5 - Using Gamification To Drive Innovation

Burke suggests that the days in which research and development was done by "a small group of big brains" is over and that organization have moved to a crowd-sourced model for innovation, levering the wisdom of many people rather than a select few.

(EN: This is a gross exaggeration. Many firms have experimented with this, and success has been limited. Most often, it is done as a marketing gimmick. Other times it's used to suggest outside support for an insider's pet notion. But even when firms are serious about getting input from the broader world, the ideas that come in are almost universally sketchy and half-baked, and are still referred to the small group of specialists to evaluate and modify as needed to make them viable.)

Burke uses the odd example of a free economy as an "emergent system" in which independent players attempt to achieve the best results given the rules and constraints. In the stock market, prices of shares go up and down as a result of different players' methods of determining the value of goods. The "invisible hands" that Adam Smith described are the hands of many people attempting to figure out the right solution. (EN: An interesting point, but what this has to do with innovation is unclear.)

Gamification can be used to motivate the participation of many people in a process they might otherwise consider to be uninteresting, and to contribute when they have no personal interest in the outcome.

Case Study: The UK Department for Work and Pensions

The UK government agency which supports the public "dole" and pension systems is a massive organization of more than 100,000 staff, and is sought to leverage gamification to get front-line employees to provide their ideas for innovation.

Employees would earn points called "peas" for submitting an idea, developing someone else's idea, or otherwise adding content to the syste,. Bonus points were awarded for ideas that get a lot of buzz, and points are even lost for submitting ideas that are not selected for implementation as a way to discourage submitting ideas without merit just to get points. Points earned by participation could be used to call attention to other employees' ideas.

No personal reward is mentioned for participating in the game, though it is noted that the department budgeted funds to develop employee-submitted ideas, and some submitters were "invited" to work with the executives who took on projects that were based on their ideas.

(EN: My sense is that the incentive for such programs, particularly in large organizations where employees tend to feel neglected, ignored, and anonymous - so the chance to be recognized for contributing, or to see a much-needed change actually take place, may be reward enough.)

Case Study: Quirky

The author mentions a site called "quirky" that caters to people ideas for unusual consumer products - kitchen gadgets, organizers, and other things that offer clever ways to do basic things or solve simple problems.

The company invites people to submit their ideas or develop the ideas of others - those that seem viable are developed and sold from their online catalog (and some are picked up by other retailers) and the inventor and contributors split 10% of the revenue If the product is sold.

(EN: The author describes it in a bit more detail, but fails to clearly indicate how this clever idea qualifies as "gamification.")

Case Study: Barclay "Ring" Card

The author describes a community-managed credit card product, in which each cardholder acts as a voting member of a committee that approves card policies - interest rates, late fees, and other terms of credit - and who receive a portion of the profits from the card either as a statement credit or a charitable donation.

(EN: This, too, is an interesting concept but does not seem connected to gamification, or even to innovation.)

Suggestions Revisited

Asking customers to provide suggestions is an old practice, though one that is not perceived to have been very effective because suggestions are easily ignored. When they are coordinated through a system such as the ones described in this chapter, the community helps the firm to moderate the submissions - helping valid ideas to be recognized, weak ideas to be improved, and poor ideas to be ignored. All of this saves the firm the trouble of managing lots of suggestions to find the few that are viable and, at the same time, ensures that the firm is not (sole) to blame for ignoring submissions because it's up to a community to evaluate them.

Engaging Communities in Innovation

The author lists five steps (or tasks, though the sequence seems chronological) to developing a community that can generate ideas for a firm:

Enlist players

To leverage the wisdom of the crowd, there has to be a crowd - and building a sufficient crowd to create the kind of energy that will enable the participants to keep one another engaged is the most significant obstacle to building a successful and sustainable program. (EN: Widespread failures in online communities gave rise to the term "empty playground" for would-be communities that had a lot of cool features but nobody was there to use them.)

The author notes that it takes marketing to build a community, to get people to come. You will need to promote it and encourage use until it builds to a "critical mass" of participants who will make the community sustainable.

Solicit ideas

Another issue in community-building is getting people to submit ideas that are interesting to others. In the examples in this chapter, participants in communities had interest in submitting ideas because they felt a personal stake in getting them done: government employees improving processes that makes their work frustrating, inventors who wish to see their ideas to fruition and earn cash, cardholders looking to earn a statement credit.

(EN: Lack of incentive for participation is a particular problem, largely because the reason many firms are drawn to crowd sourcing is they are looking for cheap or free ideas and are unwilling to reward contributors. A customer suggestion that makes millions for a retailer, or an employee suggestion that saves millions in expenses, is either not rewarded at all or given a token of appreciation while firms pocket the fruit of other peoples' ideas. If there's nothing in it for the people who provide value, they will lose their motivation to provide value.)

Select ideas

The main difference between crowd-sourcing and a suggestion box is that participants are involved in the selection process. This makes submitting an idea feel like participating in a discussion, rather than sending a message into a black hole. There is also a sense of ownership of an idea, being recognized for submitting something even if it is not selected for development, and being recognized for the submission.

As mentioned, the advantage to the firm is that the crowd also contributes to the process of evaluating ideas, saving resources from weeding through the trash to find the treasure. (EN: Though this only becomes a problem when the community is large and active.)

Develop ideas

Another drawback of the suggestion box approach is that many people who have innovative ideas lack the skills required to develop it to the point where it is sufficiently fleshed out to act upon. The world is full of undisciplined "idea men" who rattle off a dozen offbeat suggestions in a few minutes, none of which is particularly well considered or even well articulated.

It can be a terrible waste of time to invest time doing the homework for such people - and that task can be spread around to the crowd, who will tend to ignore ideas that are simply offbeat but have no merit, and who will try to contribute to the ones that have merit but aren't sufficiently baked-out to be viable.

Get to launch

Ultimately, the point of any innovation community is to provide ideas that can be acted upon. Typically, there is an executive "sponsor" who will select an idea that has merit and shepherds it within the organization, ensuring that it is gets off the drawing board and into production.

And this is usually the intention of participants - as if it becomes clear to them that none of their ideas are doing any real good, they will lose motivation to contribute. The author warns about the way in which ignoring good ideas will kill a community - and suggests that even when an idea is rejected it's a good idea to be transparent about the reasons it was rejected so that the community gets the sense it was given fair consideration.