Terrible Idea. NHS closes its £50m Innovation fund after only a month

If there is an organisation that should be innovating it’s the NHS! Yet, they have just closed their £50m Innovation Fund after just 1 month saying that [Innovating and improving] is “outside its core business and it can no longer afford to run it because of “unplanned expenditure”.

How can an organisation like the NHS NOT see innovating and improving as their core business?


Constraints can breed creativity

“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.” – T.S. Eliot

Creativity and constraint are, at first glance, opposites, however there is a lot of truth in the fact that the tighter the brief – the more constrained you are, the more creative we can be.

One of the best examples of this is the photosharing service Instagram. For those that are not familiar with it, it’s one of those internet phenomenons where it’s easy to say “so what” because it’s simply a mobile app that has a bunch of filters and tools that you can apply to photos that you take with your mobile. That’s it (btw. facebook bought Instagram for a reported $500m earlier this year).

Here’s an example. On the left is a photo from my iphone, (my Son’s shirt, not mine!) and the same photo through the Instagram app.


It still isn’t the best photo in the World, but that’s not the point, the point is that although there would have been an infinite number of ways of improving the photo that I took with my iphone, I have neither the patience, talent or tools, so for me restricting the choice from infinite to 16 filters offers me the opportunity improve the photo immeasurably. (if you are interested, here’s a link to some truly amazing Instagram photos)

We can apply this to ideation. If the challenge is too broad it can actually inhibit creativity. The best challenges (a challenge being a call to action) give boundaries, purpose and a framework.

An example I often use in ideation workshops compares a challenge to;

a) create a new ready-meal (ie. the World’s your oyster) OR

b) create a new meal that that offers the consumer the convenience of a ready-meal, BUT differentiates itself from the other choices on the shelf by being fresh and devoid of preservatives and additives. All of a sudden the World of opportunities has narrowed significantly, but there is a really clear objective to work with

Measuring Innovation

You could write a book about measuring innovation (I wish I had time) because it is such a large subject. This blog doesn’t aim to be a complete guide to measuring innovation, more an opportunity to share some work I did around this subject a few weeks ago with a new client who is setting-up their key measures. I hope it is of use to others, but as always, any questions, contact me.

As is always the case with measuring activity and processes a few critical measures against broad range of activities is better than tonnes of measures.

I split them into three categories; engagement, process and outcomes

Engagement Measures (this assumes you are using a software platform like TalkFreely (www.talkfreely.com)

1. > 75% of registered users login and participate. Evidence that staff are interested in participating

2. > 50% or more of registered users voluntarily rate idea. Evidence that Staff see value in helping qualify ideas by rating

3. >20% or more of provide comments. Evidence that Staff value in helping shape ideas and sharing knowledge and insights by adding comments

4. >10% or more of registered users enter an idea. Evidence that Staff see value in offering ideas to meet challenges

5. >75% of departments have launched at least 1 challenge within the first year. Evidence that Department heads see the value in actively engaging their staff in idea sharing and innovation (this one is crucial)

Process Measures

1. >2 ideas per quarter accepted and pursued to next stage per challenge. Evidence that there are enough quality within ideas to make setting challenges worthwhile

2. No ideas in the Live and Evaluation stage remain in those status’ for more than 30 days. Evidence that the Challenge sponsors provide the resource to manage the innovation process (that ideas don’t sit in the process without being dealt with). This is another crucial one. The best way to kill ideas is to allow the staff to feel it’s a waste of time because ideas aren’t ever implemented

3. The value of costed ideas (ideas that have been evaluated and have a record of ROI) in the innovation process grows by >10% per month. Evidence that you are able to manage a growing innovation portfolio

4. The NET value of the innovation portfolio is x times the cost of the Innovation Network. Evidence that there is a growing ROI for the innovation efforts

Outcome Measures

1. Staff engagement measures (most large organisations measure engagement) has improved. Evidence that the innovation effort have improved how people feel

2. Revenue from new products increased. Evidence that ideas for new products have been implemented resulting in increased revenue

3. Operational expenditure has reduced. Evidence that ideas that can reduce costs and save money can be found

Creating the conditions to innovate

I did some work with a new client which offered some fascinating insights into what is required to get people to participate in sharing ideas.

I had the opportunity to launch the initiative at our new customer’s conference – their top 100 managers were in a luxurious hotel in Scotland for two days. Innovation was a key theme.

I did a short presentation to follow-up on the keynote from a Board Director and introduced the task which was to use the TalkFreely software to respond to some strategic challenges with ideas, comments and votes. I then showed them how to do it. Every table of 10 people had an ipad and instructions on how to use their smartphones or laptops and asked them to enter, comment and rate some of the existing ideas before the next session the following morning.

Before I reveal the results, I need to introduce a model that we use to explain what we call the Adoption Challenge.


The graph above basically says that if you offer people the option of doing their day job AND participating in idea sharing or just do their day job, most people will just do what they are paid to do and adoption is likely to be low, ie, most people will defer and do nothing (none), some people will View, a much smaller number will Rate, an even smaller number will comment and very few will offer ideas. The left hand activity (none) is easy and by comparison and the further right you go, the harder it gets. I think this model works for all corporate comms, not just ideas.

The graph below shows what happened in the first morning. Remember, they were sitting amongst their peers of the most qualified, highest paid managers in the business. The numbers are per table, so out of 10 managers, there were 15 page views so each person looked at just over one page before they gave up. There were just 11 ratings (the strategic challenges had some ideas against them already), 5 comments were put against these ideas, and 3 new ideas were offered.


The following day I had another opportunity to present, but this time we got completely different results as you can see from the graph below. There were three times more views, more than ten times more idea ratings and more than three times more comments and ideas.


What was the difference? The difference was simple, but provides a powerful lesson in what you need to do to motivate people to participate. The second time around I;

– Had the CEO introduce it, make it compelling and give it context

– Made it fun and rewarding (I had a range of prizes – mostly fun)

– Made it collaborative (I gave them an introduction to some innovation techniques and they had time to work together)

– Carefully showed people how to do it so as to remove any barriers (perceived or real)

The last nugget of insight I got from this experience which I believe is useful to share is the same graph, but just showing the activity from the person that offered the most ideas – 7 in total in one session. But notice that they didn’t rate or comment on other people’s ideas. They were very creative, but also very selfish. This is quite normal.


The Innovation Paradox


One of our clients is a large engineering firm. They are market leaders in their sector and rightly proud of their processes and disciplines around running projects. They are ideal clients in as much that innovation is a strategic priority and are investing time, money and energy into their innovation programme. What’s holding them back then?
They are a good example of what is called the ‘innovation paradox’, a term coined by Salaman and Storey which in a sentence is this;

“Survival today requires coherence, co-ordination and stability. Survival tomorrow requires the replacement of those erstwhile virtues”

The reason why this is so relevant to them is that they’ve instinctively applied the same practices and processes to ‘doing innovation’ that serves them so well in their core business. The front-end of the innovation process of course NEEDS variance, risk and the acceptance that there is likely to be more failure than success. Those things REALLY go against the grain!

The lesson is that the people, tools and disciplines that might make you World class at building bridges or digging tunnels don’t automatically lend themselves to idea generation. It’s a different discipline altogether. Those disciplines, skills and techniques can be learnt, and seeking help, facilitation and training could make the greatest impact on your innovation ambitions.

Wow. This is one to watch and listen to

In blogging so frequently about technology I’m possibly guilty of re-enforcing the myth that innovation is about gadgets and gizmos. But here’s an example of the contrary that blew me away.

Humans have been making music and dancing for as long as we have been Human Beings. How come this is the first time I’ve seen a performance like this? To me, the dancer is having a conversation with the Harpist both through his body, but using his feet as a percussion instrument.

It goes to show that you can innovate even one of the oldest Human activities. Brilliant.


3 Innovation Horizons

3 Innovation Horizons – the key to making idea schemes sustainable

Posted on February 23, 2012 by Michael Allen

Week in week out we are invited to visit organisations that have some kind of innovation or staff suggestion scheme, but almost without exception the feedback is that it isn’t performing as they had hoped.

That isn’t to say that the ideas systems don’t have ideas in there and aren’t delivering value, more that the Senior Executives seem disappointed with the results. One useful way of describing the mismatch between what Senior Executives what from an Innovation scheme and what the staff actually contribute is a concept called the 3 Innovation Horizons. This concept was developed by Christian Terwiesch and Karl T Ulrich in a book called Innovation Tournaments.

It uses the concept of horizons to describe the fact that if you are at the front line, your horizon is set on what you already do to support your existing customers with your existing capabilities and they can’t see the other horizons. This is Horizon 1 and perfectly describes the territory that traditional suggestion schemes occupy.

There is absolutely a business case for Horizon 1 ideas, but it needs to be expected that the vast majority of them are going to be incremental improvements, extensions, variants and costs reductions.

Horizon 2 describes ideas about new products and services that can be sold to your existing markets and adjacent markets that you can sell the existing products and services to. Staff can contribute insights to this Horizon, but the Authors argue that you need to include insights from your customers as well.

Horizon 3 describes ideas about brand new markets and brand new capabilities – it’s the stuff the Senior Executives are paid to worry about and again the authors would maintain that while the staff have insights that can serve Horizon 3, you need to engage a different groups of people, in a different way.


Innovation rarely happens without the commitment of Senior Managers – Innovation requires change so without their buy-in, that change won’t happen so it’s essential that they remain engaged.

The way we achieve this is to ensure that when we plan a programme of Innovation Challenges we do so to ensure that we are identifying Challenges that relate to all three Horizons.

You can learn more about the concept from the book or this link (from which I borrowed the diagram above), http://pwcinnovate.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/innovation-horizons/