Why MyStarbucksIdea is a Bad Idea

by Braden Kelley

Today we will examine Starbucks’ open innovation attempt – MyStarbucksIdea.

You may have come across it already, but it is worth examining because it represents one of the largest open innovation efforts to date, and it is the first I have seen built on a customized salesforce.com platform.

Some might say it is just a fancy suggestion box and not an open innovation effort, but it really depends on how you define open innovation.

MyStarbucksIdea.com is open innovation at work, not a mere suggestion box because a suggestion box is a black hole. People submit their suggestion and never know:

  1. If anybody even sees it
  2. What the reaction was to it
  3. What the outcome was
  4. What other people might think of the idea
  5. How other people might make the idea even better

Open innovation principles say that if a company allows people from outside the company to provide ideas that the innovation that comes as a result will be greater than if ideation is maintained as the sole domain of employees. MyStarbucksIdea.com embraces those principles and takes it one step further in that it allows a couple of key community features:

  1. Anyone can submit an idea
  2. Users can vote on different ideas to indicate the wisdom of the crowd
  3. Anyone can build a discussion around an idea by commenting on it
    • As a result their is an opportunity for ideas to be refined and become more compelling than first presented by the original submission
  4. Each registered user has an “inbox” that let’s them see when someone responds to their submission
  5. Finally Starbucks pulls it all together with the “Ideas in Action” page to show what they are doing with the submissions

This kind of implementation has a few fatal flaws however:

  1. Competitors can benefit at the same time and possibly beat Starbucks to the punch if they respond faster
  2. Numerous duplicate submissions over time will make it difficult for users to build upon anything other than the newest or the most popular ideas (which will be difficult to measure given the duplicates)
  3. A lot of the obvious wins will be picked off within the first few months

So should Starbucks keep or ditch MyStarbucksIdea?

To answer that question I must answer it with another question. What is the purpose of innovation?

The purpose of innovation in the corporate world is to increase revenue and/or decrease costs, while also increasing competitive separation. Any other purpose has the potential to increase costs and possibly even to put you further behind your competition.

Innovation in the government or non-profit sectors can support the secondary purpose of facilitating knowledge sharing that the corporate world cannot support.

MyStarbucksIdea is a great implementation for a government or non-profit, but terrible for a corporation.

Here is what Starbucks should do:

  1. Starbucks should switch to a suggestion box format, with a closed community aspect to evolve ideas
    • Inviting people who submit similar suggestions to a closed forum to discuss their idea
    • Inviting top contributors or bloggers to iterate on an idea together privately
  2. Starbucks should throw out innovation challenges instead of hosting an open idea forum
  3. Starbucks should keep the IdeasInAction page to report back on implemented (and only implemented) suggestions and challenge results
  4. Starbucks should offer brand experience prizes (or possibly cash) at whatever level is necessary to encourage submissions and participation (which might be zero initially and escalate over time) while also building brand affinity

Congratulations, Starbucks, this a good first attempt.

However, it falls short of the kind of long-term improvement in innovation capability that ultimately results in a more profitable market leader – that’s what we work with organizations to create.

3 comments

  1. How wrong you were….

  2. Braden, maybe you should write an update about this case and explain to us if the problems that you expected appeared. I don’t know if Starbucks was defeated by competitors using itś “own” ideas (I don’t think so), and I don’t see people asking for money so they give ideas. What I see is lack of participation, at least comparing with the first year. Maybe you can so some more research and find out if this is still working as it appeared to work by 2010.

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