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).
image credit: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
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Scott Bowden is a Project Executive, Innovation Program Leader at IBM Global Services.