Tag Archives: innovation success

It’s Not Clear What Innovation Success Is

It's Not Clear What Innovation Success Is

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“I would argue that it was an innovation success!”

At that moment, I started to deeply empathize with Alice because I felt like I was tumbling down the rabbit hole.

For the previous several minutes, I had been on one of my usual soapboxes – Innovation needs to generate quantifiable, and specifically financial, results; otherwise, it’s theater at best and performative lie at worst. As Alexander Osterwalder says, “ROI is the only thing that matters in innovation.”

That’s when my conversation partner brought up Kickbox. 

Way back in 2012, Adobe’s Chief Strategist and VP of Creativity, Mark Randall, packed “everything an employee needs to generate, prototype, and test a new idea” into a little red box to encourage employees to unleash their inner innovator. One thousand Kickboxes were distributed to interested employees in that first year. 

In the decade since, Kickbox has been used at thousands of organizations from multi-nationals (3M, Cisco, Caterpillar, MasterCard, Swisscom, P&G, Roche, Implenia, Zurich Insurance) to educational institutions (ETH, UNSW, USC), government agencies (DARPA, United Nations) and non-profits (Peace Corp, Gates Foundation, Kickstart-Innovation, Careum).  It is widely regarded as the world’s most “successful” Intrapreneurship program.

But what does “successful” mean?

Widely adopted?

Highly regarded?

The source of:

  • New projects (using Kickbox, Swisscom validated 400+ innovation projects in just two years)?
  • New revenue?
  • Cost savings?
  • Higher profit?

Effective at:

  • Increasing employee morale?
  • Reducing employee turnover?
  • Building a culture of innovation?

Something else?

For Kickbox, “success” means increasing employee engagement, creativity, and collaboration.

Let me be clear: this is an AWESOME outcome.  Very few programs have even a temporary impact on employee engagement and the organization’s culture of innovation.  So, to have a program that makes a measurable and lasting impact is incredible.  To have a program that is so effective that other organizations around the world adopt it AND experience similar benefits is almost unbelievable,

But is that enough?

If Kickbox was the ONLY thing Adobe did to encourage innovation, would Kickbox be considered a success? 

I don’t think so.

Kickbox was successful because it was part of a holistic approach to innovation.  It was part of a portfolio of efforts to encourage employees to be more creative and collaborative and to build and acquire new sources of revenue. 

If Kickbox was the only innovation effort Adobe invested in, it would not have lasted even the two years between its 2012 test and 2014 Adobe-wide launch.  It would have been like all other hackathons, shark tanks, events, and gimmicks companies use to encourage innovation without thinking about how to carry on after the event.

Speaking of the two years from test to internal launch…

For Kickbox, “success” also means surviving internal scrutiny.

Each Kickbox contained instructions, a pen, two Post-It notepads, two notebooks, a Starbucks gift card, a bar of chocolate, and a $1,000 prepaid gift card that could be spent on anything the employee needed with NO need for approval, justification, or even an expense report.

Think about that for a moment.

The 1,000-box test cost $1M in gift cards PLUS the costs of all the other materials, and that’s before you factor in the costs of design, assembly, and distribution.

If Kickbox was a grassroots effort instead of one championed by the company’s Chief Strategist and VP of Creativity, a highly respected executive who joined Adobe when it acquired the company he led as CEO, would the company have spent $1M+ on the test and an additional two years refining the concept before launching to the rest of the organization?

I don’t think so.

Kickbox was successful because it survived financial scrutiny and organizational skepticism, protected by a senior executive motivated to deliver on a request to teach his skills and approach to innovation to the rest of a giant organization.

“Success” ultimately means money.

After a week of tumbling, I think that I may have reached the bottom of the rabbit hole and a way to reconcile my money-grubbing capitalist view of innovation with my colleague’s extremely true and data-based assertion that success can be something much softer and more intangible.

Yes, and.

Yes, a successful innovation can be something with qualitative benefits, AND those benefits need to translate into quantifiable (financial) benefits, AND it needs a senior executive to shepherd it through the years of scrutiny and skepticism that kill most efforts.

After all, employee engagement, lower turnover, and more ideas have quantifiable and meaningful financial benefits. So, ultimately, it is all about the money.

Or maybe I’m still in Wonderland.

What do you think?

Image credit: Unsplash

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What is your level of Innovation Maturity?

Innovation Maturity Introduction

When it comes to innovation, no two companies are likely to be pursuing innovation in the same way, and they are also likely to be at different stages of innovation maturity. Because of this, even if you found out what your competitor’s innovation strategy was, it would be of no use to you. It is necessary for an innovation strategy to be tailored to your organization’s level of innovation maturity, your corporate strategy, and your innovation vision.

Free Innovation Maturity AssessmentAn organization’s innovation maturity level is important because you must first master a certain set of basic innovation capabilities before implementing more advanced innovation approaches into your strategy. For example, an organization just getting started on their innovation journey would be foolish to try and implement open innovation in their organization. Every organization should get their idea generation (including evolution), idea evaluation, and idea commercialization policies and processes working well with their employees first before opening themselves up to the outside world. Your organization’s innovation strategy must be appropriate to your level of innovation maturity for your innovation efforts to be successful.

I developed the graphic below to explain the different levels of innovation maturity based on some thinking from Wharton professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl T. Ulrich, and I think it allows executives to determine at a glance where their organization is across the spectrum. I hope you find it useful.

Free Innovation Maturity Assessment

Special OfferTo help people evaluate their level of innovation maturity against the above graphic, I am sharing the 50 question innovation maturity assessment I use with clients. The assessment is most powerful when answers are gathered at multiple levels of the organization across several groups and several sites, but you can also fill it out yourself and get instant feedback – for FREE.

To get even more out of the innovation maturity assessment, for a nominal fee, I can help you organize a multiple group and/or multiple physical location survey of people in the organization to capture not just your level of innovation maturity, but also to provide preliminary innovation diagnostics on the areas of innovation challenge and opportunity in your organization.

I can set up a research study to capture a baseline innovation maturity level and analyze the data to unlock insights about the relative health of your innovation efforts. For a limited time, I will provide this service for the special introductory price of $499.99.

Click here to purchase the innovation diagnostic service
(Get help using the innovation maturity assessment across multiple sites and job functions and analyzing the results)

Innovation Maturity Model

Innovation Maturity Assessment Scoring Key (showing level of maturity)

Point totals are translated to the innovation maturity model as follows:

  • 000-100 = Level 1 – Reactive
  • 101-130 = Level 2 – Structured
  • 131-150 = Level 3 – In Control
  • 151-180 = Level 4 – Internalized
  • 181-200 = Level 5 – Continuously Improving

Click here to access the Innovation Maturity Assessment

Innovation Maturity Assessment Instructions

1. Read each statement and determine how much you agree with each one, using this scale:

  • 0 – None
  • 1 – A Little
  • 2 – Partially
  • 3 – Often
  • 4 – Fully

2. Select the answer for each question that is most appropriate.

The form will score the innovation maturity assessment and return a result to you via email along with the SCORING KEY and the Innovation Maturity Model graphic. Store the result as a baseline and come back annually and re-take the assessment to measure your progress!

Click here to access the Innovation Maturity Assessment

Click here to purchase the innovation diagnostic service
(Get help using the innovation maturity assessment across multiple sites and job functions and analyzing the results)

* Graphic adapted from the book Innovation Tournaments by Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich

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