Adobe is encouraging innovation in a whole new way. Meet KickStart.
It starts with a shiny red box. You open it and discover $1,000 USD and everything you need to launch an idea. One of the world’s best innovators will teach you how to come up with the idea, test it with real consumers, and make it a reality in a new Adobe product.
It’s the Adobe KickStart program. You don’t have to be an engineer or even have an idea to start with. All you need is a willingness to learn and the motivation to see an idea through.
Chief strategist, vice president of creativity • San Jose, California
“We want more disruptive innovation and less planned innovation. To do this, we had to let go. We thought, what if we removed the obstacles that are stopping people from innovating? What if we gave them the resources? There are no rules or constraints. The approach to innovation in KickStart is giving people the permission to go do it.”
When serial start-up entrepreneur Mark Randall joined Adobe, he was asked to use his experience to teach others how to innovate. Initially, he wondered whether it was even possible in a large corporation.
“One of the challenges that large corporations have is trying to drive employee motivation to innovate,” Mark says. “KickStart was an attempt to resolve that by looking at the history of what companies have done and then removing the obstacles that have stood in the way.”
Traditionally, he says, companies have asked employees for ideas and then let corporate executives decide an idea’s fate in a sudden-death scenario. The problem, he says, is the idea never has a chance to iterate and evolve with feedback.
The Adobe KickStart program empowers employees to create an idea and take it straight to the consumer for testing. “We say, ‘Don’t tell us the idea — just go do it.’ And that was a radical thought.” He adds, “The fact that we give them $1,000 USD on a prepaid credit card to pursue the idea — no receipts, no expense reporting, no questions asked — that’s empowering.”
A key part of the process is learning through validation whether the customer likes the idea. Then, employees can pitch it to any number of executives, any number of times.
“You can present to hundreds. All you need is to get one to say yes,” Mark says. “It can be the 20th one after 19 have said no. An employee can keep going until getting a yes.”
Mark says that personal motivation is one of the keys to seeing an idea come to life in KickStart.
“You can’t pay someone to be innovative,” he says. “It’s like paying someone to fall in love. Innovation is hard — you run up against obstacles — you have to change what you’re doing and try again. Because it’s hard, you have to do this because you care about it.”
Senior software development manager • San Jose, California
KickStart idea: Creating video stories that sync images and music with mood and emotion.
“The idea of creation fuels me. It’s like having a little start-up within Adobe. This is something that we can shape in any way we want.”
As a new mom, Wennie loves taking pictures of her kids. Through KickStart, she and a team came up with an idea that would transform personal memories into digital stories. It would sync photos and audio into videos that can be customized with mood and emotion. “My original hope was that this could become a keepsake — a digital journal of someone’s life. In the case of my kids, of their lives, with music that captures the feeling of the time.”
Wennie said reception to the idea has been fantastic. “I was surprised at how willing upper management was to give us support, even when the product was in its infancy.”
Part of the KickStart process is to continue to work with customer feedback to shape the idea. “We are given the complete freedom to experiment. If we fail, then we validated that it wasn’t a good idea. But continuing to try is the most valuable experience.”
Computer scientist • Hamburg, Germany
KickStart idea: Creating a real-world game in which users participate in creative challenges in locations they discover through global positioning systems (GPS).
“A lot of people said, ‘Adobe will never do this,’ but in the end, they were wrong. With KickStart, you get to try out things that you really think are innovative — and you can prove it.”
Like a lot of the people in KickStart, Samy came up with an idea that had nothing to do with his job. “As a computer scientist, my job is about metadata and intelligence creation. But this idea is about creative challenges.”
Similar to geocaching, Samy’s idea is a real-world adventure in which people participate in creative competitions they find through GPS. In just six months, Samy’s idea kicked his career into high gear. It sparked a collaboration with Red Bull and landed him a booth at Adobe’s MAX innovation conference. Now he’s working on the idea full-time.
“Before this, I hadn’t talked with any executives, and now I’ve talked with lots of them about my idea,” Samy says. “To be able to call a vice president directly and skip several levels was a great experience and probably something very unique to Adobe.”