Empowering enterprise wide innovation through a unique, no-cost, non-intrusive software technology solution. Participants contribute and collaborate in a safe closed community before promoting to a wider audience.
I recently led an innovation think-tank and rapid solution deployment organization for my employer. My team was tasked with strategizing how we might best position our company as an innovation leader. In a radical departure from simply launching a full-scale marketing campaign, we instead faced up to the challenge of defining an actual strategy to inspire and support innovation across our entire enterprise.
We considered the challenge from the basis of what has been successful within our own group and proceeded with what we felt would be critical elements of our approach:
- That innovation is nurtured, not driven
- That good ideas can originate from any level of contributor within the organization
- That input from co-creators outside company borders – such as customer, clients, industry experts – can provide a valuable source of new ideas and input to shape ideas
- That people are naturally attracted to a spirit of community and cooperation
- That the quality of ideas improves by introduction, refinement and consensus from within the safety, familiarity and shared perspective of a smaller community initially
- That after an initial incubation period, ideas ultimately benefit from constructive criticism, analysis and input from the perspective and more diverse skillset of the wider group
- That corporate control of the process would enjoy an inverse relationship to the quantity and quality of input
Furthermore, we felt there would be four measures of our success:
- Our ability to solicit ideas from all levels of the company and beyond, providing ease of participation to everyone
- Our ability to manage the anticipated floodgate of ideas and comments effectively
- Our ability to sustain awareness, contribution, participation, and collaboration among users
- Our ability to minimize the influence of personal agendas and shortsightedness in the evaluation process
Our vision was to create a platform for open contribution that could effectively manage all contributions; be workgroup focused; provide for promotion of worthy ideas to scrutiny by a larger team; provide for contribution from parties outside company barriers; provide a mechanism for expanding ideas and assessing relative merit; and be untainted by corporate agenda. Our overriding opinion was this: If the platform were perceived as just another corporate scheme to extract additional sweat equity from our employee base, it would fail. We envisioned acceptance being driven through grassroots ownership engendering a sense of individual contribution, achievement and worth on a peer level. Beyond that, we wanted to incorporate a gamification element to make it fun and further encourage sustained participation.
And just two more small things: The taint of corporate agenda would be difficult to avoid if our solution’s price tag necessitated involved business case justification and its overall complexity demanded any significant IT deployment effort. In short, we felt that our solution needed to be both cost-free and simple to implement in order to enjoy ultimate success.
Despite seemingly impossible requirements, we were able to satisfy all in the end. We elected to call our solution Lightbulb. We started by repurposing an existing platform built from what we call our “zero-tech” approach. It was designed to operate from any shared folder - including free cloud-based solutions such as DropBox. That design consideration opened participation to potentially any internal or external party as determined by folder access and group administrators. We chose to store all data in flat XML files so that no application or DBMS licenses would be required. We made the application itself “drop-and-go” in the shared folder and requiring no installation on the user’s local workstation. As intended, Lightbulb is free, simple to implement, and can be entirely owned by a workgroup on an entirely grassroots level. It is then free to spread voluntarily through community adoption as opposed to top-down mandate.
Lightbulb is purposely simple. It is designed to be “always on”. Once activated it displays a small white light bulb icon that keeps to the top layer of the workstation screen at all times. A new idea can be submitted by any participant by selecting the icon and completing a simple form that includes just 4 fields. The first defines scope. Scope can be personal, team, company, customer, client, community, world, or universe. The second field provides category assignment of submissions. Categories include efficiency, goodwill, cost reduction, ecology, revenue, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, safety, facilities, compliance, recognition, and complaint. The third and fourth fields in the form require a short title and description of the idea respectively.
The last two selections in our category field reveal two additional purposes we included during our design phase. We felt that expanding Lightbulb to be a mechanism for peer recognition would reinforce the critical bond of community we sought and further encourage usage. We also wanted to provide a forum for general complaints that might otherwise find their way to social media with all accompanying brand deterioration. Ultimately we foresaw complaints being routed to actionable parties such as HR and upper management. The more employees realized they now had a voice, the more powerful and relevant the tool would be perceived.
When a new idea is submitted, the light bulb icon on every participant’s desktop turns yellow. Selecting the icon pops a small screen to review and expand on ideas. Submitted ideas are searchable by keyword at any time together with ‘canned’ search categories including newest, trending (high recent activity) and mine (those I’ve contributed to).
Each “idea expansion” entry includes a 5 point grading system to rate the idea’s merit by each respondent – one vote per idea per participant. We felt that through this incremental peer-grading mechanism we would minimize the ability of any single naysayer to kill an idea in its infancy.
Finally, we wanted a tracking mechanism that would reward usage. Workgroup participants accumulate badges for both idea submissions and expansions and can view their “war chest” at any time. Like with previous gamification projects, we sought to encourage personal accomplishment in contrast to creating an inappropriate competitive atmosphere through the game.
The deployment team is in the very initial stages of field testing Lightbulb within selected workgroups. Initial results and usage are in line with our expectations. We will post a follow-up once more data is in.
JD Wilson, co-creator and development lead for Lightbulb
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