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Turning Great Ideas Into Reality

Posted on October 29, 2015

When you hear the name Xerox more than likely the first thing that comes to your mind are copy machines. It’s a tremendous achievement to have a corporate name synonymous with an everyday activity (“Make a Xerox [copy]” was once as popular an expression as “Google it” is today) and beyond that, the company is still listed on the Fortune 500 List.

But as well known as the brand is today in offices across America, it’s also a shame because the Xerox brand could have been so much more. Xerox’s fabled Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) developed the concept of graphical user interfaces for computers using a mouse, long before Apple and Microsoft ever dreamed of the technology. But because Xerox never moved on the idea and let it languish in their research lab far away from corporate headquarters in Connecticut, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates swooped up the technology and popularized it.

In fact, this was later acknowledged by Bill Gates when Steve Jobs accused him of ripping off the Macintosh design in building Windows. In Andy Hertzfeld’s retelling of the meeting, Jobs shouted, "You're ripping us off! I trusted you, and now you're stealing from us!"

Gates replied, "Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."

Let Live, or Watch Die

Xerox is not alone in sitting on good ideas that could have transformed their business. As we’ve written about before, Kodak developed the first digital camera in its research lab in 1978 and never moved on it. When Sony did, the technology forced Kodak into bankruptcy.

However, these anecdotes aren’t solely to mock the mistakes of powerful companies. Rather, they illustrate an underlying point: innovation is not necessarily about creating new ideas from scratch that will change everything. The success of ideas is determined more by execution. The people who act on good ideas are the ones who win.

So how does one sort the wheat from the chaff in dealing with ideas? Consider another famous example of William S. Sims. He invented a new, more efficient firing method in the U.S. Navy that was repeatedly rejected by officials. It was only after he personally wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt that it was implemented. While getting a message to the Commander-in-Chief is certainly one way to get your idea heard - Is that the only way? (Or even the best way)

Finding a Better Way

A better alternative could be “crowd-sourcing” – developing a platform for the open sharing of ideas and competing for votes and comments in a social media type interface, similar to Reddit and Facebook. In this fashion, the approval process is spread across the entire organization. This route has appeal because it is safer for employees, less bothersome to executives, and, because it is market based, more efficient.

Some companies are even experimenting with incentivizing these programs. One company based in Rhode Island introduced an “ideas market” which allowed employees to list their suggestion and gave each worker $10,000 in virtual currency to invest in the ideas they liked. If the idea came to fruition and was implemented, investors in the idea would reap a portion of the returns. This program accounted for 50% of the company’s new business growth in its first year.

As we’ve seen again and again, most companies are not lacking in good ideas. The problem is employees lack a system for sharing and assisting their development. Companies that create a system which supports the sharing of ideas, and recognizes employees who contribute, can realize tremendous gains.

If your organization is ready to implement a better way to cultivate new ideas, then it is time to call the Vocoli team at 888.919.5300.

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