Can an Employee Idea Transform the Company?

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

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

How to start an Innovation Program

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt.

Innovation is on everyone’s mind today. A recent survey conducted by IBM, comprising of more than 1500 CEOs, ranked innovation as the top priority and a requirement for future growth. Organizations are realizing that to survive in today’s market and to attract information rich customers, they must innovate continuously. Companies like Apple and Google have set a new standard for innovation. Their approach to innovation has not only changed the Tech industry, but also the consumer expectation, which is forcing virtually every industry to change. We have also seen many giants like Blockbuster, Borders, United Airlines disappear as they failed to innovate and adapt to changing environment.

My quest started from similar need to determine what customers want and how to grow the company. I am blessed to live in Silicon Valley, and was able to tap into local resources to figure out what made companies like Apple, Google, SalesForce.com and Facebook so successful, but my challenge was how do I apply their principles to service industry where there is no physical product that you can hold, touch or see. I am in insurance industry and we sell a promise. How do you innovate a promise?

It’s often the employees—rather than outside consultants—who know a company’s products and processes best. According to management experts, many of the most innovative companies tend to solicit ideas from staff throughout the organization, not just the executive ranks (Wall Street Journal, 2011). Continue reading