Despite my manager insistence, I resisted for 5 years to write my first blog, but today I feel we have something to celebrate.
True innovation is always an emotional roller-coaster and running global innovation programs certainly feels the same.
I remember reading once that most innovation programs typically die after three years. The first year it’s new and exciting, the second year it’s lower on the agenda, the third year the program gets killed.
So, cheers to the 5th anniversary of the Innovate Everywhere Challenge!
The Innovate Everywhere Challenge (IEC) is Cisco’s award-winning global cross-functional innovation competition. Every year, it invites all 70’000+ employees to share their innovative ideas. The Challenge creates a pipeline of ideas that go through startup like phases – ideate, validate, fund, build. The more teams progress, the more support, time, and funding they get to develop their ventures.
Did we deliver on our initial motto: team-up, innovate, disrupt, win? Almost…
Team-up: We did it. 3188 ventures submitted by 5664 founders. 60% of the ventures were teams, many of them cross-functional. In addition, more than 35’000 Cisco employees backed a venture offering their token investment and support. Giving employees these multiple ways to participate in the Challenge has been key to engage the whole company.
Innovate: We did it. Out of 85 semifinalist teams graduating to date, 24 were funded after the competition. 9 got productized. Two things really helped. Align ideas to business priorities by asking key leaders to share their innovation ambition in a short 2-min video at the start of the Challenge. Offer “matching funds” to all (non-winning) semifinalist teams who find an executive willing to invest in the development of their venture.
Disrupt: We would like to see even more ideas create net new revenue streams. How might we design the Challenge to further encourage bigger and bolder thinking? This will probably be the focus of our next experiments as we continue to evolve the IEC program.
Win: We did it. Every year we recognize three to four winning teams. They receive $25,000 in seed-funding, $25,000 in cash reward, and an optional innovation rotation to further develop their venture idea. Most importantly the visibility they gain through the Challenge opens doors.
However, looking back at this motto and the lasting legacy of what we do, we missed at least two essential verbs.
Learn: As one participant nicely puts it “IEC is a school not a trophy”. The Challenge is the perfect opportunity to develop a unique entrepreneurial skillset. It creates just enough time-pressure and stake.
Iterate and Persist: Not all employees win. It can be frustrating. Our IEC top alumni stories testify that multiple attempts are often needed to ultimately succeed. Encouraging persistence is key. The Challenge offers alumni an opportunity to resubmit their improved ideas and advance directly to expert judging without having to secure token investment. In addition, Cisco Design Thinking provides avenues to continue to develop one’s ideas and skillset outside the competition.
The IEC is a great example of “Innovation by All™”. Employee engagement in innovation creates business outcomes and vice-versa. Most importantly it’s a fantastic human adventure full of learnings. My gratitude goes to all my colleagues who stood up to help innovation shine.
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