How product managers can use Adobe’s Kickbox innovation system
Today we are talking about using the open source innovation system called Kickbox that was created at Adobe. This is a simple and effective tool for increasing innovation by orders of magnitude in an organization.
Our guest is Ralph Hartmeier, co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of rready, an organization that started from personal experience applying Kickbox, and which now helps other organizations unleash innovation. Ralph was introduced to Kickbox while he was head of growth for Swisscom. He is also a founding member of the non-profit Kickbox.org that promotes the use of Kickbox.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:50] What was going on at Adobe that led to Kickbox?
Around 2013, a serial entrepreneur named Mark Randall sold his startup to Adobe and joined Adobe. He realized innovation in a big corporation such as Adobe looks very different from innovation in a startup. He was given the title VP of Creativity and given as much budget as he needed in order to change Adobe’s cumbersome innovation process. He realized that coming up with ideas was rather easy for certain employees but submitting ideas into an idea management system and validating ideas were not easy. He helped these innovators with a gamified, fun approach to go from raw idea to a validated idea. He put an innovation process guide in a red box called Kickbox and started distributing it to people within Adobe.
[5:17] What else is in the box?
The most important part is the guide to the innovation process. There is a credit card with $1000 on it. An employee can spend that on whatever they think is necessary to bring the idea forward. They also need to prove what they have done and how they have progressed. There is a notebook labeled “Bad Ideas” to help create a culture of innovation. It’s important to spread the message that not every idea is good and not every idea needs to be good. You need quite a few bad ideas in order to hit a good one. There is a chocolate bar and a Starbucks card. The whole box told a story. Mark Randall gathered 20-30 employees, handed out boxes, and told the story, which was highly inspirational. People started validating their ideas. Adobe made sure to capture the learnings and made sure people are being held accountable.
[9:41] What philosophy does the Kickbox promote?
Perhaps a company could fund 10 projects with $1 million per year, or they could fund 1000 projects with $1000, and they only need one of them to win for the whole program to pay for itself. Plus 1000 employees learn how to innovate. If a management board chooses 10 ideas in early-stage innovation, that’s a game of luck. Kickbox finds people who want to go the extra mile—working hard, being patient, and iterating their ideas. You should test a lot of ideas with a little money. Let people learn what it takes to validate an idea. Then you will be quite sure you will be able to implement one idea or another and scale it and turn it into a growth machine. We step away from corporate innovation being a game of luck to knowing exactly how many ideas we need to source in the beginning of the year to hit two, three, or four projects being implemented and scaled.
[11:32] What is the $1000 credit card intended to be used for?
Mark Randall said, “I don’t care.” You use it for whatever you think is right.
When we applied the Kickbox idea to the company here in Switzerland, we realized this is very gray from a compliance perspective. We needed to put another system in place, but we didn’t want to lose the mindset that you’re the CEO of your idea. We realized the kickboxers might not know many people within the organization. They might not know how to access somebody who can help them with a prototype. We got rid of the prepaid credit card and use a digital currency. You get a thousand coins and can spend them to bring in people to help—designers, lawyers, etc. That was very successful because it’s super easy to deploy and the entrepreneurs are still in the driver’s seat. We also made it easy for them to connect with others inside the organization who could help.
[16:44] How are companies using the Kickbox system today and how is rready helping?
Typically the Kickbox system is positioned within the innovation department, but it’s optimal if we have strong support from HR. We try to understand the definition of innovation in each company. A few companies want to create the next big thing, but others just want to be better at executing cost savings. In any case, Kickbox is a gamified, fun way to communicate within the company. It shouldn’t be perceived as just another tool coming from management.
[18:46] What is the timeline for using the red box?
The typical timeframe is two months. We realized if we just distribute boxes few people come back. After two months, you have to come back and either pitch why you want to move on to the second phase or pitch what you learned and why you don’t want to move on. It’s super important for corporate to capture these learnings.
When you open the box, there is now a video talking to you. The first thing you do is figure out your motivation to be an entrepreneur. It’s going to be hard, so we want to know why entrepreneurs are doing this. Then you understand and investigate the problem. We’re aiming for problem-solution fit.
The entrepreneur needs to describe the problem and then do problem validation, including discussing with experts. They try to figure out how many people have this problem and how much they would pay to fix it. The method in our head is Lean startup and human-centered design thinking, but we try to simplify it to help innovators go step-by-step toward the final pitch. The pitch should be a data-backed problem-solution pitch, which makes it much easier for management to decide which ideas to focus on and push into the second phase, the blue box.
[22:58] What are those decision gates like?
We use a decentralized approach. When employees validate an idea, they can already pinpoint possible sponsors in the corporation. They bring the sponsor data. They provide a certain desirability and describe their biggest unknowns. If the sponsor is convinced, the entrepreneur gets a blue box and after another decision gate a gold box.
[26:10] What benefits have you seen from the Kickbox system?
The first benefit is a huge motivational booth among the employees. You will see a lot of talent popping up where you did not imagine there was talent. Employees get to be directly part of being innovative. Companies can present a topic like sustainability and have employees bring ideas related to that topic. We see effects on cost savings and new turnover.
[29:26] How have Swisscom and rready enhanced Kickbox?
Rready developed out of Swisscom, the largest telco and IT company of Switzerland. We were given the task to bring in external startups, but we realized we first needed to set a culture of innovation within the company. We met Mark Randall and brought the Adobe Kickbox into our company. We realized we needed to develop it further for our needs. We built a software that lets entrepreneurs reach out to experts internally and book service providers, and it makes everything measurable. We had huge success within Swisscom and then decided to formulate a spin-out that would be useful for other corporations too. Now we support the deployment of Kickbox in other companies, providing the methodology and software. We have created a community of 45 companies that can learn from each other. We open source the progress methodology from Adobe.
Action Guide: Put the information Ralph shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent. Curiosity, obsession, and dogged endurance combined with self-criticism have brought me to my ideas.” – Albert Einstein
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