Innovation, according to the Wall Street Journal, is the most overused term. But real innovation is not dead. While many companies are struggling to be innovative, a few ones have successfully rethought what it means to “think different.” They break away from old models, work with different types of people and consider social media a collaborative (not a me-too) platform. Here are some companies making headway with their innovative efforts.
Samsung's Open Innovation Centers
Samsung launched its Open Innovation Center in Silicon Valley to incubate software startups. The idea sounds deceptively simple. Samsung will work exclusively with early-stage startups and entrepreneurs. The real focus is software, one that could rival that of Apple and Google.
What’s unique about it as that Samsung is aggressively pushing into software while competitors such as Google and Microsoft are starting to build phones, hardware. Samsung, instead of waiting to acquire promising startups, is incubating and buying talent early on. It’s so eager to dominate the Internet of things, where a software runs a vast array of appliance: phones, tablets, refrigerators, TVs and whatnot.
Samsung also partnered with Marblar to create its next NASA-powered product through user-generated ideas.
GE's Ecomagination Challenge
The Ecomagination Challenge is GE’s eco-innovation platform. Started in 2005, Ecomagination programs earned the company $25 million revenue in 2012 alone. What’s more impressive is that GE invested only $2 billion on R&D. It’s an efficient and eco-friendly way to make money.
This isn’t just about GE’s innovative idea. It’s more about GE’s great collaborative act of working with independent thinkers in research labs and universities. The company truly understands that eco-innovation doesn’t come cheap.
As Harvard professor and open innovation expert Karim Lakhani puts it: “What was novel here was that GE was trying to create a platform and an ecosystem around green.”
Google's Crowdsourced Uses for Google Glass
Google Glass isn’t just for snapping pictures. For instance, a new social game called Swarm! casts users as scavenging ants to solve real-world problems or carry out real-world tasks and get rewarded.
Glass is also being used for crowdsourcing Internet connection. Open Garden has successfully installed its networking software for Glass. The software allows you to crowdsource your connection by forming ad hoc mesh networks with other Open Garden devices.
Google Glass is at its early stage but we’re already seeing great potential for the device in promoting crowdsourced uses.
Unilever's Open Innovation
Unilever, one of the largest consumer goods companies, launched Open Innovation to work with outside partners. The company took a big leap by looking outside, not inside, for solutions.
Since working with outside partners in 2009, Unilever increased its adoption of external ideas from 25 percent to 60 percent. And according to researchers Marion Poetz and Martin Schreier, “user ideas clearly score higher on average in terms of novelty and customer benefit, and somewhat lower in terms of feasibility.”
This is one solid proof of how companies can foster innovation through well-planned crowdsourcing initiatives.
HubSpot’s Culture of Innovation
Innovation permeates through the company for one obvious reason: it doesn’t pay lip service to innovation, it makes it happen. HubSpot’s organization is decentralized and flat. The company attracts entrepreneurial employees who challenge conventional wisdom and obsolete ideas. It calls its leaders “mini-CEOs,” real leaders who are not afraid of change and disruption.
The lesson? If you want to take an innovative approach to company culture, start with how you treat employees.
Kickstarter: Funding the World’s Great Ideas
Kickstarter is a breakthrough platform for funding novel ideas and projects. And there’s no shortage of ideas Kickstarter helped realized.
Wobble Works, 3Doodler 3D-printing pen, was funded $2.34 million through the platform. Lifx, a wi-fi enabled LED bulbs, got $1.31 million. SmartThings, which connects your smartphone to everyday objects, was funded $1.21 million.
One of the most ambitious crowdsourcing project ever launched was Ubuntu’s Edge, a new smartphone technology. The crowdfunding campaign was done through Indiegogo but it wasn’t fully funded. But Ubuntu got something for free: a much-needed public exposure considering that iOS and Android has already dominated the mobile scene.
Kickstarter and Indiegogo have different crowdfunding models but they do share the same goal: give people enough money to turn a great idea into a viable product.
Philips Next Big Thing Innovation Fellow Competition
So what’s the Next Big Thing? It will radically improve our way of life, according to Phillips. And that is why the Dutch lighting, electronics, and healthcare company will throw away $100,000 in prize money plus a mentoring session with Phillips executives. These incentives will be awarded to the top five winning product ideas on "Living Well, Being Healthy, and Enjoying Life," a campaign launched with crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.
Phillips isn’t the first to start a campaign for crowdsourcing innovative ideas but it is one of the first large companies to make a huge attempt in open innovation. What’s more, Phillips is making the right move by backing innovators and attracting the best minds. Greg Sebasky, chairman of Philips North America, said "All of the intellectual property of the ideas submitted will remain with the inventor."
Adobe Ideas Labs
Adobe, maker of many of the world’s best software for the creative types, knows where to look for innovation inspiration. Its users, of course.
By tapping the mind of its users, Adobe is able to get in-depth customer insights on how to further improve its existing products while providing customers real-time support and feedback. The result is a fast and efficient community collaborative where everyone, including product managers, users and developers, is involved.
This process of giving and taking, of making sure that all parties win, is what really makes Adobe Ideas Labs unique and necessary.
Knewton Labs: Making Learning Personal
Knewton Labs’ ambitious goal is to bring personalized learning to the world. Others call it smart learning or adaptive learning. But whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that Knewton Labs knows what innovation looks like at the intersection of education and technology.
The adaptive learning company is moving, inch by inch, closer to its goal. And as a leader, it definitely knows how to lead publishers, other learning companies, content providers and education institutions together.
The company, for instance, brought Knewton-powered course solutions to developmental math students at the Arizona State University. It was a staggering achievement, half of the students completed the course four weeks early. The course withdrawal rates plummeted by 56% and pas s rates rose from 64% to 75%. Pretty impressive, right? Check out the Knewton website for more examples.
Knewton has also inked a deal with Pearson Education’s tutoring software on math, science and humanities. Speaking of the platform, CEO Jose Ferreira says “Knewton gets better the more people use it.”
37signals: Pioneering Business Innovation
The Chicago-based 37signals isn’t just another software company. It’s famous for its remarkable customer service, its frequently updated and idea-filled blog, and, of course, its organizational software like Basecamp and Backpack. It serves more than three million users worldwide but employs only a staff of 16. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is the only investor.
If you want to understand why startups are great in making things happen and why many great companies stand by the ethos of less, lean or small, 37signals is the right place to be.
Jason Fried, the company founder and author of bestselling business books such as Rework and Remote, is against traditional corporate culture. He and his team works breaks away from the 40-hour workweek and constant meetings. Employees can work from home or from someplace where they can focus on getting things done.
The Deloitte LLP Center featured the company for the Edge report Work Environment Redesign. In it, the publishers noted that the company’s workplace experiments positively affected employee performance, passion and innovation. “Intentionally experimenting with the work environment provides valuable insights and can yield performance improvement,” the report said.