Many legacy enterprises have had startup envy over the last couple of decades, but there’s a growing trend in which the largest firms are tapping into an obvious resource and one that their smaller counterparts can’t compete on:
Firms have recently begun mobilizing their employees not merely to generate new ideas but to become active participants in the “intrapreneurial” process.
The concept of mobilizing the masses is shaping up to be a rebirth of crowdsourcing, which has been a popular methodology for seeking diverse ideas and opinions for some time now. Somewhat ironically, along the way, people are realizing that the more defined and buttoned up with these innovation processes they become, the more successful they are at achieving the desired end state: enterprise-wide innovation.
Only a few years ago, Adobe was launching 6 to 12 new innovations a year with investments of approximately $100,000 each—fairly standard, if not ambitious, metrics by many enterprise comparisons. Enter the Kickbox program, which was launched enterprise-wide to turn Adobe into a de facto incubator and decrease the risk of early-stage, high-cost bets.
To date, they’ve distributed over 1,000 red boxes to employees worldwide, which contain, a credit card for $1,000 (seed money) and a guide to their six-step innovation process.
As Adobe’s VP of Creativity Mark Randall stated, “If you invest in every single idea, but at a low cost of $1,000 or less to develop and test each one, the winners among them will emerge organically. I’m not smart enough to pick the winners ahead of time.”
With the program’s success internally and Adobe’s standing in the creative community, the creativity software company has made the Kickbox program available for free under a creative commons license.
To the surprise of few, Amazon was recently ranked by Forbes as the most innovative company in the world. Does it depend solely on innovation labs strategically placed throughout the world? Far from it.
Any one of Amazon’s over 500,000 employees can submit an idea at any time by drafting a press release and an accompanying six-page FAQ document. Amazon’s message with the press release: begin with the end in mind and work backwards through the innovation process.
With dedicated teams responsible for sifting through thousands of press releases and supporting the originators through the process, from first submission to final pitch. This process exemplifies Amazon’s mantra: invent and simplify.
Large firms like Starbucks and GE have long had programs like shark-tank-style pitch competitions in place to solicit ideas from inside and outside the organization. However, those methodologies fall short on one very important notion: for serial entrepreneurs and first-time innovators alike, what often begins as a very bad idea, with a little TLC, user feedback, and/or rapid experimentation, it can quickly morph into something viable or even disruptive.
The most innovative organizations are succeeding under the idea that you can’t leave serendipity to chance. By putting in place a clear, yet inspiring, process––processes that give employees ownership over their idea––firms are maturing from simply crowdsourcing a massive number of raw ideas, to galvanizing and mobilizing large, distributed employee bases.
It’s important to note that every organization is unique and that what works for one might fall flat for another. Use a small group of employees or a single division as a test bed to see what works, and then set it loose on the masses. As the old saying goes, innovation is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.