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'Stop treating workers as zombies'; other advice from latest innovation competition

Posting in Design

Crowdsourcing breeds innovation. so what better way to breed new ideas about innovation?

To this end, the Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Company have launched their annual "M-Prize" competition, seeking ideas for innovation from across the globe. Entrants are encouraged to either submit a "hack" (a disruptive idea, radical fix, or experimental design) or a "story" (a real-world case study of a single practice, an initiative, or a broad-based transformation) on the subject of "making innovation a systemic and enduring capability--in short, embedding innovation deep into the company's management DNA."

As competition organizers put it:

"We all get it: innovation is the lifeblood of every organization. Yet more often than not, when innovation occurs, it’s a 'happy accident' rather than the product of a deep-rooted innovation competence.  Fact is, most companies aren’t very good at game-changing innovation.  Too many companies are still approaching the innovation challenge in a piecemeal fashion—a web-based suggestions box here, an awards program there, and a corporate incubator over there, somewhere. With the Innovating Innovation Challenge, we’re looking for examples and ideas that will help us how build innovation into the woof and warp of our organizations."

The competition ends December 31, 2012, and radical new (or common sense) ideas are pouring in, including the following:

  • Move to micro-tasking. "Let’s move beyond the outdated HR model of filling positions based on hierarchical competency frameworks to matching our talents with skill-based micro-roles and crowd-sourced micro-tasks. What are we waiting for?" (Joachim Stroh)
  • Stop labeling workers "vampires" or "zombles." "Stop trying to fit workers in a 'good' (or 'performer') or 'bad' ('underperformer') binary classification and instead adopt a richer language which fits reality of people better." (Fabio Cecin)
  • Focus on intrinsic rewards of work. "Work has moved from a process that runs against the grain of human nature (‘algorithmic’ jobs – which require extrinsic motivators) to a process that must go with the grain of human nature (‘heuristic’ jobs – intrinsic motivators)." (Taylor Tomasini)
  • Liberate the entrepreneur within every employee. "Corporation innovation is misunderstood completely. It should not be company level behavior, but should be individual employee behavior. Create a system to liberate employee entrepreneurship. That will make big companies have comparable innovation capabilities with startups." (Keanu Zhang)
  • Adopt the rule of 150. "Break large organizations into buckets of <150 people to foster better collaboartion, teamwork, and idea exploration.  By shrinking massive companies into smaller pods, an organization can better harness the power of teams, and then be able to immediately flip new ideas into a change management process on a small scale." (Eric Curtis)
  • Measure: "Measurement, the only way to improve." (Ananda Kumar)
  • Gamify: "By playing the games you develop the skills.  They are then available to be used spontaneously in your own musings or in conversations with others." (Andrew Gaines)

(Photo: Joe McKendrick. Walkway at the US National Gallery of Art.)

— By on November 23, 2012, 2:23 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure