Welcome back to the 10 Rules of Innovation Management series! If you're new to the series, I'll be sharing 10 best practices to help you manage your online collaborative innovation program or get started if you're thinking about launching one (subscribe to the series here!).
As you learned in Part 1 of this series, the foundations of innovation management – Alignment, Management Support, and Sponsorship – connect your innovation program to your company. They strongly influence the submission quality, growth, and implementation rate of your program's ideas. But how do you get the ideas? How do you engage as many idea contributors as possible and get them to think outside the box? The answer lies within "targeted campaigns," the theme of Rule #4.
RULE 4: MAKE USE OF SPONSORED, TIMEBOUND, TARGETED CAMPAIGNS
"I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out." – Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon
When I was new to innovation management, my first attempt to collect ideas from employees was via an online suggestion scheme. It was like that wooden box you often see hanging around in the company lunchroom where employees can deposit their ideas. Though the goal of the suggestion box is to gather smart improvement ideas, they mainly gather dust. This was also the case with my online version.
Colleagues were submitting ideas, but they couldn't track their progress. And because our instructions were not much more than "give us your ideas," employees didn't always seem to understand what kind of ideas the company was looking for. And, moreover, I had a tough time convincing the business to spend time on maturing and implementing the little gems that we did receive on occasion. It was clear we had to change our strategy, so we decided to take a targeted campaign approach.
If your strategic innovation areas describe what kind of idea categories your company is looking for, a targeted campaign is the vehicle to find answers. It's kind of like a fishing trip. When you're planning your trip, the type of fish you want to catch will be the deciding factor. It will decide your fishing spot, if you need a boat, what buddies to take, and, of course, what fishing rods to use.
YOU CAN'T EXPECT YOUR CROWD TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX IF THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT BOX IS
Similarly, targeted campaigns call for ideas that answer a specific need. Through these campaigns, you provide insightful background information to guide the crowd further. You can't expect them to think outside the box if they don't know what the box is. And there’s always a box, but often it’s bigger and shaped differently than we might imagine. However, there’s always a limit on the money that goes in, or what a sponsor has an appetite for, so this natural constraint should be shared.
"You can't expect them to think outside the box if they don't know what the box is. And there’s always a box, but often it’s bigger and shaped differently than we might imagine."
The playing field isn’t empty when you start a campaign. You already have a base of customers, and then there may be relevant projects that people need to be aware of. And what are the rules of the game? Is there a specific timeframe, budget, or effort for the implementation of the ideas?
By providing this frame, you might exclude some ideas, but those are then, by definition, ideas you’re not looking for. And you'll see ample ideas coming in that are of much better quality when collected via targeted campaigns. This targeted approach allows you to exclude the ideas you won't be able to process, and that has a significant, positive influence on the success of your program!
Because you only start campaigns from a business need, there is a vested interest in place which should benefit finding the right people for the implementation. Implementation is often one of the biggest challenges of an idea collection program, so getting this right is winning half the battle.
Enforce a time limit to stimulate creativity and get answers when you need them
Another benefit of these targeted campaigns is that they're timebound. Setting a time limit further aligns your innovation efforts with the company. The solution probably has to be accomplished before a specific date, and this allows you to plan the follow-up activities for realization more precisely. But this time limit also stimulates the crowd; many people are deadline-driven and knowing they might be too late will encourage them to submit their ideas. And because you'll be able to communicate your results soon, this will also spur engagement in your next campaigns.
"Setting a time limit further aligns your innovation efforts with the company."
During conversations I had with Joop de Boers, advertisement professional and creative inspirator, he explained that time limits drive creativity. According to Joop:
"It's very human that people postpone tasks to the latest moment. But the result of this is that such tasks stay in your consciousness where they get disturbed by other (more urgent) duties. Better is to write yourself a brief assignment, read it carefully, and then forget about it. This assignment then moves to your upper subconscious, and a solution will pop up at the most unexpected moments and situations. Unconsciously you work on a solution that always comes in time. And when the deadline is further away, that solution will just arrive later."
Create collaboration between highly diverse audiences to link free creativity with topic knowledge
The best ideas come from collaboration between people from vastly different places in the organization and possibly people who are on the edge of the organization. For example, frontline staff can give you insights you usually wouldn't get from your sales force. When thinking about engagement, make your audiences even more diverse than you initially plan. The whole point of having an online innovation program is that you remove the boundaries of your physical space (and the usual suspects in that space) and reach the entire organization.
Use campaigns to address different topics and for different goals
Long-term engagement comes from relevant, as well as varied, campaign topics over time. Solicit ideas for both internal- and external-facing topics, and for current as well as new products and services. People are intrinsically motivated by different things, and by changing up the campaign topics, you'll involve a bigger crowd over time. Besides creative or problem-solving campaigns, you also want to run discovery, testing, and feedback campaigns to engage your crowd during other phases of innovation.
But whatever you do, make it specific and realistic. Ask for the incremental ideas hiding in your management team's blind spots. Management will be surprised they didn't think of it themselves and will ask why the company isn't already doing it that way.
"Ask for the incremental ideas hiding in your management team's blind spots."
Identifying simple solutions with a big effect, together with the relatively simple, cheap, and short implementation of such ideas, will allow you to prove the value your program creates for your company.
Similarly, when you're looking for more radical ideas, ask down-to-earth questions. I've seen companies ask for Utopian end states, which are just too hard to imagine from a status quo situation. Break it up in pieces, visualize a position from where the crowd can start their creative journey, and – especially here – involve your people for feedback or testing instead of just idea generation. Try to make things as simple and straightforward as possible, and campaigns will take the fuzz out of the front end of innovation.
Using a campaign-based approach for the front end of innovation allows you to accurately describe the challenge at hand and better explain to your crowd what you expect from them. This plan often shows better results than suggestion schemes because you connect those with the ideas on a particular topic with those with the need (and decision-making power). Don’t spend your time on locating a sponsor for randomly submitted ideas. Instead, spend your time on identifying the ideas for which there is already an existing need.
- Don’t expect your crowd to think outside the box if they aren’t aware of what that box is
- Enforce a time limit to stimulate creativity and get answers when you need them
- Create collaboration between highly diverse audiences to link free creativity with topic knowledge
- Address different topics and different goals (creativity, problem-solving, discovery, testing and/or feedback) to drive long-term engagement
The next publication in this series is about seeding and innovation advocates (Rules 5 & 6). Check out the blog for tips and tricks on how to inspire your crowds and increase idea submission quality, as well as how to increase engagement by taking advantage of those that support your cause. Make sure to sign up for updates here to be the first to know when we publish the next part in the series!
[UPDATE] Check out the Coffee Break Webinar recording for Rule 4 here where I answer your questions from the comments below (note: already signed up for the "10 Rules" series? Check your inbox!). If you still have questions about targeted campaigns, leave them below. You can also email your question(s) to 10RulesofIM@hypeinnovation.com.