Adobe's Mark Randall recently explained how the company encourages 11,000 employees to continue innovating. There's a good lesson here.
Startups thrive on creativity, but as your company grows in size can you really continue to tap into every employee's creative potential?
Adobe, which employs 11,000 worldwide, thinks so. The computer software company has a program to help everyone in the company-- from those on the engineering team to those in the legal department -- execute their best ideas.
Adobe Chief Strategist of Creativity Mark Randall described the program, called KickStart, Tuesday night at an event hosted by INFORUM, a division of the public affairs forum called the Commonwealth Club. Just over 200 people gathered in San Francisco to hear Randall speak on a panel about company innovation labs.
"We had a lot of creative people with interesting ideas but not really an avenue to funnel those up," Randall said. And when those ideas did reach the top, executives were puzzled, trying to identify which of the infant projects Adobe should pursue.
"It's like trying to pick your Olympic team when they're babies in their cradles,"Randall said.
Enter the 'Red Box'
About a year go, Randall introduced the red box as part of its KickStart innovation program. The red box is a toolkit that equips employees with guidance and support -- including a $1,000 prepaid credit card -- to move an idea from the idea phase to a prototype that they can test with customers.
Any employee can pick up the box and get to work without having to ask permission from upper management or marketing and branding. The program involves six steps, and at the end, an employee has actual user data -- rather than just a hypothesis -- to present to executives. Last year, Randall said Adobe ran 900 employees through the program.
Granted, as a startup, it's hard to relate to a company that has $900,000+ to burn on innovation projects. However, there are some lessons to be learned from the Adobe approach.
Trust. First, if you want your employees to feel comfortable innovating, you need to trust them. Randall knows there's a risk that employees could take their successful KickStart idea and run to spinoff their own startup. But he trusts them not to, he said. He also knows that employees could carelessly spend the $1,000. Yet he doesn't require them to turn in receipts.
"They could go blow it on booze and blackjack," Randall said. "What we've actually found is they actually use that money and are even more careful with it than with expense accounts. Some of them put their own money on top of it to continue their project."
Voice. Second, create a path that allows every employee to get their idea heard at the top. Giving personal responsibility to an individual is a great way to ensure quality when it comes to new ideas. "[They] decide when it fails out." Randall said. "Giving them that sense of responsibility is incredibly powerful and can transformative for people."
LAURA MONTINI is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco. @lmmontini