blog released on December 5, we explore best practices in the implementation of x-ators. Generating ideas is only a first step on the way to becoming a truly innovative company. What it really comes down to is the further pursuance of these ideas in your X-ator. So, stay tuned for our next blog!

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1. Gartner (2014, November 26). Predicts 2015: Sourcing Strategies Shift From ‘Built to Last’ to ‘Built to Adapt’.

2. Surowiecki, J. (2004). The wisdom of crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies, and nations. New York, NY, US: Doubleday & Co.

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