I had the opportunity to meet with BrightIdea co-founder and COO Vincent Carbone on May 7, 2009. We had a fascinating conversation about the last ten years of innovation, and the history and future vision of Brightidea.
Brightidea was founded by Matthew Greeley and Vincent Carbone in 1999. Matt was interested in evolution and the shift from physical to mental evolution and he was very interested in exploring how mental evolution could be accelerated. There was a belief that by getting people to more openly share ideas, groups of people could create better ideas.
Brightidea started as an openidea exchange at brightidea.com with a broad set of topics that people could contribute ideas to – the structure being modeled loosely on the DMOZ project. The original model was advertising-supported. Individuals from all around the world submitted ideas on any topic of their choice, and then other members of the brightidea.com community voted on the ideas.
To entice people to participate in the community by submitting ideas, there was a certain amount of revenue-sharing with the people who submitted the ideas (based on the amount of ad revenue an idea generated). The more page visits an idea got, the more revenue there was to go around. The brightidea community had everything from teachers sharing lesson plans to housewives sharing cleaning tips. The concept was doing really well and growing….
But, then the internet bubble burst, additional venture capital became scarce (especially for ad-supported ventures), and advertising revenue decreased substantially. This left Brightidea re-evaluating what to do next.
Looking around, one thing Matt and Vincent saw that there was a trend of decreasing manufacturing costs and increasing digitization. This was causing the ‘what’ to make, to become more important than the ‘how’ to make it. As a result, Brightidea changed its name to General Idea and decided to build systems for organizations to help them decide what to make. They went out and asked companies if they could use a system to manage ideas internally. The US Army had one of the oldest suggestion systems in the country at the time and they were very receptive to the idea. So, General Idea helped the US Army to automate their paper system and it really took off.
In 2001, Gartner coined the term ‘Idea Management’ and named General Idea as one of the key companies in this ‘new’ sector. After overhauling their product offering, General Idea began to grow again, and things really took off after 2006. As you can see it took a long time for companies to start feeling comfortable soliciting ideas from their employees, and only recently are companies beginning to feel comfortable extending their idea solicitation outside the organization.
Companies like P&G, Starbucks, and Adobe have made this leap outside their organizations and more are starting to follow suit. Before long the opportunity might even present itself for Brightidea to re-launch the brightidea community. Organizations and individuals might finally be ready to engage in open innovation on a large scale.
Companies don’t just see innovation as being about coming up with new products and services. Harley Davidson is using software for things like improving factory safety and American Express has a “Recessionomics” initiative. During the downturn, organizations are adapting idea management systems to focus on cost saving ideas as well. Even President Obama is soliciting government employees for cost saving ideas – there must be a plan for managing and evaluating these if the call to action is to succeed.
Currently, according to Vincent, the #2 reason for employees leaving organizations is that they feel their ideas are not heard – #1 is inadequate compensation.
This is leading to idea generation and management finally becoming widely understood as a necessary part of the organizational infrastructure. As a result, Brightidea is positioning themselves for rapid growth over the next two years. At the same time, you see other organizations like Innography adding things like idea evaluation tools to the portfolio of available innovation tools, and Vince sees no reason why the tools won’t expand to idea development as more data comes online.
The goal of Brightidea’s software is not replace any decision making processes, but instead to enhance them. Their ten years of experience has taught them that the wisdom of the crowd bubbles up from simple +/- voting followed by secondary evaluation of top ideas using specialized custom scorecards.
Ultimately, organizations want to know earlier and with greater certainty whether or not something will succeed so they can allocate funding to the ideas that are most likely to succeed and have a large impact on the organization. To achieve this, Brightidea is trying to create a flexible platform that allows organizations to distribute idea generation and management to smaller and smaller organizational units while allowing for increased sharing of information and ideas. This is partially achieved through new features like ad-hoc challenges, twitter-like functionality, facebook-like functionality, and improved reporting.
So what is the future?
People understand the need for continuous improvement, disruptive innovation, blue ocean strategy, and more open innovation. Now there is room for new thought leaders to emerge and drive organizations forward from understanding the need for innovation, towards building continuously-improving innovation processes and systems.
Companies don’t have an inherent right to be immortal. As innovation cycles compress, the companies that will win in the future are not the companies that come up with one great idea and diffuse it into the marketplace, but the companies that can create an innovation wave with peaks that continue to get closer together.
Let the mental evolution continue.
I really enjoyed this conversation with Vincent and it has triggered a couple of insights in my mind that I plan to combine into a white paper to post on the site soon.
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What do you think?
Braden Kelley – @innovate on Twitter