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And what’s changed along the way?

Online ideation and collaboration might be a fairly recent business practice, but the suggestion box concept has been around at least since the 18th century.

Some credit the original concept to a Naval captain, others to a Japanese shogun, but whoever get credit, one thing is agreed upon: a space was defined for new ideas (generally a box) and people were invited to share their thoughts on how they could make things better: from how the Navy operates to how a ruler could improve the common person’s experience. So what are the major breakthroughs that have developed the crowdsourced ideas strategy over the years?

Asking employees for suggestions. The first shift was recognizing the value of a workforce’s insight that admitted that those at the front lines were closest to some of the most solvable problems. Even after the first suggestion boxes were created, it took some time for executives and leaders to decide that these programs should be rolled out to an entire organization, regardless of someone’s position at the company.

Asking anyone for ideas. The idea evolved further when companies realized that some of the best ideas that would help propel them forward were going to come from outside of their organization. This is when leaders started asking their customers and the public for ideas… even if the public didn’t have an understanding of the internal workings of the company or its goals. This change has eventually led to our customer-centric business culture that we have today.

Incentivized ideas. According to our research, Eastman Kodak successfully implemented a suggestion system to improve their company’s operations in 1898 and became the first company to PAY a reward for the employee’s suggestion. This one-to-one exchange for good ideas continues to be an incentivization model that’s still used today, but since that time has also evolved to include a number of other incentives: from the non-monetary team incentives (like giving everyone in a winning office the afternoon off) to professional development incentives (like mentoring and training) to plain ol’ recognition (which turns out to be the most effective incentive for internal challenges, in particular).

Online collaboration. Like many other industries – the game changed significantly with the advent of the internet. The systems that were once location-based and for one-way communication suddenly became stateless, transparent, and collaborative and therefore much more powerful. It was easier to not only gather ideas, but prioritize them, build on them, prototype them and share results. That’s why we created IdeaScale – because we believed that anyone could power this type of positive change.

To learn more about the history of the suggestion box, download this timeline infographic.

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.

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Featured Image: “suggestion box” by sethoscope is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0