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Last week was Spigit’s 2017 Ignite conference. To say that it was inspirational is an understatement.

From a scientist who led the innovation team that developed the Ebola vaccine, to a world renown innovation author, to the VP of Watson Strategic Partnerships at IBM Watson, Ignite 2017 was one for the record books.

Throughout the conference, which included exclusive innovation strategy workshops for Spigit customers, there was no shortage of useful insights attendees walked away with.

Though this article could’ve easily turned into 100 takeaways from Ignite, we decided to distilled everything down to a top 10 list of insights learned from some of the brightest minds in the world.

1. Communication is key for consistent engagement

During an afternoon panel session on continuous improvement, Jill Waters, Lean Six Sigma Coordinator at Adventist Health, mentioned a key insight about achieving consistent engagement: “We make sure that we continue to communicate with the community. Sometimes it’s just that recognition and acknowledge that continues to get people to go. If senior leadership is out there commenting on ideas, people feel like they’re being heard.”

The reality is, it’s easy for employees to forget about your company’s ideation program. Often times it’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they have their own day-to-day responsibilities; ideation isn’t high on their list of to-dos. This is why consistent communication is important for a program to thrive.

If you’re consistently communicating the status of challenges and showing recognition towards individuals who are contributing frequently, you’re guiding people back into the program to participate.

2. Align ideas with business objectives to ensure implementation

Bill Truettner, Director of Innovation Strategy at Spigit, gave a piece of advice that’s fundamental to successful ideation programs: “The most effective way to turn an idea into reality is to align it with the direction that the business is already moving in. Swim with the current. Ride in the direction that the horse is already galloping.”

The point here is that in order to go from idea to implementation successfully, ideas must be connected to an existing business objective or priority.

If your company’s objective is to reduce customer churn and you’re trying to implement an idea that’s focused on process improvement, while good it doesn’t match the priorities of the business at that point in time.

So, to ensure idea implementation, make sure they’re aligned with your business’s needs at that moment in time.

3. Early executive sponsorship is critical for sustainable ideation programs

A common theme throughout the conference was around the importance of executive sponsorship.

When it comes to creating a sustainable ideation program, having executive sponsorship is crucial. Not only does it help with follow through but it’s instrumental in getting buy-in from the wider employee base.

It’s too easy for an ideation program to take a back seat to other initiatives. If you have an executive sponsor, that’s a clear message to everyone that the program is a priority and needs to be taken seriously.

As Paul Lesner, Director of Analytics at Duke Energy, put it: “Executive sponsorship/support are clearly the first and most important move to lock in before embarking on crowdsourced journey.”

4. Intrinsic rewards are more effective most of the time

Cash, gift cards, and other closely related things are synonymous with rewards. But when it comes to sustaining engagement in an ideation program, extrinsic rewards alone aren’t as effective as intrinsic.

Intrinsic rewards are things like company-wide recognition or the chance to lead the development of an idea. In other words, rewards that are meaningful and provide more value to an individual than disposable items.

Without intrinsic rewards, an ideation program doesn’t usually have the right incentives for people to come back and participate.

5. The innovation office should be an ENABLER, not where innovation happens

One speaker at Ignite brought up something that isn’t talked about enough.

Despite popular belief, an innovation office’s role isn’t to be the “source” of innovation. Quite the opposite.

Their mission is to manufacture an environment that enables collaboration and ideation to thrive throughout every business unit no matter the geographical location.

Ultimately, the innovation team is an enabler rather than a siloed department that locks themselves in a room to whiteboard ideas and bring them to market.

6. Create virtual safe spaces for ground breaking products

Kat Dransfield, Lean Planning Lead at Applied Materials, brought up an interesting point during her panel. She talked about the need to create a virtual safe space, outside of the traditional R&D pipelines, to successfully develop groundbreaking products.

Why is this important? Simple: when it comes to developing products, the collective intelligence of an entire employee base outperforms a handful of people.

By creating a virtual space for employees to share ideas, you effectively remove any barrier – geographical location for example – that might make them hesitate to participate in ideation from fear of ridicule or overstepping pre-conceived boundaries as an employee.

7. Empower people from ground level up

Creating a culture of innovation is something the vast majority of companies are looking to achieve due to the numerous benefits that come as a result.

In order to create that type of culture and have it contribute to the business, you have to empower everyone within your company – from the receptionist to the executive team.

An even playing field ensures every employee has the opportunity to make an impact.

Moral of the story? As Dakota Crow, Director of Innovation, Research & Development and Entrepreneur in Resident at Optum, put it: “Empower employees at every level of the company.”

8. Walk the talk of innovation

Your ideation program can have thousands of ideas, but if you don’t do anything with them you’re going to lose the trust and enthusiasm of employees.

You have to walk the talk of innovation. In other words, if you’re going to start an ideation program that crowdsources ideas from employees, you have to be ready to implement the ones that impact business objectives. People have spent their valuable time and effort on contributing so you need to demonstrate that it was worth it.

If your program becomes a place where employees put in ideas and nothing ever happens, you’ll quickly lose buy-in. To combat this, the quickest way to get and keep that buy-in is to demonstrate to employees how serious you are about ideation, collaboration, and innovation by implementing ideas.

9. Have clear objectives from the start

When launching new challenges in an ideation program, it’s very important to have clear objectives from the start. This brings a host of benefits, including:

  • Quality ideas from your crowd that align with business goals
  • An easier time identifying the metrics that should be tracked to measure success
  • Reduces the amount of irrelevant ideas

Clarity is what ensures your program adds value to your company rather than being a resource suck.

10. Use innovation champions to spread ideation throughout your organization

Large enterprises with thousands of employees scattered across the globe can run into some hurdles when trying to make ideation a daily habit for employees. One of the biggest hurdles is participation.

One recommendation that came from Ignite’s Culture of Innovation panel was to create innovation champions. Essentially, choose employees from each department to become champions and then train them on how to run ideation challenges.

By enabling champions to run their own challenges, you’re ensuring every department has a regular dose of ideation, collaboration, and innovation. This ultimately leads to a culture that embraces collaborative ideation and a company that taps into the collective knowledge of its employees.

Final thoughts

With over 200 innovation leaders from all major industries and many of the most innovative companies in the world in attendance, Ignite 2017 was an experience (removing all bias here!) that every innovator should want to be part of.

The amount of knowledge and energy that flowed throughout the conference is indescribable.

With that said, Ignite 2018…here we come!