Recently, I was involved in an innovation initiative which was a crowdsourcing initiative to identify efficiencies within a company. The challenge was open to all employees and voting and commenting were permitted. After the challenge was closed, the most popular (by votes and comment counts) were presented to leadership. Their reaction, to say the least, was less than enthusiastic.
Upon being shown the results, their reaction was something to the effect of, “Where are the ideas? This is just whining…” To a degree, their assessment was correct – the submissions that resonated most with the community engaged expressed sentiments that had been voiced before – but, I expressed my concern that leadership was too quick to dismiss the results. In truth, the fact that so much energy from the company at-large was devoted to submitting, bolstering, and supporting specific concerns is a window on the scale and severity of the issue.
The most popular submissions had to do with the email and calendar functionality used by the enterprise. Faced with that reality, one could surmise that people were “just complaining” or “stating the obvious,” but I think that large-scale frustrations will obscure finer-grained, insightful commentary. In much the same way, if your car’s engine is not functioning properly – if it runs rough or stalls when you need acceleration – you are unlikely to wish your car had an iPhone app for remote starting; you will just wish your car ran better. So, too, will an employee base faced with day-to-day frustrations that make it more difficult for them to do their job overlook more nuanced approaches or capabilities that make the firm a better place.
My advice to companies hearing the “obvious” when running innovation challenges is to clear the brush; fix the obvious issues so that you can move on to more creative problem solving. We were able to dig more deeply into the submissions to find off-the-beaten-path suggestions that could add value to the firm in unexpected ways, but if those ideas were implemented and we ran the challenge again, we would hear the same “obvious” concerns.
There is a sort of Maslow’s Hierarchy of enterprise needs and until you address the more basic needs of your employees, you will not be able to get to the higher-level needs that will make you feel like you are getting to creative solutions.