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Lessons in Innovation from NBC's Shark Tank

Posted on April 15, 2016

At this point it should be obvious that innovation powers our modern knowledge economy. But the question remains – how does one facilitate this innovation? Given that good ideas lie in abundance with a company’s employees, what is the best route for turning them into reality?

A number of forward-thinking companies have implemented a variety of different approaches to answer these questions. Some companies, like 3M and Google, give their employees free time to work on their own personal projects. This policy was an outgrowth of the success of the Post-It note, developed by two employees at 3M. When the product went on to post $2 million in its first year of release in 1980, 3M implemented a program allowing all employees to set aside 15% of their work time for their own personal projects. Similarly, the 20% time rule later used at Google created such blockbusters as Gmail and AdSense.

Perhaps the most daring of these employee innovation projects was the creation of a Shark Tank-style idea showcase within NBC Universal. Modeled after the popular TV show The Voice, employees present “new and innovative ways to move our business forward” to a panel of judges.


The Best Formats for Employee Suggestions

The NBC employee innovation initiative, while colorful and fun, leaves us feeling a little skeptical. While encouraging employee suggestions (as the contest does) is always a good idea and we applaud them for it, NBC’s particular format is less than ideal by fixating on individual achievement, subscribing to the “lone genius” theory of innovation.

There is widespread belief in this theory but, from our research, it falls short of supporting evidence. Edison is usually looked to as the model for the “lone genius” who created entire industries on his own. But this ignores the fact that his lab was staffed with many contributing scientists.

When one looks closely, it becomes clear that innovation is not solitary, it is social. Breakthroughs in thought happen in conversations with others, especially when they occur outside of one’s expertise. For this reason, Steve Jobs insisted in designing both Pixar and Apple’s offices to encourage chance encounters between members of different departments.


Think Small Wins

Innovation works best when it seeks “small wins” rather than creating a blockbuster. In this model, suggestions are acted upon as soon as possible and “low hanging fruit” is plucked first. To use a baseball analogy, go for hitting singles rather than swinging for a home run.

This emphasis on small wins has two purposes. The first is it quickly produces quick results at low cost. The second, lesser-considered reason is that it creates an environment of trust and optimism. When employees see their suggestions, however small, being put in place, it encourages them to offer more. How does one write a novel? One page at a time. To do otherwise is to lose faith in the whole project.

This thought process holds true for employee suggestions as well. Vocoli’s employee suggestion software is designed to facilitate innovation in your office. The user friendly platform creates the same environment as Apple's 'change encounters' that lead to innovation and encourages your team to crowd-source ideas for future success. For a free demo, give us a call at 888-919-5300 or sign up for a live demo here.

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Vocoli is the digital suggestion box and innovation platform. Your team has great ideas. Make sure to capture them!