The Naked Emperor: Part 1 – 100,000 Ideas

Categories: Innovation Insights

Click for Background to Naked Emperor stories

One day, not so long ago, the CEO of a venerable, well-known company, decided on a whim to collect 100,000 ideas. It was not quite a whim, though. The executive team wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their company, and this year had been designated the Year of Innovation.

The Year of Innovation was meant to be a celebration of past achievements, and a commitment right from the top down to be more innovative and creative in everything they did. Ultimately the executive team knew this would not happen over night, but still they wanted to get things started and focus on building a ‘culture of innovation’.

The executive focus had not occurred at random. This company had a high cost base, operated in sluggish markets, and were suffering at the hands of a ruthless competitor. This competitor used to be fat, dumb and happy. Things changed a few years ago when the firm had calculated their Revenue Growth Gap, and now they had invested many millions of dollars in real innovation processes. The 100 year old company had done nothing, relying on happy accidents that never seemed to materialize.

The CEO wanted to make the Year of Innovation special. On one of his plane rides around the world, he came up with a marvellous plan. As they employed 50,000 people, give or take a few thousand, how about a challenging goal:

2 ideas per person = 100,000 ideas!

Sheer brilliance, applauded the executive team and his executive assistant. Masterful, he no doubt thought to himself. And, with a swish of his tail, the organization leapt into action…

… slowly. The IT department took four months to process the request and set up a project team. They knew they needed software to handle 100,000 ideas from a global audience (who speak French, Spanish, Chinese, etc, etc). They knew that the system would ‘disrupt’ the other Idea Management initiatives underway in parts of the organization, some of which were highly successful and had been celebrated at conferences around the world. They also knew that they did not want to spend any money actually doing anything, because that would somehow spoilt the ‘pure’ vision of innovation swelling from the ground up.

At this point in our tale, your storyteller will point out a few home truths that may or may not be evident:

  • too much volume – 100,000 ideas = 10,000 a month = 500 a working day. How is anyone – or large team – meant to review such a mass of ideas
  • no focus – any idea any time is the motto, and a bad one it is at that. 500 cruddy ideas on any topic: car parking violations in the Swindon office, poor quality drinking water in Poitiers, a request to have ‘green’ as the new color for their flagship product, complaints about not being able to book meeting rooms in New York via Outlook. The list goes on and on. Who is supposed to handle these ideas? How do they get evaluated?
  • massive time delays – the sheer volume means that the review process gets blocked rapidly, leading to severe delays in getting back to authors on the idea status. The best people – the first submitters – feel unloved as they have waited four months… to be finally told ‘no thank you’.

There are at least another thirty bad things about the program design. It was designed to fail – as a process, and as a means to building a culture of innovation. Instead of nurturing innovation, the program rots is from the core, from the top down to every individual – mandated to submit by the edict of the naked emperor.

At this point the storyteller will stop, simply to say “look at that naked guy, he looks really smart but someone should tell him to at least wear a towel!”

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One Response to “The Naked Emperor: Part 1 – 100,000 Ideas”

  1. If you ever want to see a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this article for four from five. Decent info, but I have to go to that damn google to find the missed bits. Thanks, anyway!

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