A Fistful Of Ideas

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on May 26, 2012

The Article written by Biswajeet Mallik from IIM Indore is the First Prize winner of the May 2012 Article Writing Contest

Idea is a funny word. And it’s probably one of those words which can take as much adjectives as possible preceding it. Good idea, bad idea, stupid idea, fantastic idea, even the phrases grown around it have entered the urban folklores, the prominent one being “What an idea, sirji !!!” And most often, it has been found overused in the b-school interviews and b-plan events/entrepreneurship summits. “I am an idea-man ” , you won’t get surprised hearing this again and again and might wonder , “If so many people have great ideas, then why have they wasted two years following other’s 18th/19th century old and outdated ideas ? ”. People in b-schools have moved on from sophisticated higher-syllable words like ‘innovations’ to short, fun-sounding little word like ‘idea’.

No wonder , this term has gradually entered into the list of ‘clichés’ in the world of business and management with other mates like plan , strategy , depends , etc. Even products and brands have been named surrounding this term; IDEA cellular, idea pad, Adobe Air IDEAs and many others. And soon, the companies are going to open new verticals related to it and CXO positions such as Chief Idea manager. It might seem jocular and immature, but that’s definitely the future.

Here’s an interesting story. And whether you believe it or not, it’s a true one. Rob McEwen, chairman and CEO of Goldcorp Inc., based in Toronto owned an old mine called Red Lake, in northwestern Ontario, Canada. He was sure that there’s a gold mine somewhere round the corner, but didn’t know where to dig for it. So he charted into completely new territory for any mining company , and made all geological data available on the internet and asked for ‘IDEAS’.

The firm/individual which would give the exact location where’s the mine is most likely to be find those 6 million ounces of gold would get a prize total of $575,000, with a top award of $105,000. And suddenly, the internet gold rush was on. It wasn’t easy for a mining company to post all its sensitive data on web, it entitled big risks including a hostile takeover, but the returns were great too. As clarified by Mr. McEwen later , in this technological era, searching for gold is no more an old miner’s task of digging more and more, rather analyzing complex dimensions of fractal geometry and structural geology . His efforts to rely on the online platforms paid off and an Australian company finally succeeded in the treasure hunt.

So, suddenly, why so many ideas??? No wonder, major MNCs have acted as the major catalyst behind these outbursts of ideas. And proliferation of internet has acted as the perfect platform for accumulation of them. Brainstorming is no more done in round tables , innovation is no more the sole
expertise of R & D vertical , solution are more flowing from online communities and those so-called ‘Idea-centers’ rather than overpaid white collared executives.

Web has provided the multinationals to acquire knowledge, expertise and so many ‘ideas’; obviously all of them can’t be expected to be of extraordinary level, but the sheer volume of traffic these platforms are attracting is rich enough to sort out good ones, take the goods from bad ones, leave aside the worst ones, combine, integrate and use all kinds of statistically named strategic activities upon them. And they can experiment on each of them, and specifying needs like “we need ideas which would be able to perform the task and at the same time should be cost efficient as well as profitable “opens up unexpected avenues, for which 100 percent usage of executive’s brains is not enough.

So, who were the pioneers in the creation of the idea to do this ‘idea-center’ thing? Tech firms were first to open such initiatives. I still remember some IBM and Intel ads displaying their opening up of virtual communities to make a world better place when I was probably in my school. At that time, internet wasn’t such a major phenomenon as it is now-a-days. Very few people who were genuinely in the vicinity of such tech-professions were users of web. So, it made completely sense to open idea from them. Computer manufacturers dived into it after watching a crowd of tech savvy people here.

The recent Dell ‘Idea storm’ is an example of such category. Lenovo has already been in the thick of things related to ideas. First the product ‘Idea Pad’ and now, the platform “Network of doers” with a motto of “Turn ideas into action”. Relatively, the Dell Idea storm looks really cool with ideas coming from all around the world what product improvements to make and even how to make. Innovation and R&D had never been so easy to find.

Alright, all this is okay with silicon-valley giants, but ideas to design shoes and making coffee recipes, not even foods? Doesn’t it sound ridiculous? It might be, but there they are. Take a close look at this ‘Open source footwear’ from the houses of ‘John Fluevog’. Those lines from the site gave me a hearty laugh after some good old times , “Are you frustrated , not finding shoes you want, design and submit yours “.It’s funny , but come on, isn’t it a problem with many of us ? Many times, we return from showrooms with shoes not what we want, rather what the salesman at the stores wants. On those lines, I believe the initiative is laudable, and I am sure Fluevog will definitely get whatever he is looking for.

Starbucks, the famous coffee house has opened up a site “My Starbucks Idea” where you can provide ideas related to different varieties of drinks as well you can take on a call for where the new store location should be and what should be the characteristics of staffs. All I want to say, “Do they anymore need Ivy grads to run their company? People online seems to do a perfect job combining”.

Coffee, Shoes, what more? Surprisingly, they were not the pioneers this time, but how can they be far behind? Yes, I am talking about FMCG; and those two giants P&G and Unilever have again logged horn in this platform also. Obviously, they can’t want ideas like “What surf do you want or what toothpaste do you want?” Hence, they have used these as brand promotion and somewhat CSR tools. Unilever’s “Collaborating with us” platform requests ideas to purify its ‘PureIt’ water purifier to provide clean and safe water to millions of global citizens. In addition to that, they also request ideas which will lead the future in consumer goods. The behavior of people is changing and they can’t afford to ignore the shift in paradigm. P & G has diversified itself by initiating a network for women “vocal point”.

Targeting the major customers and decision takers, the women through an online platform, great, straight to the point, it's P&G, what else you expect? It had recently performed an event ‘The innovation challenge’ with the support of BDI (British Design & Innovation). P&G invited interested designers and universities to respond to two cases on fabric care and wellness, with the aim of finding ideas which could produce global markets worth of $100 million. The Challenge attracted 170 applicants, with 120 designer/inventors attending the launch events. From this group, 72 ideas were submitted by 25 touch points. Unilever has launched a similar one named ‘Ideas4unilever’ too. Kraft Foods and Sara Lee have also opened up their innovation stores in the forms of “collaboration factory “as Kraft calls it.

                                                                                  [Kraft food’s ’Idea’ platform]

Telecom companies are no far away, either. The NOKIA ‘Ideas PROJECT’ is doing wonders for it. I was not surprised, when I found various most of the new features of the recent sensation ‘Nokia LUMIA’ here posted as ideas. Really, this is a great platform to emulate, all ideas sorted out across different horizons, people, business, products, technology, others etc. Be it a suggestion to do Bluetooth SMS , or to upgrade the flash / battery power of certain brand by some method, the customer feedbacks as well as idea harvesting was never so easy. Vodafone has also been seen with a developer platform to promote similar tactics as employed by all other corporates quoted, but it’s more techno-centric rather than customer-focused. Well, it might sound strange, but automobile companies like FIAT and BMW have launched similar platforms to take suggestions to design new models.

                                                                           [Online innovation center from ‘Nokia’]

Well, it suddenly seems to be a lot of ideas. So, is there going to be an era of greater product innovation and customer focused approach in near future? Well, that seems so, but not certainly, not in absolute surety terms. The challenge would be to stain the flow of such ideas in an era where these sparks of human intelligence and innovation are momentary. People are interested more, since it is new, but God knows what the psychology would be in future? And as volume of such ideas grows up, basic problems like redundancy would creep up and that might harass the ‘Idea’ managers to look these as a trustworthy option. Sorting out, integrating those and mustering courage to implement even if it requires huge capital investments is going to be the biggest challenge for these ‘Idea’ seekers. And how they are going to manage it remains the mystery of the early twentieth century.

This article has been authored Biswajeet Mallik from IIM Indore.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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