Can an Employee Idea Transform the Company?


Who invented frappuccino? – A Starbucks employee in Southern California trying to beat the heat without giving up the caffeine boost.

Who invented iPod’s circular dial? – An Apple employee playing with a number lock at home.

Who invented furniture in a box? – An Ikea employee who couldn’t re-load the furniture back into the truck after a photo shoot.

Who invented masking tape? – A 3M employee who saw car painters struggling to mask parts and how much effort it took to paint in straight lines.

Who invented the world’s most popular news aggregator? – A Google employee who was interested in global news after the September 11 attacks.

Who invented pointy nose bullet trains? – An automotive engineer fishing at a local pond who saw a Kingfisher diving to catch a fish without making a splash.

Okay, I will stop right here. You get the idea.

Are you capturing your employees’ ideas? Do your employees submit ideas that could benefit your company and customers? Have you created means for your employees to submit ideas? Are you celebrating employee ideas to encourage more ideas?

Companies like 3M, Apple, Google, GoreTex, Pixar, Procter & Gamble, Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, Toyota, WholeFoods, and countless others have built vast empires by empowering their employees to submit and develop ideas. You too can do the same.

All you have to do is “ask.” Create a formal program to solicit ideas from employees.

Internet of Things: The Next Era of Computing Innovations

It was a perfect evening for barbeque. We had a few friends over for dinner, and I had bought really nice rib-eye steaks for the occasion. I heated the grill to 400F and slapped on the steaks. Five minutes later, I opened the grill to flip the steaks and…NO GAS! ARGH! I was so upset with myself. With tail tucked, I excused myself to buy gas, but on the way, a thought occurred to me, “Why didn’t the gas cylinder tell me that it needed a refill?” Where is the Internet of Things when you really need it?Internet of Things

I am sure some entrepreneur is already working on this idea. This is not a futuristic dream. Soon my gas distributor will know when my cylinder is about to run out, and he will replace it with a new one without me lifting a finger. Needs like this, from everyday conveniences to saving patients’ lives via remote sensors, are fueling a new era of Internet innovations—The Internet of Things. This era will be the next phase of computing advances where smart sensors will bring artificial things to life and have them communicate with each other.

The first phase of the Internet, Web 1.0, was the Internet of information, which democratized information and gave birth to eCommerce. The second phase of the Internet, Web 2.0, was the Internet of People, which gave rise to Social and Mobile computing. The third phase of the Internet, Web 3.0, is the Internet of Things (IoT), where living and non-living things will communicate with each other to form a web of artificial intelligence.

Some analysts predict that the Internet of Things industry will top $11 trillion by 2020. Continue reading

Where Do Ideas Come From?

My nine-year old daughter was reading the story of how Newton discovered the Theory of Gravity when her curiosity led her to ask me the age old question – “Dad, where do ideas come from?”

The story of how Sir Isaac Newton discovered the Theory of Gravity portrays a very romantic image of where great ideas come from. You can almost visualize Newton sitting down under the apple tree, contemplating the universe, when suddenly—boink! An apple fell on his head—bam…Newton discovers the Theory of Gravity. But is this a true story? Do ideas really fall from the sky? Are ideas merely a chance of serendipity? Do we get our best ideas when we are not thinking or trying?

Where Do Ideas Come From

It’s a nice feel good story, but sadly, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Newton did not discover gravity because an apple fell on his head. Newton had been working on the gravitational pull and orbital paths for a number of years before he published his Theory of Gravity in his work Principia. The fall of an apple was simply the context he used to explain his discovery. Newton did not discover the Theory of Gravity because an apple fell on his head, but rather because he was actively looking for ideas to explain the effects of gravity. Nobody knows for sure whether an apple really was involved in his epiphany, but what is definitely known is that Newton got this idea because he was looking for ideas to explain his observations.

Ideas come to those who look for ideas.

Ideas are the byproduct of your imagination. Continue reading

How to Become a Chief Innovation Officer

Have you ever wondered how someone becomes a Chief Innovation Officer? More importantly, “How can I become one?”

Chief Innovation Officer is the hottest new career track that is quickly making its way into the mainstream business lexicon. CEOs across all industries rank innovation among the top three business priorities and consider innovation critical for future success. The most notable change in recent years, however, is the growing interest in innovation in the service industries, as well as in public welfare entities, including government and non-profit organizations. Globalization is pressuring all businesses to innovate their products and services on an ongoing basis.

The heightened interest in continuous innovation has created a growing demand for innovation champions. Ironically, these professionals are in high demand and short supply. If your company does not already have an innovation program and an innovation leader, consider yourself lucky. You have the opportunity of a lifetime to exploit. In this article, I will share how you can position yourself to become the future Chief Innovation Officer by creating and leading an innovation program.
How to Become a Chief Innovation Officer
The best career advice I ever received was “If you want to become a leader, start acting like one today.” Continue reading

Can’t afford to pay for employees’ college tuition? Here’s an alternative

Starbucks is in the news again. It is already known for many of its great employee benefits, but this one struck a chord with the media—Starbucks is paying the tuition for its employees’ college educations. This program is wonderful, and it benefits the company at multiple levels. First, it keeps employees with the company for the time they are finishing their degrees. Second, it creates stronger employee loyalty and pride for the company, which increases retention and attracts new talent. Third, education prepares Starbucks employees to take on new roles and increases their potential to do more. Fourth, and perhaps most important, it improves customer service. Starbucks is in the hospitality business. It relies on its employees to deliver its services and the repeat business Starbucks enjoys hinges on the quality of service its employees deliver. This program is an excellent stride to ensuring that Starbucks employees are engaged and deliver excellent service. If you are in a service industry, you should also consider a similar program. BUT…what if you don’t have money to fund college education for your employees?

Stash of Cash
Not every company is fortunate to have the amount of capital required to fund such employee development programs. If you are such a company, please don’t be discouraged. The most profound discovery Continue reading

Top Innovation Management Software

Idea Capturing and Management Systems play an important role in the success of an innovation program. In my book The Bright Idea Box and in public, I speak about creating a bottom-up innovation program, in which employees submit ideas that benefit the business and customers, and the number one question I get in response is: “Which software program or tool do you recommend?” The concept of capturing employee ideas is not entirely new, and the demand for such solutions is growing by the day. Innovation speakers, myself included, and industry experts are fueling the demand for such solutions. Many smart entrepreneurs have realized the potential of this and have already developed solutions to serve this market.

In 2012, when I was looking for such a solution, I found more than fifty software solutions, with a very wide range of capabilities—some were very mature, some promising up-and-coming solutions, and some very primitive products. I’ve looked at most of them and reviewed the list of features and functionalities for all of them. My evaluation criteria is based on some of the key features and functionalities I listed in The Bright Idea Box, so I will not go into the details of these features and functionalities, but I cannot help myself to repeat that the tool must appeal to employees. The design of the tool must encourage employees to visit the site and want to submit ideas. You may have your own organizational needs, but do not forget that the most overriding need is for “new ideas.” Do not select tools based on your needs, but rather on how they will entice employees to submit new ideas.

Here’s a list of the Top Ten Vendors that, in my opinion, offer quality enterprise grade solutions. I revised this list in April 2014. Disclaimer: I have no affiliations with any of these vendors. I have opinions about these solutions, and this list is based on the work I did to narrow down the list of quality vendors.

Top Innovation Management Solutions (Alphabetical):

  1. Brain Bank
  2. Bright Idea
  3. Coras Works
  4. Hype
  5. ID8 Systems
  6. Imaginatik
  7. Induct
  8. Innovation Cast
  9. Kindling
  10. Nosco
  11. Qmarkets
  12. Spigit


If you have any questions or want more detailed review of any of these products, feel free to drop me a line at


Want to be Innovative? Stop hiring employees…

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others – African proverb

Ok I admit it, the title is misleading. It should read: “if you want to be innovative, stop hiring employees and start hiring partners.”

All those who manage a budget for a department or company, know that the employees are the most expensive line item in their budget. What’s not known is how effective and efficient is that most expensive line item. A recent Gallup poll reported employee engagement at an all-time low. Since 2009, employee engagement has hovered around 30%. In these competitive times where businesses are looking for 1-2% competitive advantage, 30% employee engagement is like having a sinkhole in the backyard. When customers interact with disengaged employees, no amount of strategy or sophistication will help sustain the business.

Employees as Partners

Steve Jobs turned around two dying companies from near bankruptcy to today’s most valued companies. His secret: believe in employees and engage them on a higher level. Even after his death, Apple still echoes his message: Continue reading

What is Innovation?

Creativity is about thinking new things. Innovation is about doing new things – Theodore Levitt.

Innovation is combining new and existing ideas to create something new that adds value to the marketplace. It could emerge as a new product or selling the existing products new ways.

Most people associate Innovation with Invention. While the two are related, you don’t have to invent something to be innovative. This association paralyzes many individuals and companies, who never set foot on the road to become innovative. People are often looking for that “aha moment”, the “genius idea”, or that “clever product” that will captivate the market. In the process, they ignore the importance of adding value to existing products and service. Take Toyota for example. Toyota is recognized among the top most innovative companies, but Toyota did not invent the car. Similarly, Netflix did not invent the DVD rental business, but changed the way we rent and watch movies. Starbucks did not invent the café, but revived the coffee industry. All of these companies changed their respective industries without inventing the core product.
Innovation and invention are two different things Continue reading

Creativity and Innovation: Jonah Lehrer on “moments of insight”

I greatly admire Jonah Lehrer for his empirical approach to exploring the subjects he write about, and binding copious scientific publications to prove his point. I must admit that I am biased to his writing style since I am a Neuroscience junky myself. I recently read his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, which explores how moments of insights happen, as he calls it “the eureka moments”, and we find solutions to our most daunting problems. This book was a big help to me in launching the Open Innovation Program at my company. Here’s a clip of Jonah Lehrer talking about his book Imagine:

Advancing Your Career: Traits of High Performance Employees


“I am stuck in my career”
“My boss does not appreciate my work”
“Why did that person get the promotion and not me?”

Have you ever had these feelings? I did. And millions others feel that way every day. Psychologists consider it to be the leading factor of anxiety and stress at modern workplace.

I struggled with these emotions at different stages of my career, and found my answers the hard way. I wish someone had mentored me when I was struggling with these emotions. I wish I knew what I am about to share with you now. I made my journey from an assembly line employee to Vice President of an established company. The process took me about 15 years and taught me a lot of valuable life lessons. Even though this article is driven by a research study, it reflects my thoughts and learning from my own career journey. My intent is to help you figure out what you should be doing so that you are not at the mercy of your boss, but rather your boss is having to figure out ways to keep you engaged. Continue reading