‘To Jam’ or Not ‘To Jam’ – Is Accelerated Innovation For You?

In our fast paced world, mechanisms and methods that shorten cycle times leading to quicker outcomes when implemented properly, can prove essential.  One of the best known methods for accelerating innovation is the IBM Jam, which I have personal experience of, with lessons learnt whilst working for a previous company.

In a global organisation, with thousands of employees, it’s no mean feat to attempt an organisational wide initiative. There are considerable benefits when buying into the expertise created through a tried and tested method.

For our ‘Jam’, the launch plan was meticulously developed. Much focus was dedicated to building awareness of the campaign and engaging employees prior to the ‘go live’ period.  Senior leaders championed the various challenges, all of which were aligned to critical business needs.  A real sense of anticipation built in the days prior to launch and the Jam went live to the entire corporation.  As we all joined in the big conversation there was a sense of excitement; people wanted to get involved and contribute their ideas.  Face to face workshops were completed at a local level to further engage employees and encourage involvement.  The actual event proved a resounding success, with hundreds if not thousands of ideas generated.

Lessons learnt from this experience, while seemingly obvious, were quite profound:

  1. Support from leadership is readily and enthusiastically given when the goal is to efficiently implement and improve critical business needs.
  2. People at all levels and skill sets within an organisation have ideas and are very willing to share them.
  3. Organizations need a vehicle or method to collect these ideas (this post by fellow Future Shaper, Simon Hill, gives some good insight on this).

So what happened next?  Sadly, and this is not unique, very little.  The volume of ideas proved overwhelming and whilst the launch plan had been developed and executed to perfection, as an organisation, we had failed to develop a robust process to implement the ideas, never realising a commercial benefit.  Much attention was given to the wedding, but little, thereafter, to the marriage.

The key learning here, is that accelerated innovation is not just about collecting ideas.  We all know that without implementation, ideas are just thoughts.  To gain timely returns, you need a well-defined process from start to finish.  That is you need to ensure the pathway has been mapped and resourced from ideation through to implementation.  Having high energy, intense communication to generate multiple ideas is great and coupled with having the resources to deal with those ideas effectively and ensure fast implementation is the key to successful accelerated innovation.

To effectively run an accelerated innovation process, from ideas generation through implementation takes time!  I know that sounds an oxymoron, however without the time taken to plan how the ideas will be implemented, including allocating resources in advance and enabling early identification of barriers and methods to overcome, there will be little or no implementation.

An alternate method to deliver accelerated innovation is the NHS Hack days. Originally the brainchild of Dr Carl Reynolds, academic clinical fellow in respiratory medicine and CEO of Open Healthcare.  NHS Hack days utilise social media to promote events which aim to improve and develop NHS technology for everyone’s benefit.  Initially, anyone who has an NHS technology based problem to solve is given 60 seconds to pitch to an audience, generally made up of passionate tech-savvy individuals.  People then join the team where they feel they can add most value.  Everyone volunteers their time, has fun in the process and collaborates to develop quick solutions. These are presented at the end of the two day ‘Hack’.  The secret to success, is people get to work on a problem that interests them, for a cause they believe in with the problem ‘owner’ being motivated to implement sound solutions.

Whilst a Hackathon is traditionally an event for computer programmers, the NHS are expanding their audience and the method of bringing a group together, over a fixed time period, to collectively solve a problem, is gaining traction in many organisations.  One such example is the ‘Boot Camp’, where a business critical problem is identified and shared with employees, who can pitch their interest and expertise to get involved.  Individuals with the passion and skill to participate are assigned to a team and spend 3 – 5 days co-creating workable solutions.  Success is driven as participants want to get involved and are given dedicated time to deliver viable solutions. The problems solved are business critical, allocating resources to ensure the solutions are implemented.

An additional approach is the ‘Dragons Den’, where rather than the focus being on ideation, it is on the implementation of ideas.  A challenge is opened for a fixed time period and, as with most methods, ideas are collected.  They are all reviewed within two weeks of the challenge closing with the originators of the best ideas being invited to present their concept to a panel. The panel consists of senior members of the organisation, the ‘Dragons’.   Successful ideas gain funding and a ‘dragon’ champion to ensure effective implementation.

In our fast paced world, the benefits of shortening cycle times cannot be denied and developing a method to suit the culture of your organisation could really enhance your innovation capability.  As long as you have a business critical problem that needs a quick solution, there is a method of accelerating innovation that will work for you.  Why not try one of the methods highlighted? You can always start small, perhaps at a team level and perfect your process, working towards engaging the entire organisation in an organisational wide event.  If you have an existing open scheme to collect ideas, a fixed time event can provide a great marketing opportunity to re-invigorate your scheme.  If you are yet to ask employees for their ideas, these methods provide a great opportunity to achieve and publicise quick wins.

So, if you are looking to develop your organisational capability, bear the following factors in mind:

  • Identify business critical problems to solve and senior leaders to champion implementation
  • Develop a plan for the entire process from ideation to implementation, including allocating sponsors, resources and potential barriers to overcome
  • Create excitement and a sense of anticipation in the lead up to an event so people want to get involved and are willing participants
  • Set a time frame, adds to the sense of urgency to achieve outcomes
  • Shout about your success, positive PR to encourage future engagement!

Keep in mind, that idea generation and solution implementation methods must be repeated regularly for an organization to remain competitive in today’s fast-paced ever changing world.