Our team found an example of one of the earliest workplace suggestion boxes the other day from 1721 when a shogun, Yoshimuni Tokugawa, wrote to his citizens “Make your idea known . . . Rewards are given for ideas that are accepted.’” This means that the concept of crowdsourcing ideas that can improve a city, workplace, or world has been around for quite some time.

And we’ve come quite a long way when it comes to capturing ideas. And I’m not talking about chisels and stone tablets. Even some of our more recent methods are remarkably quaint now. Remember those voice recorders from the 90s? Or the old saying that genius ideas were always written down during happy hour on a cocktail napkin?

Well, at IdeaScale we’ve been discussing some of the old systems that pre-date idea software and why they didn’t work. We’re talking about cocktail napkins, excel spreadsheets, innovation programs that were run entirely on a single innovation@ email address. The reason that most people are looking for a innovation management software usually corresponds with one of these three shortcomings of the old program.

  • It wasn’t scalable. Usually the volume of suggestions to be evaluated is too much for a single person or initiative. This is where the crowd comes in with innovation management software, they help you scale to the size of your audience.
  • It wasn’t transparent. Transparency is important to these programs for a number of reasons – finding new resources, recognizing talent, identifying bottlenecks, and more. If an idea went into a black hole, there was no way for an employee to have agency and advocate for an idea.
  • There was no method for tracking. Everyone wants to know where ideas are – whether they’re a CIO looking to build a pipeline of great ideas or an idea author wondering if someone has read their suggestion. Without a method for tracking an idea, the program is still perceived as a one way street that shows very little progress.
  • There was no way to develop an idea. Most ideas don’t arrive fully formed. It’s important to have ways to research, develop, and augment an idea. With a crowd platform, the opportunities for collaboration and development are almost endless whereas on the suggestion box form, the format is as closed as it can be.

…which means that most of those ideas ended up in the garbage, which is really unfortunate since studies estimate “37% of submitted suggestions do have merit by saving an organization money, time and/or identifying strategies for increased effectiveness.”

We have all been at companies where systems like this have failed and we know how it hurts. So right now IdeaScale is hosting a contest to find the absolute worst methods that someone has used to manage ideas. Anyone who shares will automatically be entered to win an Apple Watch and absolved of their latter days since. Enter to win here.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

Photo: Illustration of Suggestion Box by