The Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development was challenging the planning group to come up with innovative ways of improving the Markets of the Future process, which usually consisted of a small group of analysts doing the research and publishing the megatrends and resulting markets of the future.
Two of the Millennial analysts were keen on trying to leverage the Wisdom of Crowds phenomenon by engaging thousands of 3Mers around the world using Web 2.0 technology. But they had no experience regarding how to muster the resources and manage all the stakeholders for such a culture-changing effort as this.
Corporate IT, HR, and the Knowledge Management Program Office had various initiatives under way to improve the connectivity, collaboration and engagement across our global workforce via social networking platforms and other Web 2.0 technology. The analysts' idea seemed like a gift to us!
The time was late 2008, in the bottom of the global economic downturn. Our CEO was rallying everyone to capitalize on the opportunity to take market share from our competitors, as most of them were suffering financially much worse than us. But some of our business units had no choice but to downsize also. Would this extremely visible experiment encourage global 3Mers about the future of 3M by including them in this process, or would it backfire and have the opposite effect?
My boss, the SVP of Strategy and Corpoorate Development, expected me to get involved in a way that would ensure this idea became a successful reality. So I worked with the two analysts to help them rally the necessary resources, formed a cross-functional team, and developed a project plan. We had a high-performance team with members from Corporate Marketing, Corporate Communications, eBusiness and IT.
We benchmarked other companies who had already conducted similar events, and then we designed the process and roles. We wanted 3Mers to share their ideas about new markets for 3M, based on the megatrends presented to them via the interactive Web site. We also wanted them to vote and comment on others' ideas. With enough participation, the best ideas would bubble to the top, and could be the nuclei of new Markets of the Future for 3M
We envisioned this event as a proof-of-concept for a Web 2.0-enabled process that could be repeated for any challenge topic across any employee segment or 3M organization. We also envisioned events with 3M's customers and partners. So branding became an important factor. The team created the name "InnovationLive." Our pilot became "InnovationLive: Markets of the Future."
IT's existing platforms did not have the functionality necessary to enable this process, so we selected a vendor to to host the event. The cost was shared equally among IT, Strategic Planning and Knowledge Management Program Office. IT ran all the necessary security and performance tests, and established the single sign-on protocol. The team wanted to make sure that everyone around the world would have no problems with response time or sign-on. We worked with the vendor to design a user interface that was attractive, fun and easy to use.
We decided to invite 3M's 20,500 sales, marketing and R&D employees to participate, as they have strong relationships with our customers and understand their needs and problems. We also wanted to ensure that any 3Mer could participate if they wanted to. We knew good metrics would be an important success factor, so we went about the arduous task of loading all the demographic data for over 70,000 employees into the hosted platform. This was well worth the effort! We were able to easily and quickly produce reports and charts of participation by business unit, country, and function. We were even able to track our executives’ participation.
In addition to the SVP of Strategy and Corporate Development, we gained the sponsorship of our Executive VP of R&D and our Senior VP of Corporate Marketing. Our CEO was informed of the effort and actually signed on several times. The timing of the event was discussed with these sponsors and the Senior VP of Human Resources, and we obtained strong consensus to go ahead with the event in the midst of the economic downturn.
We developed and executed a simple email-based communications plan, carefully designing the messaging and timing of the various staged emails. We also seeded the platform with ideas as examples of what we were looking for, and then we tested the entire design, including the communications plan and ideation platform, with a corporate laboratory organization of about 200 employees.
The event ran for two weeks in April 2009 with no significant glitches. 1,239 participants from over 40 countries contributed 736 ideas, 6,799 votes and 1,084 comments. Well-trained and passionate moderators encouraged the participants with positive comments, seeking more clarification when needed and properly categorizing the ideas by megatrend. As expected, the original InnovationLive idea smoldered for several months before it caught fire. The time from vendor selection to event completion was eight weeks.
Challenge: "Is now a good time to be doing this?" A few executives expressed concern about doing such a visible event in the midst of economic hard times and downsizing.
Solution: We gained consensus among key executives that this risk was worth taking, considering the potential positive effect it could have.
Challenge: "The sponsorship dance" We actually uncovered some under-the-surface competition among key executives wanting to be sponsors as we made the rounds seeking input and guidance. The dynamics of this situation were quite challenging!
Solution: We selected the optimal cross-section of executive sponsors, seeking to optimize employee participation while minimizing political fallout. It worked.
Challenge: "Crowds are NOT wise! This is not the way we innovate!" I heard this directly from a few of my Corporate Scientist friends, and indirectly via my network. Concerns centered around IP protection and wasted energy getting people excited about ideas that violate the laws of science.
Solution: We simply charged ahead. We responded to the IP issue by positioning this Web 2.0-enabled process as yet another channel for ideation where all good IP development practices apply. It also helped to know that our CTO was aware of these dissenting views, and encouraged us to march on, believing that the future of 3M depends broader and more inclusive ideation.
Challenge: IT's dilemma The IT organization is under constant, severe pressure to reduce spend and consolidate offerings. At the same time, our CEO has challenged IT to be more innovative. So here we come along, wanting to use yet another platform that thousands of 3Mers will experience, driving demand and more IT spend.
Solution: IT's leadership was courageous in two ways. First, they found a way to partner with us on the cost of this pilot and then worked hard to assure its technical success. Second, they took the initiative to develop the SharePoint-based platform and piloted its use within IT, thereby positively impacting their own organization's employee engagement and innovative culture.
Challenge: 736 ideas - of all varieties We clearly, repeatedly asked for ideas about customers' unmet needs and emerging markets related to the megatrends. We got a few of those, and also many ideas about products and brand building. We expected a wide variety of ideas. The participants exceeded our expectations!
Solution: A friend of mine in Lean Six Sigma Operations, who had been very interested in our experiment, volunteered to help us do a KJ of the ideas. Essentially, we had to take each idea up the ladder of abstraction to its market, and then cluster all the ideas by market. This resulted in 26 markets, 17 of which had high adjacency to markets served by existing business units. But there were 9 markets that were truly new and well connected to the megatrends. These were adopted by Corporate Strategic Planning for further analysis and action. My friend's brilliant thinking and insight were instrumental to the success of this pilot.
- Nine new Markets of the Future were identified with a combined market potential of several tens of billions of dollars.
- There was a positive impact on employee engagement. The InnovationLive idea, which I posted to the platform, was the 1st most discussed and received the 10th most votes. As one 3Mer commented, "....This has been an absolutely amazing exercise. For one thing it certainly made me feel part of the global 3M and showed me that one's ideas, comments, vote is important to the potential solutions that could affect in a POSITIVE WAY our economics, people, lifestyles, planet and urbanization and not to forget the healthy and vibrant long life ahead for 3M and its existing and future employees. Thank you ever so much for the opportunity to express my view, comments and ideas."
- Several requests came in to do additional InnovationLive events.
- IT was motivated to "Share-Point-ify" many of the features of the hosted solution. They added features such as integration with 3M's internal social networking platform. We now have an InnovationLive template that any 3M organization can use at any time at no cost.
- As a result, several InnovationLive events have been successfully conducted, generating new ideas and improving employee engagement and connectivity. More are in the works, including some with customers and channel partners. Our vision is becoming reality!
Though the success of 3M’s InnovationLive can be credited to many factors, we had several things in particular that proved invaluable:
- A corporate culture that's conducive to open collaboration.
- A compelling, well-articulated, well-scoped challenge topic.
- An organization who owned the challenge topic and was committed to follow-through and feedback to the participants.
- A platform that is ridiculously easy to use, fun, esthetically pleasing, fast from anywhere in the world, with good analytics, moderation and reporting capability.
- Well-trained, passionate moderators who encouraged participants and gardened the content.
- A well-designed and executed communications plan.
- A high-performance event project team.
- A program office for InnovationLive process, who continues to provide consultation, guidance, governance and stakeholder management. In our case, the Knowledge Management Program Office serves this role.