The innovators dilemma: how to reduce the ...

The innovators dilemma: how to reduce the friction of the innovation process in large companies? An Adobe original story.

While we were at TNW 2015 Conference a few weeks ago, we breathed in the lively atmosphere of brand new startups presenting themselves everywhere at the conference. In general, these days, it feels like we are living in a startup economy. Startups are perceived as being cool, experimental and innovative. Although approximately 3 out of 4 startups fail, the majority is capable of innovating and pivoting fast if the market requires this. Innovation is part of a structured process to change ideas into market-ready solutions. With big companies this is not always the case. Innovation and change is tough within corporates. Adobe is taking a shot at this friction by creating the Kickbox.

What's the problem? The bigger a company gets, the less able it is at innovating. It experiences difficulties in creating a business culture that is also a culture for innovation. The oil tanker company is challenged to keep reinventing itself, and to follow disruption in the market. How can these companies reduce friction in the innovation process? Larger companies have to deal with different challenges such as legacy systems, limited budgets for innovation and the movement of information — how to get all the available knowledge out of the company and its employees. The correct use of available resources for innovation projects causes the most friction in organizations.

Mark Randall (Adobe) speaking at TNW2015

Why Adobe? At TNW 2015 we were inspired by the story of Mark Randall, Adobe's VP of Creativity. He joined Adobe to share his experiences teaching others how to innovate. But where to start in such a large company? Traditionally, employees could drop their ideas for innovation, but in the end, decisions on executing those ideas would still be made by executives. The challenge is to think less in planned innovation and drive an employee’s personal motivation to innovate. At Adobe, Randall is now 'thinking inside the box' introducing the Kickbox — an employee innovation process ‘that comes packaged in a physical red box’.

What’s in this red box? Besides maps and instructions to help you plot your innovation course there is a Starbucks giftcard, a debit Master Card with $1000 USD and sugar, lots of sugar. Anyone can get a box. No rules and no constraints. If you want to blow it on gambling in Vegas, you can just go. Besides the physical box there is a certain amount of time designated besides your regular work to make it all happen. The whole set-up is a hands-on experience to create your own products in a lean and agile way. ‘Adobe equips and empowers its new innovators from within the company rather than creating just more innovations’( read more here from Adobe news).

Randall advocates that an idea can only be worked out well 'if it is iterated and evolved with feedback'. The lean principles are in place. It is an ongoing process in which the idea is instantly and continuously tested with the consumer or users to get feedback and to validate an idea. 'Learning through validation' is how Randall calls it. So, no need to pitch the idea first, just go do it! Basically, employees are a startup by itself. And that's the radical part in this plan. How could you be funding a number of ideas without knowing whether it's a good idea and in line with the company's innovation strategy? And what does it take for an executive to listen to all those ideas? Setting up long meetings with all stakeholders to pre validate all ideas is substantially more expensive then a box of 1000 dollars and time of one employee. Trust and transparency allow for creativity and freedom to build the next set of innovations at Adobe. Even the smallest ideas are given the chance to come to live.

So what is the process like? When you start your innovation adventure, it's all about beating the 6 color-coded levels of the Red Kickbox, of which each level includes a checklist that must be completed to upgrade you to the next level. You are guided through the whole process, but you can implement it the way you want it. After completing level 6, which already indicates that your idea is appreciated by users and some executives in the company, you are rewarded with a another box, the blue box. Besides the funding to pursue your idea further, it is personalized for every idea but no one knows exactly what's inside this box…. This is only to be found out by those clever innovators who manage to break through. Well, our curiosity has been fed even more now.

How will this lower friction? Besides performing their assigned tasks, employees are able to align their personal passion for invention with the company’s purpose of solving problems for customers. It allows them to contribute ideas and participate in shaping a favorable business culture and it unshackles hidden talents and knowledge in the company. Going through this whole innovation process, it gives the employees a great amount of experience — 'they know how to come up with a valuable idea, express it concisely, evaluate it internally, validate it externally with customers, and then use that real-world data to build support in the company to pursue the idea' (Adobe News). Adobe's Kickbox incentive for innovation shows that a large company — of 11,000 people — is able to achieve its goal of being innovative. By focussing on its employees, Adobe 'awakened a sense of personal initiative to imagine, to dream, and to create', which it claims to have enclosed in the core of Adobe’s DNA.

What should you do as a company to drive innovation? The Adobe example can inspire you how to unleash a drive to innovate within your company. Key is to create a business culture that allows for innovation incentives in which friction is reduced and employees feel free to give voice to their ideas and let their creativity flourish for the good of the company. Rely on the diversity of people and the bright curious minds in your company and focus on their motivation to expand their passion for the work in their spare time. Or just give them time. At aFrogleap we aim to create a dynamic and creative business culture to experiment with new tools and technologies, to organize internal events such as #hacknight to work out some of our greatest ideas, and to attend leading events in the industry to keep our knowledge and expertise up and running. Get inspired by the Adobe example and get on with it!