Like many of you I participate in the social media world. That world has opened up new relationships and new sources of information for me that were completely unexpected. I’ve learned a lot from individuals on Twitter and Facebook and Linkedin, and I’ve become a real believer in the use of social media to support innovation.
I was following a Tweet chat recently led by Boris Pluskowski in his new role at Spigit. Boris was interviewing the head of Allstate’s innovation program, who was talking about how the folks at Allstate deployed their innovation capabilities. Boris did a great job, and along with a number of folks on Twitter, commented on the factors that helped Allstate succeed at innovation. What was remarkable about the commentary was how unremarkable it is. This is not to say that Boris or the other folks who were Tweeting weren’t creating insights. No, the information they were providing is rock solid and valuable. What’s remarkable and distressing to someone who wants innovation to succeed broadly is that most of the factors really aren’t that interesting or remarkable. What is remarkable about most innovation successes isn’t that they have good practices, which if you follow the Twitter stream will seem fairly obvious, but that it takes passion, and vision, and intestinal fortitude to get these rather unremarkable things done in a business. And that’s why innovation seems one the one hand so obvious, and on the other hand so difficult.
Let’s go, as they say, to the Twitter stream for some examples. You can find much of this by searching on the hashtag #spigitwebinar.
Here were some of the success factors: (The bullets are direct quotes from the Twitter stream)
- They wanted to engage people in the org in the Innovation process – and their playful room was a starting point
- On-you-own-time experimentation – project to encourage and enable people to work on innovative ideas on their own time
- Allstate set up a lab for employee innovation. Originally post-it notes on a wall. Then wiki. Now a collaborative idea site.
- Allstate gets most of its value from targeted blitzes
- Everything is transparent… We want employees to have a voice in the innovation process
- Not all great ideas come from the exec office. Wanted to tap into the power and passion [from employees all over the world
- We need to fail affordably, we need to fail quickly, we don’t need to fail spectacularly
- Key aspect of Allstate’s most successful employee ideation blitzes? Senior leadership sponsorship
If you follow innovation at all, most, if not all of these quotes are reasonable and mundane. Allow people to fail and learn from failure, get senior executives involved and committed, tap the entire employee base for ideas, find a “place” for people to innovate and think differently, use targeted campaigns. For innovators, this is the truth – but the mundane truth. Again – not beating up on Boris or anyone else leading the discussion, but this is preaching to the choir.
The real question is – if this is so mundane, why is it so difficult to do well in many firms. None of these actions is very distinctive or difficult, and none requires a significant investment or differentiated skills, so why is it so difficult to get them done? Why is it still the case that much innovation is based on individual acts of heroism in many firms, rather than on a consistent innovation capability?
To me, that’s what’s remarkable about innovation. It’s a task that anyone could do, given the time and resources, but one that only a few people actually do, often in opposition to the corporate culture, yet the outcomes are ones that everyone wants.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.