I had the honor of keynoting last year at the Imaginatik Innovation Leaders Forum at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City. But, I also had the privilege of hearing great innovation leaders speak from a diverse set of organizations including: Chubb, NYSE, Bombardier, Medco and the General Services Administration (GSA).
One of the best stories at the event was from Mike Hatrick and David Wooten of Bombardier about the early days of their formal innovation effort and one of their employees and his little black book.
Typically when organizations start a formal innovation effort and begin soliciting ideas from people inside (or even from outside) the organization, there is a spike in the number of ideas submitted within the first few days of the effort and then the submission volume begins to tail off.
This is because in every organization there is backlog of innovation ideas that are lying dormant, going unused or possibly even walking out the door to the competition or to serve as the basis of new start-ups outside the organization. These start-ups could have otherwise been started as internal ventures to help create new growth opportunities for the organization – but only if the organization had been listening. Until your organization begins a formal innovation effort that seeks to capture the best employee ideas (and possibly ideas from outside), you are going to have massive idea and innovation spoilage.
Often times, these early ideas are also some of the best. So if you are starting a formal innovation effort for the first time, or venturing into a new area that you haven’t asked for ideas around before, you must stand ready to identify the best ideas and fund projects to help realize them. Not only will this allow you to capitalize on some of the best ideas, but also to maintain the trust and the level of relationship necessary to solicit more ideas in the future.
The Little Black Book
Mike Hatrick and David Wooten from Bombardier shared a story of an employee at Bombardier that had been working there for years and every time he had an idea or saw something that could be better, he wrote it down in his little black book. As a result, he had accumulated a number of interesting and valuable observations and ideas over the years. Then when the innovation management tool from Imaginatik was put in place, he pulled out his little black book from under his desk, took the rubber band off, flipped through the pages and then started furiously typing.
From then on, every time a new innovation challenge was posted for employees to respond to, this employee has pulled out his little black book, flipped through its pages and found something else to contribute. In fact, this employee has turned out to be one of the top contributors so far.
Your Role in Innovation Excellence
If you remember the nine innovation roles from my Full House of Innovation article here, in essence, the introduction of the tool helped to transform this introverted conscript into a noisy revolutionary.
So are you encouraging your employees to keep a little black book?
Where are the valuable little black books in your organization?
What other ways can you think of to unlock the latent creativity of the large number of usually quiet conscripts in your organization in your pursuit of innovation excellence?
This post may also be viewed on the American Express OPEN Forum Idea Hub.
Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.