The Buzz vs True Innovation
I call it the buzz, because I need a word to encapsulate all this great enterprise 2.0 activity that has emerged over the past 18 months. Idea Management has been overrun with a flood of tools and practices that replicate the kind of buzz you get on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites - I’m talking high engagement, lots of activity, lots of content, total end user control, power to the people!
I’m a big fan of Web 2.0, and I love the grass roots approach to innovation, but It’s easy to get lost in it all, and forget what you’re really trying to achieve. In the public domain, it’s all about connecting, feeling engaged, being included, having your opinion heard no matter what the perspective. In the enterprise, it’s about results - and if you get a little bit of engagement along the way, all the better.
Think of enterprise 2.0 as voting, discussion threads, user reputation ranking, all-inclusive online engagement, wisdom of crowds, and lots and lots of ideas. Which is great, and will get you brownie points for excitement, no question. But think about the bigger picture, the buzz is not enough for true innovation and culture change. So much of true innovation involves much more complex processes than just online suggestion boxes open to everybody. For large corporate companies, half the battle is identifying problems, not necessarily coming up with new ideas. Millions of dollars can be saved immediately by focusing on the questions “where is this process broken?”, and “what problems don’t I know about?”. At C-level, those questions lead to true innovation.
I recently checked out the My Starbucks Idea campaign to see what’s new. I was amused, and slightly troubled to see the fourth Top All-Time idea was “Birthday Brew”, with the full description of “How about a free drink on your birthday?”. Eight words. 261 comments. Wow, 261? That’s a lot of commentary on an idea that has eight words. The comments range from “Way to go! Free Beverage on your BD works for me!”, to “Everyone likes their birthday recognized. I say Starbucks - go for it!”, to “That is a great idea!!!”. Is this true innovation? Is this kind of result going to transform Starbucks and improve the bottom line? In truth, this idea should be processed quickly, with “thanks for your contribution”, and concluded out the system. It’s an example of the buzz - great engagement, excitement, and activity - but not an idea that will help you win the race.
At Imaginatik, we pride ourselves on helping clients focus on deep innovation and culture change. At CSC for example, they ran a laser-guided campaign to find problems in finance, in particular the Day Sales Outstanding process. It was short, eight weeks. It was targeted, only 317 people took part. But they zeroed in on a particular problem, that if solved, would save between $64m-$120m, annually. The campaign was concluded, and the problems tackled.
Another example. At Weyerhaeuser, they wanted to locate existing successful ideas, and push for them to be reused in other areas of the business. So this wasn’t a ‘big new idea’ suggestion box - this was simple, find me the ideas people have already discovered, and let me help get those reused in other places, and let me reward those people for their business initiative. Immediately 90% of all locations were participating. In year one, they completed 500 successful reuse ideas, with at least $22m in identifiable bottom line savings.
Whilst running those campaigns, users were collaborating, connecting, and enjoying a certain amount of the buzz - but let’s be clear, this was targeted, and highly focused on business outcomes that impact the bottom line. The buzz came secondary. The truth is, if you get the results, the buzz is irrelevant. The employees are there for you, and will share their insights and help you win the race, it’s their company too - you don’t have to play soft with them to achieve that.
It's a little unfair to compare the Starbucks campaign, with serious business initiatives. But the warning signs are important: Open-ended suggestion schemes don't work any better online, than they do with a cardboard box and slips of paper. Looking for the big ideas is not the be all and end all, identifying problems, reusing knowledge, process improvement, resource allocation, are all part of deep innovation. And making end users joyful with excitement, does not mean you get bottom line results. Don't be blinded by the buzz, think about the end result - where will this initiative take you in three years time? Use the resources you have, tap into their expertise in smart ways, and focus on results.
When it’s your turn to implement a new tool to help you innovate, you have you ask yourself the question, “do you want to enjoy the buzz, or do you want to win the race”?