With it’s Kickbox programme, Adobe is giving every employee with an idea the opportunity to go out and experiment on it. The smartest part: they’re completely happy for that idea to fail.
Adobe as a company has an innate link with creativity. After all, it produces some of the most widely-used software products used in the design industries, such as Photoshop and Illustrator.
But just like any other large organisation, they need to continuously develop new innovations, which requires radical new ideas.
So when I heard about their new initiative to get more ideas throughout the business, I was very impressed. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it directly addresses all Three Dimensions of Innovation which are often lacking in companies.
Put simply, anyone with an idea can request a Kickbox, which in Adobe’s case is a red box. This contains instructions on how to approach developing and refining an idea.
And it also includes a pre-paid credit card with $1,000 on it.
No expense reports or receipts required.
Which that person can spend in any way they see fit on developing their idea. They’ll have a set amount of time to feed back progress on their idea (in some cases, a month or so), and guidance on some ways to effectively iterate and experiment, but other than that have the freedom to approach their idea in the best way they see fit.
And best of all, Adobe don’t mind at all if at the end of the process the idea and experiments have failed, and the $1,000 is gone.
Now, I can hear what you probably have going on inside your head:
Are you crazy? You can’t just give anyone with an idea such a large amount of money! It’ll just get wasted.
But take a step back, and I’ll give you the insights as to why this is actually a very clever way of kickstarting innovation in a company.
In the video below, Mark Randall, Adobe VP of Creativity (what a great role) gives a keynote on how this process allowed them to test out 1,000 ideas faster, and cheaper, than what they would previously have spent on one large-scale innovation effort.
Some of the key excerpts from the talk:
One of our goals was to increase our failure rate. We felt like our failure rate was too low, we weren’t being bold enough in exploring new opportunities on new horizons.
Every idea looks like a bad idea to start with. But if you have a large number of bad ideas, combine them and iterate on them, that’s how you get to a good idea.
At the end, when you run out of money, you need to take your experimental data to the executives to get more money to continue. Only one person (in their case, out of 600) needs to say yes in order for you to get the next stage of funding. Every executive has the power to say yes, none of them have the power to say no.
One of the last insights was also one of the best
Some of the most powerful situations for people who went through the process were when individuals stood in front of the executives and announced that “data demonstrates that my idea was terrible and we shouldn’t pursue it”. Executives then stand up an applaud. Why? Because this person got concrete data and insights in a matter of weeks and for a very small budget, which could have previously taken a dedicated team months and thousands more to find the same answer. It’s a massive saving.
Even though it may initially be counterintuitive, there’s a couple of reasons why a process like this actually ends up working:
- Initial Approval: In most organisations, the way to determine whether an idea is worth pursuing is to have someone more senior evaluate it and then make a decision as to whether it’s worth allocating time and budget to. The problem here is that special ideas are always pretty ugly (and in many cases, quite bad) when they’re initially developed, as they haven’t had the time and insights to be refined. This is why they’re often rejected at the first hurdle. There’s a subtly dangerous assumption in the belief any such filter can reduce false positives, meaning obviously bad ideas, without also introducing false negatives, meaning eliminating an idea that might look bad but could have pivoted becoming a huge success.
- Diversity: Companies often have people who are responsible for innovation, such as people in Research, Design or Engineering. But this often has the negative effect of making the other people in the firm believe they are not involved in the innovation process. By opening up the innovation potential to anyone in the company (from HR to IT to Finance to Sales etc), you’ll get a much wider spread of ideas that would be possible previously.
- Budget: The thought of giving someone $1,000 to experiment on an idea, without having it having to be justified by expenses, will send shudders down the spine of many Finance Directors. “What if the person goes out and spends it on booze?”. But what Adobe have found instead is that individuals take it very seriously that the organization trusts the innovator to use their best judgement and spend it wisely. In turn, this trust fosters deep engagement and makes it clear the organization is seriously committed to innovation. In reality, since $1,000 is the maximum spend, most projects also spend much less than this, and due to the fixed limit, the individuals often think of how they can get the most ‘bang for their buck’. The amount of insight delivered from such a low budget will often be similar to what a larger team would require a much larger budget to provide.
- Outputs: What would be the point of running such a programme if it didn’t deliver results? Adobe say that they only need 1 out of every 1,000 ideas they sponsor to work out for the programme to be a success. In their first round of experiments, 6 out of 1,000 individuals went through all 6 stages, which amounted to 23 sets of ideas reaching the next ‘blue box’ stage of investment. And just as important to the ideas which succeeded is the insight gained into ideas which failed, which provides invaluable insight into what their customers actually care about and will shape the direction of future innovations.
The question is, could these sorts of lessons work in your company?
Well, the good news is that Adobe have made their whole Kickbox process free for anyone to use through a creative commons license at https://kickbox.adobe.com
I strongly suggest that if your company is serious about innovation and generating new ideas, you have a look at their programme. I’m not affiliated with it, but I think it acts as a great resource, and it is free after all.