By: Rob Hoehn
At JR Simplot, a new cross-functional innovation initiative recently formed looking for ideas that would help optimize company efficiency, improve training programs, and more. And when they built this team, they realized that a big part of launching an innovation initiative was education. Learn more in this podcast.
Maybe you’re not familiar with Simplot by name, but I can almost guarantee that you’ve experienced them at some point in your life. Simplot started out as a potato company founded by John Richard “Jack” Simplot and later started selling dehydrated onions and potatoes to the military during the war, but it was the idea of the frozen French fry that really led the company to take off. In fact, by the 1970s, Simplot had become the primary supplier of French fries to McDonald’s and by 2005 it supplied more than half of all French fries for the entire fast food chain. Now it is now one of the largest privately-owned companies in the world with more than 10,000 employees all over the globe. Jack himself was estimated to be the 89th-richest person in the United States, at $3.6 billion.
But the ideas that truly propelled Simplot to success were pretty innovative at the time: the dehydrated potato and later the frozen French fry. But these ideas didn’t come from Jack himself. He had a philosophy that is still quoted at the company today: “You hire good people and let ‘em go.” In other words, if you invest in hiring talented people at your organization and you give them a little leeway to work on the problems that matter, they’ll come up with solutions that you didn’t know that you needed.
At JR Simplot today, a new cross-functional innovation initiative recently formed looking for ideas that would help optimize company efficiency, improve training programs, and more. And when they built this team, they realized that a big part of launching an innovation initiative was education. The Simplot group invested in training team members in design thinking, innovation definitions, and brainstorming strategies.
This is, in some ways, a testament to what JR Simplot started building all those years ago. If you’re hiring good people, you’ve got to find ways to let them go and that means investing in professional development that they’ll be able to use wherever their career takes them. The skills associated with innovation are perhaps the most profound, however, because they are really training people to learn, adapt, ask questions, and be generous with one another. So what are some of the essential skills to teach intrapreneurs?
Problem Definition. Many programs will offer their intrapreneurs a course in design thinking as a means of getting closer to the problem and developing empathy. But there are tons of approaches to problem sensing and problem definition: from jobs to be done, starting with why and many others. These methodologies and discovery measures are core skills for budding intrapreneurs.
Business Case Development. Many intrapreneurs have a good idea, but they aren’t sure how to articulate the value. Methods like business model canvas, SWOT analysis, and COSTAR help to grow the first seeds of a business case that can lead to a business plan. This will also help with the next skill.
Pitch Coaching. Many intrapreneurs aren’t used to presenting their ideas and a good, polished presentation can make all the difference. Skills in creating a create presentation deck and how to speak to executives will also be a worthwhile investment no matter what their job is.
Prototyping. Not all prototyping is hardware or zeroes and ones. Sometimes it’s working in a hackathon format or creating a sample marketing one sheeter to start testing an idea. Introducing a few different prototyping methods will help intrapreneurs get better at evaluating and reporting back on their ideas.
So what’s the future for Simplot? New vegetable processing possibilities for favorites like the avocado or the sweetness of a roasted fuji apple slice? To learn more about JR Simplot and their new innovation program, listen to their full podcast interview here.
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.