The classic IBM CEO study of 2006 says it all – the best ideas come from employees, customers and partners. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reinforces this hypothesis.
Most great ideas for enhancing corporate growth and profits aren’t discovered in the lab late at night, or in the isolation of the executive suite. They come from the people who daily fight the company’s battles, who serve the customers, explore new markets and fend off the competition.
In other words, the employees.
It goes on to list seven characteristics that are essential to the success of Innovation communities:
CREATE THE SPACE TO INNOVATE. Line managers and employees occupied with operational issues normally don’t have the time to sit around and discuss ideas that lead to cross-organizational innovation. Innovation communities create a space in which employees from across the organization can exchange ideas.
GET A BROAD VARIETY OF VIEWPOINTS. It’s essential to involve people from different functions, locations and ranks, not only for their unique perspectives, but also to ensure buy-in throughout the company afterward. Innovation communities focus on creating enthusiasm as well as new products.
CREATE A CONVERSATION BETWEEN SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND PARTICIPANTS. By definition, innovation communities can’t work in isolation: To create sustainable cross-organizational innovation, it’s important that ideas flow to senior managers. If they don’t, innovations will tend to have limited, local effects that don’t benefit the organization as a whole.
PARTICIPANTS SHOULD BE PULLED TO JOIN, NOT PUSHED. Members need to be enthusiastic about participating. Employees can’t be forced to reveal their thoughts or be imaginative.
TAPPING UNUSED TALENT AND ENERGY KEEPS PRODUCT-DEVELOPMENT COSTS LOW. One reason these forums are economical is because they tap into unused energy. An innovation community sends a message that senior management is listening and that employees will benefit from participating. In many cases, potential contributors are just waiting to be asked.
COLLATERAL BENEFITS CAN BE AS IMPORTANT AS THE INNOVATIONS THEMSELVES. Innovation communities promote learning on both a personal and organizational level by bringing people together to exchange ideas. The repeated discussions and problem-solving missions can give rise to valuable social networks that lead to further exchanges of ideas in the future.
MEASUREMENT IS KEY. Innovation communities are sustainable only if they can produce demonstrable value. Otherwise senior management loses interest.