Four Thanksgiving Firsts That Spurred Innovation

Thanksgiving GreetingsIt’s that time of year again, when turkeys and pumpkin pies fill our dreams, and parades with building-sized balloons fill our streets. In that spirit, here are four innovative Thanksgiving firsts:

1. Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, creating a national day of thanks. This proclamation was the precedent to the first official national holiday law in 1870. Thanks Abe!

2. Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of Thanksgiving Day parades, the oldest in the nation may not be the one you’d expect. In 1920, Ellis Gimbel of Gimbel’s in Philadelphia was looking for a way to make his Toyland the stand-out destination for shoppers, and the Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was born. This novelty paved the way for the creation of the much-loved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, which today includes over 8,000 volunteers and brings an estimated 3.5 million folks out into the streets to watch.

3. Black Friday Commercialized. Today we’re familiar with the term “Black Friday” in reference to the crazed flurry of shopping. However, the first use of the term in connection with Thanksgiving actually originated with some weary cops who had to deal with the increase of traffic on the road on that day. Trailblazing retailers spun it back to shopping using a rumor indicating that the term actually referred to the shopping day putting those retailers back in the black financially.

4. National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. This year marks the 67th anniversary of the presentation, in which the President of the United States chooses between two turkeys and issues one an official presidential pardon. In 2012, however, President Obama utilized a new method of determining which turkey to pardon: he crowdsourced the selection! Through a vote implemented on the White House’s Facebook page, American citizens cast their ballots and turkey Cobbler triumphed.

What innovation from history are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Don’t Stop Now: Why You Can’t Stop Innovating Once You Start

image curtesy of randy heinitz via flickr

image courtesy of randy heinitz via flickr

Innovation is a tough topic. It’s one of those words that is overused, over-hyped and generally misunderstood. In fact, over the past few years, a number of thought leaders published in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes and other venues have urged the elimination of the word innovation from business vocabularies.

Has the word itself become the business equivalent of cute cats and selfies?

Regardless of what you might want to replace it with, the concept is necessary even though innovators like Thomas Edison and Leonardo Da Vinci probably never used the word “innovate” in describing what they were doing.

Problems, problems
Probably one of the biggest struggles of organizations that want to innovate is coming up with a definition of innovation that actually helps them determine when they’ve been successful at innovating.

Another thing that makes innovation difficult is that the products of innovation are not always accepted by the marketplace. This is a double-edged sword that makes everything more difficult from forecasting revenue and ROI, to identifying target markets, marketing messaging, and

Oftentimes, too, innovation can introduce unexpected supply chain problems.

Risk is a requirement
Innovation is incredibly risky business. This is why most companies are willing to let others do the innovating and then play follow-the leader. This “drafting the leader” approach to business strategy makes innovation doubly risky for innovators because just the act of innovating, in most cases, lowers the barriers to entry for competitors.

This means that once you start playing the innovation game, there is no stopping. If innovation is required to establish a market leadership position, it is also required, in many cases, to maintain a market leadership position. This innovation imperative, once it is adopted can hardly ever be set aside. Instead of playing an innovation tournament at the end of a season, innovation must become a full-time preoccupation for, well, ever.

That being the case, innovation becomes a much bigger challenge than simply allocating some creative thinkers, giving them a budget, equipping a secretive workspace in which they can make their magic, designating them the “Innovation Department.”

It isn’t pocket change
Innovation means change. Not incremental change, but sweeping change that requires conceptual shifts for both the introducers of the change and the consumers of the the change. This kind of change is messy and unpredictable. This kind of change hardly ever happens without a strong leader.

Sustaining an ongoing innovation effort requires investment on many levels. For an organization to build a culture that can sustainably support relentless innovation, the investments are substantial–another reason corporations would rather play second fiddle in the innovation orchestra.

Here are some of the ways organizations can prepare.

1. Diversity – One of the essentials of innovation is a diversity of inputs from a variety of perspectives. This means people with different cultural, educational, experiential and even spiritual backgrounds and world-views.

Most recruiting practices today are designed to comply with government mandated, politically correct diversity requirements, but the departments in charge of this bean counting approach to diversity will never satisfy the diversity requirements for innovation. This is, in fact, one of the conceptual shifts required.

2. Personal time – Another crucial factor in innovation is having time to reconfigure things in one’s own mental space. This activity is not something that happens in a collaborative setting; it is intensely private.

Measuring the success or productivity of this activity cannot be accomplished with traditional manufacturing-style productivity measures. There must be a liberal allowance for this type of personal investment in personal conceptual shifts, away from interactive and collaborative settings and situations.

3. Flexible organizational structure – Creative people have little use for hierarchical organizational structures with all the lines and dotted lines traditionally used in org charts. Innovators are more interested in results than reports and deliverables. Building this into the culture of an organization requires a leadership conceptual shift around what really matters most.

Creative people basically interact with everyone as a peer. The flatter an organization or team is, the more successful it is likely to be at innovation.

*     *     *

No one knows in advance which combination of people, elements, ideas, events, models, diagrams, jokes, or magazine articles are going to be the combination that pulls everything together for the next game-changing conceptual shift.

The best an organization can do is make sure there is plenty of opportunity for these things to happen in as many ways as possible and encourage them to happen as often as possible. This sounds like a big risk, but if growth is a requirement, not being configured to support and sustain innovation is much riskier.

Guest Author, Ivan SerranoThis guest post is authored by Ivan Serrano, a business journalist and infographic specialist located in Northern California.

Tomorrow is the Final Day to Submit to the Open Innovation Awards!

image curtesy of nicolas will via flickr

image courtesy of nicolas will via flickr

If you’re part of an IdeaScale community you’ve probably already heard about our second annual Open Innovation Awards. Over the past few months we’ve been asking all of you to share your success stories. We’ll be selecting a Best Moderation Strategy, Best Engagement Strategy, and a Best Innovation – all of which come with prizes… and some serious bragging rights. But the submission deadline is tomorrow Friday the 14th, and we want to hear your unique, inspiring, exceptional innovation story.

At IdeaScale we love this time of year. Hearing about the struggles and accomplishments in your innovation communities is always educational and helpful, but it’s also fun. It won’t be easy to decide who will win the titles, and the prizes that go with them, this year!

For all of you who have already submitted, or are routing for a community you know and love, finalists will be notified on December 5th, and the winners will be announced on December 19th! Can’t wait another five weeks to get your fix of innovation? You can read up on all of last year’s winners!

•   Yale

•   Marriott

•   UNCW

•   State of Minnesota

•   The Cerebral Palsy Alliance


So what are you waiting for? Submit today!

3 Challenges to Innovation Without Borders

IdeaScale blog readers are probably very familiar with the idea of innovation without borders – a theory similar to open innovation – in which all ideas can come from anywhere (internal or external – regardless of job title, discipline, or mission) and those ideas can also be made into a reality by anyone. However, there are some concerns that people have when opening up dialogue on a global level. Before implementing any open innovation technology solution, organizations should be able to answer concerns in three main areas:

Security. This dialogue might be transparent, but maintaining a secure network is crucial to the network’s trust of you and protection of private information associated with these accounts. Make sure that your innovation platform has top-level security (as well as scalability).

Global Collaboration. Accessibility is probably the most important part of any innovation without borders initiative since engagement is the key to success. Is your dialogue open to people of all languages, people of all abilities, is it present in more than just a social forum, can you share ideas in an offline context?

Evaluation Capability. It’s a great idea, but is it right for you? This is the question that every business needs to answer when they’re looking at potential new innovations. Maybe it would be a great new feature – but the technology doesn’t exist yet or maybe it would be a great new process – but it’s not possible to institute for financial reasons. Evaluating each idea for its business relevance as well as its ROI should be part of any innovation program.

If you’re interested in learning more about “Innovation without Borders,” register for a complimentary webinar with guests from Accenture, IdeaScale, and the former CTO of the United States of America. The online session will be followed with a live Q&A.

What Does Flex Time Really Imply?

Everyone is fond of bringing up 3M and Google’s practice that offered their employees “20% Time” to try out new ideas outside of their job description. In other words, one day out of their week – they didn’t have a title or a job description – but rather just the organizational goal of making their company better.

So we’ve all heard of different permutations of this flexible time, but what about flex boundaries? Although it certainly behooves organizations to offer their employees organizational objectives so that everyone understands the goal that they are collaboratively working towards, an employee’s role should never be so prescribed that they have no freedom to be creative.

Here’s one of our favorite examples: when Allstate was looking for design ideas for a mobile app that it was launching, the winning idea was sourced from one of the firm’s trial attorneys based out of the Buffalo office – hardly the head of their mobile marketing division. And if everyone just stuck to their job descriptions and never concerned themselves with the larger needs of the organization, then the pace of innovation today would be a lot slower.

This is why the idea of “innovation without borders” is gaining traction. That job flexibility applies to a number of parameters – including the boundaries that once separated different departments from one another, different, organizations from each other, and those organizations from the rest of the world that they serve. In the borderless innovation program, everyone can play a role in making the world a better place.

If you’re interested in learning more about “Innovation Without Borders,” register today for our upcoming webinar.

Following the crowd to mobile: Why you need to optimize for devices

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 4.54.53 PMThis month, over 1 billion people will use Facebook from a mobile device. Of that billion, 399 million will never see their newsfeed on a computer screen – about 30% of all active Facebook users access the site exclusively through mobile. Mr. Zuckerberg’s ubiquitous social network is not unique in this; last year, for the first time, Americans spent more time on their smartphones than on their computers, and in January 2014 mobile apps surpassed desktop browsing in total share of internet usage.

mobilewebusageWeb usage on mobile devices vs. computers: mobile is already ahead

Everywhere, the importance of mobile is growing. The effect is disproportionately strong in online commerce, where mobile has rapidly overtaken desktop as the primary setting for customer interaction. Companies like StubHub have seen a majority of their traffic flock to mobile, where a ticket is now purchased every 6 seconds. 67% of online consumers say they are more likely to buy from a company whose site is optimized for mobile; 30% are liable to abandon a purchase midway through the process if the shopping experience is not mobile-friendly.

That’s why it’s so important that your online presence is carefully designed to cater to the mobile masses. As much as people love to online shop on their phones and tablets these days, rising expectations or shorter attention spans or the proliferation of choices or some other variable has created a finicky mobile market. It is not enough to simply offer online shopping for mobile – consumers want streamlined, user-friendly mobile shopping experiences that look good, feel comfortable, function smoothly, and inspire trust and credibility.

In a 2013 survey by Jumio, two-thirds of mobile consumers reported abandoning a purchase – half of them because the checkout process just took too long or was too difficult. Another quarter said their purchase failed because it didn’t go through, and still more cited concerns for the security of their payment information. Clearly, despite the ever-increasing importance of mobile, most online retailers aren’t doing enough to maximize the opportunities it offers.

Of course, as with everything, there are exceptions. Florist ProFlowers optimized their website for mobile devices and saw a 20-30% increase in their conversion rate. Not only that, they found that having a well-designed mobile presence increases conversions on desktop devices as well. That’s because mobile visitors are much more likely to return to your site on their computer if they are satisfied with their mobile experience, thanks to high rates of device-switching to accomplish tasks online.

So, are you optimizing your online presence for mobile? Think about the people using your mobile website or app as it is today: are you confident that they would be willing to input their credit card information without hesitation? That they would be able to read your content and descriptions without pinching and zooming? That they would feel at ease navigating through your menus, search results, and product pages?

Or would they be part of the 47% that felt the checkout process was so long and tortuous as to make it not worth their time?

Mobile is too big to ignore. No more crossing your fingers and hoping your website designed for the computer screen will be good enough for the demanding mobile audience. It’s time to listen to the trends and give people what they want: an experience as easy and user-friendly on their phones and tablets as on their computers.

Want to learn more about designing for mobile? TryMyUI is hosting a webinar on The State of Mobile UX November 4th with Chandika Bhandari of Seattle AppLab and Derek Olson of Foraker Labs. Join here: http://trymyui.com/webinar/The-State-Of-Mobile-UX

Gen Z: The Uber Generation

The Gen Z EffectThe post-Millenial generation is changing the face of business, society, our global ecology, and beyond. For organizations that are seeking the innovation edge, the key to their next evolution is likely in eliminating the barriers that separate generations in order to establish an ecosystem of continuous innovation. This is the subject of Tom Koulopoulos’ and Dan Keldsen’s The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business. We had the good fortune to interview one of the book’s authors, Dan Keldsen, today. The following is our interview.

IS: The book is The Gen Z Effect, but could you introduce us to your authors?

DK: The Gen Z Effect comes as a result of a 20+ year friendship, the first 13 of which were directly working together as the CEO (Tom) and CTO (Dan) of Delphi Group. This is Tom’s 10th book, and Dan’s 1st. They both share a lifelong love of learning and researching the cutting edge of technology, where it’s been, where it’s taking us, and how we and our businesses can make the most of it, together, right now.

IS: Your book is designed to be share-able, tweetable, and consumable in multiple formats. I love that there are even points in the ebook that are designed to be innately shared on social media. Could you distill your book into a tweet summary here?

DK: In under 140 characters:

Generational stereotypes are lazy lies. Learn, work, fund & create together. Leverage behavior not labels to win. #GenZ

IS: You say in your book that there isn’t a particular birth date for Gen Z, but a set of behaviors that are associated with members of that generation. What are the behaviors that characterize as Gen Z behaviors?

DK: With Gen Z, we’re saying that we’ve reached the point in history when Gen Z is effectively the last generation. With Gen Z, we are Breaking Generations down as the long-held myths that they are, and that frees us to look at the behaviors that we’re ALL exhibiting, led by Gen Z, and picked up (or revealed) by prior generations.

The behaviors springing from The Gen Z Effect are summed up in the Six Forces we’ve identified:

Breaking Generations: facing the imminent and immensely disruptive population redistribution that equalizes the number of humans globally in each of the thirteen five-year age groups from birth to sixty- four. (i.e., ages 0–4, 5–9, 10–14, . . . 60–64)

Hyperconnecting: moving toward exponential hyperconnectivity among people, computers, machines, and objects.

Slingshotting: exploiting disruptive advances in user experience and affordability that turn what was the cutting edge of technology into the norm, allowing large segments of the population to catch up, seemingly overnight, with technology pioneers.

Shifting from Affluence to Influence: leveraging the ever increasing ability to influence world events through communities that cut across age and other demographic boundaries, without the benefit of access to large pools of capital.

Adopting the World As My Classroom: pushing toward global availability and affordability of education through all levels of schooling and for any age.

Lifehacking: breaking through barriers, taking shortcuts, and other- wise outsmarting the system so that we can focus on outcomes rather than processes, making meaning and purpose the center of our personal and professional experience.

Without going into exhaustive detail on all of the behavioral examples we cover, some samples of the behaviors that result from the Six Forces are:

Breaking Generations = dropping the assumptions that you’re too young to lead/manage, raise capital, or have “good ideas” or that you’re too old to get new technology, new behaviors, etc. Everyone can and will contribute or participate, if they see a reason to.

Hyperconnecting = with smart phones in almost every hand (in developed countries, and quickly rising in developing countries), there is almost never a time when you could legitimately not have direct access to the information or people that you need. This may mean we are impatient for instant gratification, but it also means we are able to make faster decisions, learn things more rapidly, and connect nearly instantly with people almost anywhere on the planet. The time when there was life BG (Before Google), seems almost impossible. How did you get anywhere? Meet up with anyone? Know what restaurant to go to? How to fix a flat tire?

Slingshotting = one of the significant behavior changes is that touch interfaces, wireless networking, and voice controls, have made what used to be very user-hostile technology, into something that is literally “always on” your person, by your bed, in your pocket. When people who have never owned a computer, throughout the 70s until now, are suddenly walking around with them in their pocket, it’s easy to see that we have a whole set of behaviors that are truly across all generations. Technology doesn’t have to be expensive, hostile, and only for the early adopters – we’re on the cusp of a completely different technology revolution now that everyone expects great apps in the palm of their hand, that work instantly and with minimal effort.

IS: In The Gen Z Effect you spend time talking about how employee engagement should be a top priority. But could you spend a minute talking about why it is so crucial not just to the employees, but to the enterprise itself?

DK: I’ve found that it’s dangerous to only look at issues from the “company first” perspective, that’s why so many “corporate initiatives” fail (particularly technology-driven social/collaboration and innovation initiatives). The employees are disengaged from the entire process, and there is quite literally nothing in it for them. It falls out of the sky, with poor internal marketing/sales (aka internal communications), and the “corporate transformation” rolls off of the disengaged employees, like water off a duck’s back.

So a significant portion of The Gen Z Effect from a corporate perspective is that you need to look at what EVERYONE is looking to get out of their work, life and the business itself. Executives and human resources departments may often say that “their people are their most valuable assets” – but that myth has been exploded so often that it’s easy to be cynical and treat such mantras as veiled threats that you actually are, as it turns out, replaceable.

The reality is that nobody is irreplacable, companies don’t last forever, and lifelong employment is a thing of the past

But… despite the doom and gloom of what passes for news these days, there are far more opportunities available for people than at any time in history.

This is all thanks to forces like Lifehacking (specifically crowdfunding as way to unleash capital from the largest pool of investors possible) , crowdsourcing), Hyperconnecting (social networks, data networks), and life-long learning opportunities, at prices and quality that have never been seen before).

IS: What does innovation look like in a post-generational world?

Innovation is no longer limited to the lone entrepreneur or strictly for the Research and Development department. With the rise of the app economy, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing of and by employees (at work within companies like IBM), and the employee-to-employee learning opportunities spreading across Silicon Valley companies and beyond, innovation is now open to everyone, inside or outside of work.

IS: Do you have a greatest hope for Gen Z (bearing in mind, of course, that the exponential problems and solutions are beyond the ken of our own generation)?

DK: That we continue to break down the myths of the generational gaps we’ve been told that divide us, and forge the kind of strong, cross-generational teams that we’ve found throughout our research, pulling the best from the youngest and oldest among us alike. Only by doing that will humanity will be able to solve the great challenges that lie ahead.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Gen-Z effect, pre-order your copy today and receive a special offer from IdeaScale.

Support the Vote: 3 Reasons IdeaScale Loves Voting

In case you hadn’t heard, IdeaScale loves voting! It’s part of crowdsourcing, part of our platform and part of our culture here at work. In fact, anyone who wants to take a free vacation day on Election Day in order to volunteer at the polls is welcome to do so. This year, nearly two-thirds of the home office will be volunteering at precincts all around the Bay Area on November 4th.

But why are we so jazzed about voting? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but here are a few:

1. Voting is so natural that instances of it are even observable in the animal kingdom. Some studies have noted that “consensus decision making is common in non-human animals, and that cooperation between group members in the decision-making process is likely to be the norm (more so than monarchal and dictatorial approaches to decision-making). Can voting be classified as a “certified organic” process?

2. Voting has some serious precedent. The right to vote originated in ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy. Democracy came about in the fifth century BC. Even now in Greece, anyone over the age of 18 is required to vote.

3. It’s going to change a lot in the next 50 years. Voting has been a part of us for a long time, but with the digital age in full swing, it’s never been easier to feel the power of a groundswell movement. What voting looks like now is just the beginning and it will continue to evolve in numerous ways as the technology develops and becomes more integrated into numerous processes.

We hope that if you’re in the Bay Area, we run into you in our precincts. Or that we don’t, because you’ve already mailed in your ballot. And our now well-trained team of volunteers can educate you on ranked-choice voting or provisional ballots or any other questions that you might have.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @IdeaScale for poll station selfies and updates throughout the day on November 4th and, in the meantime, please enjoy this Rock the Vote message from Lil’ Jon and friends.

IdeaScale is Ranked #513 on the Inc. 5000

inc5000_num_513It’s been nearly five years since IdeaScale launched it’s first campaign – an Open Gov initiative from the office of President Obama. We were recently ranked #513 on the Inc. 5000 list.  In the three years Inc based the rank on we’ve grown by 916%, and added 16 new members to our team. We are elated by the news, and proud of what we’re growing into. For us that 513 meant moving into a larger office with extra space and a bigger fridge. It also meant development on all fronts.

We’ve learned from our users – both the moderators running our software and the end users driving the results. In 2010 we enhanced moderator customization with features like moderator fields, custom fields for selective emailing, and tags.

By 2011 we were working on our gamifcation game. Community leaderboards were already in full swing, encouraging participation by showing users how they ranked against their peers. Two years in, we used what we’d learned from user behavior and added in customizable badges – a way to celebrate all of the participation styles required to build the most robust innovation operation. Getting beyond points and votes brings character to a community, and rewards more users.

Innovation is king, it’s what drives us to build our software. Working directly with our customers means we’ve had a first row seat to over 13,000 innovation campaigns. The number one lesson we learned? Innovation is a process. Introducing assessment tools and our newest edition, ReviewScale – decision matrix software that allows you to weigh ideas across factors and restrictions before you put them into implementation.

Of course, we aren’t done growing. As more businesses and organizations find ways to integrate innovation into their process, our job shifts into exciting new territory. A huge thank you to Inc. for the recognition, and an equally huge thank you to all of the innovators who have set up, moderated, or participated in an IdeaScale community.