They say variety is “the spice of life” – but in our working lives, it’s the spice, ingredients and a good portion of the kitchen equipment too. In striving to build comprehensive and sustainable enterprise innovation programs however, too often I see companies then ignoring the need for diversity – both in the reach and composition of their programmes. We are long past the days where a company’s growth can be sustained with innovation from a few solitary individuals in a lab or conference room. Innovation nowadays needs to be a singular mindset across the entire company – with executives not just asking, but instead requiring collaborative input from across the organisation as they look to solve the strategic and tactical problems that stand in the way of progress.

Successful collaborative organisations thrive off diversity in opinions, in expertise and in perspective. However, to create an environment for this to flourish, businesses need to provide diversity in toolsets, engagement techniques, and incentives.

People are different, so naturally they will respond in different ways to different stimuli. As a result innovation leaders need to consider a range of ‘innovation enablers’ to successfully forge an innovative ethos across a company. Take the following as examples of these enablers:

Gamification – Time to get serious

Successful gamification requires an understanding of game-mechanics – the real-life behavioural rules for the decisions we make every day in deciding whether or not to participate in a given activity.

Your morning commute, the prioritization of your daily work tasks, your trip to the gym – they all have a goal, a reason for doing them, an incentive for completing them. If those elements are strong, you choose to participate, if those elements are weak, you don’t. In envisioning these processes as “games” you’re able to see many of the key “rules” that govern our decisions on whether or not to take part.

You can re-envision pretty much any given process requiring human engagement as a “game” of sorts; just because we choose (and it is a choice) not to envision the process as such, just because we choose not to design it as such; doesn’t make it any less of a “game” – it just makes it a bad game nobody wants to play.

Competition is probably the most well-known game mechanic to drive participation. For many, the kudos of providing an idea that gets commercialized is often enough to get most people at least interested in the process. For others, the community building aspects of Collaboration and Group Involvement are driving factors for participation.

There are many different Game Mechanics that can be applied in a Gamified Design process – each targeting a different uniquely human engagement dynamic. Critical to all “games” though is the identification of the core incentive/reward for participation in the game – what Social Strategists call the “What’s In It For Me?” question.

There is no one “right” answer in picking an incentive and in building mass crowd based Innovation systems, the answer lies in analysing the crowd you’re looking to engage. For some, intrinsic rewards like recognition, career opportunities and unique experiences can represent a major incentive. For others, especially external crowds, extrinsic motivators such as financial incentives will be key to getting the required diverse input you’re looking for.

Value added

It’s not engagement that drives value – its value that drives engagement.

There’s a common myth that a company’s ability to innovate is directly tied to the level of engagement they are able to achieve. Proponents of this theory point to a belief that in creating a lot of random connections, innovation will occur and value will be achieved. This is completely wrong. It’s not engagement that drives value – its value that drives engagement.

Key to a robust and engaging Innovation process is the ability to show a direct path from participation to value, and to then communicate that value back to crowd to validate the process. You’d never play a game where you were kept in the dark about your progress or ultimate goal – yet companies roll out innovation programs where employee and customer are not informed about the aims of the game, while their ideas go into virtual “black boxes” never to be seen again.

Communicating value not only reinvigorates the crowd and increases participation in future innovation activities, but also reinvigorates the company, giving executives much needed ROI to support innovation investments.

The innovation infrastructure

If these innovation enablers are met repeatedly, new working habits will form and a culture of innovation can be embedded within a company. Modern technology makes ticking off these criteria easier than ever. Cloud-based platforms, such as Spigit Engage, allow challenges to be set and competition fostered on a global scale. Rewards can also be publicised, with simple visual incentives such as a virtual leader board to help drive engagement. Similarly, the rules and aims of the project can also be accessed by all participants, while remote access to the platform allows employees to find more time to invest.

With an established culture of innovation, and the creativity of a whole workforce harnessed, businesses will be in a far better position to respond to disruptions and changes in the marketplace. In today’s digital world, change is an absolute certainty. Business leaders have all the ammunition they need to protect their organizations and remain competitive – their employees. The role of the business leader is to overcome innovation barriers and ensure the crowd is empowered to rise to the challenge.

By Boris Pluskowski

About the Author:

Senior Vice President, Customer Success and Innovation Services at Mindjet, Boris Pluskowski is an acknowledged thought-leader and evangelist of corporate Innovation Management, Social Media/Technology and Collaboration. Boris has spent the last 15 years working with senior executives at some of the world’s largest companies, teaching them how to create a sustainable, repeatable and value-creating collaborative innovation engine to drive the creation of new products and business models, novel cost reductions and step-change process improvements. Boris is the author of numerous articles and research reports on innovation, collaboration and social media practices and is the author of the blog, ‘The Complete Innovator’.

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