I have over the past couple years enjoyed the good fortune to work with people in a variety of roles in a variety of organizations in a variety of industries who have more fully realized their potential for leadership by helping their communities embrace the practice of collaborative innovation.
By collaborative innovation, I mean the act of convening a group of people for the purposes of exposing the critical questions to be pursued and of pursuing those questions in some structured, sponsored way. Convening may occur in person. Convening may occur virtually.
During this time, analysts such as McKinsey and consultants such as Cap Gemini report that a minority of organizations pursue innovation in an explicit, structured, inclusive way. Firms have been slow to react to the relentless immediacy, transparency, and change that the Digital Age brings to their doorsteps. We may find ourselves moving from the early adopter to the early majority phase of adoption of collaborative innovation in response to larger societal change, to borrow from Everett Rogers.
With that, the pioneers struggle at times to convey the potential that the practice offers to their colleagues. Why collaborative innovation? What is it? How might I participate?
In this article, I offer by way of fictional example a communication from practice leader Chris Fallows to her organization, outlining a program for collaborative innovation.
From: Chris Fallows, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives
To: employees of the Intriguing Design Corporation
Subject: introducing the IDC Captivate Program for Collaborative Innovation
Our founder, Big Jesse Hall, started the Intriguing Design Corporation, or IDC, in his parent’s garage in 1974. In the early days Big Jesse found a ready local market for what became the company’s signature series of intriguing designs. He offered a quality product that he could deliver in a week’s time to clients in the Tepid Waters region.
Fast forward forty years. We have come far. The Smithsonian displays the Hall’s garage on permanent exhibit as an artifact of entrepreneurialism. Times have changed, too. The Digital Age opens new doors for us. Kenya ranks as our fastest-growing market. Little did we know that our Red Line designs would intrigue the Masai people.
At the same time, the Digital Age brings new threats. Competitors worldwide take a page from our book and offer designs that intrigue long-time clientele. Clients readily and easily compare prices and terms. The pace quickens. Today, our designs typically intrigue people for twelve months or less, a steady decline from past years. We see no respite with the millennial consumer.
Given this time of promise and risk, we see our way forward as—perhaps counter intuitively—a return to the basics. We choose to unleash the creativity that first made IDC successful. We choose to enable IDC’s 7,000 associates to wield their own hammer and cold chisel side by side with Big Jesse in the garage.
To do so, we launch the IDC Captivate Innovation program. Captivate enables each of you to contribute ideas to better the business for ourselves and to help your colleagues improve upon their own ideas. Captivate comes with $400,000 of annual venture funding to support people with compelling ideas.
In the first six months Captivate will enable you to collaborate with one another in two spaces: an open space and an enquiry led space (the #1’s in figure 1).
Figure 1: Captivate supports internally focused innovation to start
The open space exists for serendipitous discovery. You shower in the morning. Midway between shampoo and conditioner, you conceive a powerful idea: one that could lead to breakthroughs for the organization, one that could take your career in new directions. Captivate Open gives you space to share your idea, whatever it may be.
Once a quarter, the Captivate Steering Committee, consisting of members of the senior leadership team, will invite people who contribute the most compelling ideas to “run the Captivate gauntlet.” Once in the gauntlet, you have the opportunity to share your idea with the committee. People who successfully run the gauntlet will be advanced up to $25,000 and given 60 days to bring their idea to concept.
The enquiry led space exists for senior leaders at IDC to pose critical questions to the organization, which, if we succeed in resolving them (the questions, not the leaders), will lead to breakthroughs in our performance.
We will focus on two areas of the business in the early days of Captivate: increasing the level of design innovation as a function of intrigue and identifying new opportunities for growth for our core product line (figure 2). Here again, people who contribute compelling ideas in response to challenge will have the opportunity to run the gauntlet. Winners will have the opportunity—time, space, and money—to pursue their ideas.
Figure 2: the enquiry-led space is for challenges
Please stay tuned. Sponsors for each of the Captivate challenges will communicate plans and timing, shortly.
Looking further ahead, we plan as a second step to introduce Captivate to our clients in the next year (the #2 in figure 1). Specifically, we plan to engage them on certain challenges by way of opening the door to co-creation on new, ever-more intriguing designs.
Who among us has not seen one of our more adventurous clients take a mallet to one of our products to more closely tailor the design to their environment? Our clients have garages, too.
In closing, every organization possesses resources that make it a going concern. Some hold oil and gas reserves. Others hold prime retail locations. At IDC our resource is and has always been the vital creativity that employees bring to the table in developing new, intriguing designs, in engaging with clients, and in imagining new ways to evolve the business.
The IDC Captivate Innovation program serves as a signature acknowledgement of the strengths that have allowed us to succeed. We very much look forward to your participation and perspective. Make Captivate your own.
About the author
Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations big and small navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation by developing approaches, creating forums, and structuring engagements whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the process and ideas that result.As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s Global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL).
Today, Doug works at social innovation leader Spigit, where he consults with clients such as BECU, Estee Lauder Companies, Johnson & Johnson, Ryder System and the U.S. Postal Service. Doug helps them to realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.