Silver Medal Innovation

Gold, Silver, Bronze

Months have passed since the conclusion of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and even the athletes who won gold medals at the Games have faded somewhat into the background.  Although many gold medalists enjoyed an initial buzz in the weeks following the games, they are now returning to their normal lives and, for some, planning for 2018.

If the spotlight has faded on even the gold medalists, then spotlight may have been extinguished completely for the silver and bronze medalists, despite the fact that these athletes performed at extremely high levels and often just fell short of the gold medal by a small mark.

Second place, as we are often reminded in life, can sometimes be further from victory than it would seem.  This type of thinking can sometimes permeate our work as innovation practitioners, as we may focus intently on a top idea (a gold medal idea) while relegated the 2nd and 3rd tier options to a lower level and possibly forgetting about them completely. After all, the top tier innovation idea could yield amazing returns and amplify the importance of an innovation program.

Enter General Motors

The innovation practitioner should not forget about the silver and bronze medal ideas, and a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Adam Auriemma highlights a case where such a practice takes place, albeit in the context of hiring practices.

Auriemma notes that General Motors has instituted a “silver medalist” strategy for hiring in which they invite the runners-up for past job postings to stay in touch with the company and receive emails and text notifications about new job openings in their area of expertise. Using social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, GM is able to stay in touch with these candidates so that in the event they need to hire in the same area, their search can be completed more quickly and effectively than another posting of a job on websites followed by the inevitable deluge of resumes that follows.

This pool of silver medalists provides GM with a ready-made set of vetted and qualified candidates who can be hired quickly in subsequent job posting efforts by the company.

For the innovation practitioner, the silver medalist strategy is more than just keeping a log of innovation ideas that did not make it to the top of the selection process.  After all, we all will typically end an innovation workshop with a list of ideas that are prioritized and vetted with the best ideas at the top of the list (those with the best potential ROI or greatest impact to improve the business).

The Value of Second Place

The more interesting recommendation from the GM hiring practice is what we do next with that list.  Innovation practitioners will typically leave a session and devote a great deal of energy into pushing forward on the most important (gold medal) ideas from the session.  Even though we may have a spreadsheet somewhere with the runners-up, we rarely go back and revisit that list.

It may be worthwhile to implement a process in which as we start a new innovation workshop or program, we force ourselves to revisit the silver medal ideas to determine if any can be elevated to the top of the list, particularly if business conditions have changed and the factors that prevented that idea from achieving the top slot are now such that this idea warrants a gold medal.  Perhaps an innovation leader could present a list of silver medal ideas at the start of a session.  While this could discourage participants from thinking of new ideas (by forcing them to revisit old topics), it may also help to remind them of good work that was done previously that could be leveraged to develop new thinking about a topic.

Source: Adam Auriemma, “Zappos Zaps Its Job Postings,” Wall Street Journal (May 26, 2014).

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Scott BowdenScott Bowden is a Project Executive, Innovation Program Leader at IBM Global Services.

This entry was posted in Build Capability, Innovation, Leadership, People & Skills, Social Innovation, Social Media, Strategy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Silver Medal Innovation

  1. Pingback: Silver Medal Innovation | IBTECAR : Innovation

  2. Marshall Barnes says:

    Nice idea but horrible choice of an example. GM has proven that their current employees has dropped the ball, in as far as those tasked to deal with ignition design and engineering as well as those charged with oversight in those areas. GM is a walking, talking advertisement now for much what I’ve been saying about innovation hype. There’s a bunch of posers out there that have no clue what they’re doing. GM is a perfect example of the application of the idea that failure is fine. “Oh well, we can sweat the key ignition thing, it’s only a convenience issue…” vs thinking “What is every possible way that this could be a safety issue?” or even better yet – “Let’s just make the keys bigger so the fit will be tight..”

    This is what happens when no one in charge understands, nor has any kind of grasp on what creativity really is, has any command of it nor knows how to apply it. This is what you get when failure is OK.

    What a gift for me though. Coming soon – seminars on how NOT to be GM…

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