Gamifying Innovation

by Bert Fickel

So often, I’m asked about best practices on how others have developed innovation within their company. While it’s not easy, there are some basic guidelines that can drive improved results.

  • Are your people ready to drive innovation?

Very often, only a few high level folks have the right skills and yet so often, innovation comes from those at the front line; consider how you might best set up basic innovation classes to train your people. Companies like Cisco and Cigna, who have strong IT platforms, have been very successful in leveraging those platforms by setting up online training; large, more “centralized” companies like Whirlpool find it powerful to create their own internal “universities” to train their people while decentralized companies like Natura found it easier to have external training organizations come in to train and certify their people. Look at what your company does well and consider how to leverage those competencies, assets and technologies to best develop your people.

  • Do you have the resources to drive internal competitions?

Once you feel your people are ready for innovation, consider how to leverage competition to drive results. One great example is EMC, a leader in computing storage worldwide; they have developed an EMC version of Shark Tank, where internal teams compete to develop the best innovation solution. While other companies have attempted this before, EMC’s program is powerful in that they have lots of real challenges that are put forth by each business leader, resulting in lots of winners (minimizing the tension of having lots of non-winners, which can so often defeat these types of engagements) who can then work with the business unit to take the idea forward.

  • Do You Have Compelling Opportunities to Engage Senior Leadership?

Note that EMC also leveraged the third pillar , top management engagement. For their Shark Tank, their Chief Technology Officer (CTO) operated as an integral part of the review panel. Having the CTO on the panel inevitably drives higher quality results as the teams recognize that this competition is important and that his presence dramatically increases the likelihood of driving the ideas forward.

While the EMC Shark Tank requires a great deal of buy-in from the entire organization (as well as a big push from Calvin Smith and others who have this as their full-time project), there are other less burdensome options for you to come up with innovative solutions. One such program is the MBA Innovation Olympics.

With this program:

  1. Teams of graduate students from top academic institutions get up to speed quickly because they are trained on using proven innovation tools and techniques
  2. The program acts as an easy button to get breakthrough results with minimal intrusion because professional coaches manage highly motivated, hand-picked teams throughout the 7-week process
  3. The competitive environment, combined with the outside in perspective of the teams, allows them to come up with innovative, bankable, and actionable solutions that can be presented to senior leadership at the end of the project

Consider what sort of program works best for your group and as always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me.

image credit: OviedoEmprende

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Bert Fickel is principal for the IXL Center, where he mentors MBA teams and facilitates innovation and leadership workshops for clients who want to develop innovation capabilities through action learning. As an entrepreneur and mentor, he has a passion for bringing innovation to market and driving its adoption in global organizations.

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