A Tale of Two Companies: One Kit, Multiple Innovations

Creativity and innovation are critical skills to businesses today, but they must be developed, nurtured, and given space to emerge. So how do companies create a culture and process where employees both learn creativity, as well as feel empowered to experiment?

For Adobe, Cisco, and other companies, a big part of the answer is neatly packaged in Adobe Kickbox. It’s a flexible program that uses a self-contained kit to teach a proven innovation process. Anyone can use it to create and refine new ideas by working through six distinct levels with exercises, checklists, and scorecards. With a Kickbox, employees learn the process of innovation — generating ideas to solve problems they care about, turning the opportunity into a product or service, and then actually piloting the project with customers.

While the Kickbox program can be modified for different needs and company cultures, the chances of success are maximized by preserving the core drivers of the program:

  • Offer Kickbox to all employees in the organization — regardless of title or number of hours worked.
  • Employees should be free to conceive the idea that they pursue — projects dictated by management will have low employee engagement.
  • And, since testing a concept with end users requires money, employees should be given a small seed budget to spend testing their concept using whatever approaches they deem best. At Adobe, Kickbox teams are given a declining balance Visa card pre-loaded with $1,000. Any unused funds on expiration return to the innovation budget.

Previously, Adobe prototyped 12 to 24 products each year, but in the first year of Kickbox, Adobe tested nearly 1,000 ideas for less money than we used to spend on a dozen ideas.

Mark Randall, vice president of Creativity at Adobe says, “Kickbox has created a balance between telling employees what to do and employees being internally motivated to do the right things in alignment with the organization’s mission and customer’s needs.”

Word of our success with Kickbox spread, and other companies began asking about the methodology. When we saw how much interest there was in the Kickbox approach, we decided to open source Kickbox so any organization can adapt and deploy it for free.

“We wanted to share Kickbox instead of making it a trade secret because it really expresses our belief in the creative nature of people and how organizations can empower employees to make positive change in the world,” says Mark. Now companies in industries ranging from consumer goods, finance, aerospace, nonprofits, and educational institutions are benefiting from grassroots innovation.

Cisco Creates 1,110 New Ideas With the Help of Kickbox

Cisco’s Innovate Everywhere Challenge has been one of the biggest success stories of programs inspired by Kickbox. The company adapted Kickbox to fit its culture and internal innovation program. Called Adventure Kits, these Kickbox-inspired tools enabled the company’s 72,000 employees to learn lean startup methodologies of ideation, investigation, funding and development.

As a result, more than 50 percent of Cisco’s global workforce participated in the program, generating 1,100 new ideas. Alex Goryachev, senior director of Innovation Strategy & Programs in the Corporate Strategic Innovation Group at Cisco, says that the program was a natural fit for Cisco because the company understands the importance of innovation, as well as the fact that ideas can come from anywhere in the organization through collaborative effort. Instead of engineers innovating with other engineers, this challenge encouraged employees to team up cross-functionally, similar to what happens every day at a true startup.

“We wanted to focus on the innovator, not the innovation. Instead of saying ‘Let’s build a better, faster blinking router,’ we said ‘Let’s team up, disrupt and innovate solutions you are most passionate about building,’” says Alex.

Cisco employees reviewed, commented and voted on ideas from their peers throughout the Innovate Everywhere Challenge. Their votes helped influence which ideas were surfaced to the panel of industry experts who selected the three winning teams. Winning projects, which are now in various stages of piloting with customers, included: LifeChanger, which uses collaboration software to enable people with disabilities to work remotely; EVAR (Enterprise Virtual and Augmented Reality), a platform combining AR and VR with collaboration solutions to develop far-reaching apps in healthcare and other industries; and, Rainmaker, a deadline-driven, digital media logistics platform.

Alex says that there were a number of key factors that led to the program’s success at Cisco, which recently captured three 2016 Gold Excellence Awards from the Brandon Hall Group. Empowering employees to tap into their passions and experiment without judgement was perhaps the most important factor. “We created a grassroots movement, backed by executives all the way up to the CEO, which encouraged employees to take risks and learn from failure. 

“Kickbox was a great companion in shaping our own innovation disruption,” says Alex. “We helped people see the gaps and strengths in their particular skills, as well as showing the value of having diverse and inclusive teams. During the program we discovered that mentors are more important than traditional managers. We built a community of mentors and coaches and a platform where teams can easily connect with them. The plan is to move forward, expand, and build on our network of both internal and external mentors to accelerate innovation across the entire company.”

Using Kickbox at Your Company

Ready to try Kickbox? Here are three tips to successfully implement the program:

  • Find support. It’s essential to have leadership support, and, if at all possible, have a peer at another team as a mentor. Someone who has been through incubating a new idea before can help you with your implementation. “I think it’s really important to build a support network of corporate entrepreneurs and executives across all business units when you are changing the culture around innovation,” says Alex.
  • Adapt Kickbox to your culture. The program will be a success if it feels authentic to your company, so it’s important to tailor Kickbox to fit into your culture. “Every company has a way it communicates with employees. Cisco kept the structure, but modified the language so that we talked about things in a way that would resonate with our employees.”
  • Keep the core principles. While adapting is an essential part of success, it is important to keep the core of the program. “If your program does not have the main elements [of being available to all employees, having no limits on projects pursued, and including a seed budget in advance of having ideas], then you just have some colored cards and a box, but you don’t have Kickbox. These elements reframe the context to ignite your employee base with the passion that makes magic happen,” says Mark.

It’s easy to talk about experimenting and taking risks, but through Kickbox, companies like Cisco are taking action. “A lot of companies talk about innovation, but we are actually giving people training, and resources while putting money where our mouth is. There is nothing worse than celebrating innovation but not doing anything about it,” says Alex. “If you are giving your employees a voice, then you have to empower them and help them to develop the best ideas.”

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