Idea Jamming Offers New Possibilities for Innovation

by Michael Marchionda - Leading organizations like IBM and Dell have demonstrated the power of social media to harness the wisdom of crowds, but their success also demonstrates the importance of guiding these initiatives with clear goals, supporting them with an effective plan and ensuring they deliver return on participation.

Many organizations are using idea sharing platforms to gather suggestions for improving their processes, products and services. Idea sharing platforms are being used to promote innovation from within and outside organizations, meaning that tapping the world’s brightest minds has never been easier. More and more organizations are using these platforms to capitalize on the shared ideas and opinions of their employees and customers.

The principle underlying this approach to generating ideas is known as “open innovation”: the belief that organizations can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas to advance their technology. Open innovation invites all members of an organization to take part in the innovation process, which leads to different results than simply asking management or R&D departments. Open innovation is becoming an important tool to shape the future of many organizations.

The process is similar to the collaborative spirit of musical “jamming,” in the sense that participants gather online to collaborate on ideas, build on each other’s contributions, find shared solutions, or simply connect. This is a concept that IBM has picked up on, naming their massive online conferences dedicated to generating employees’ ideas for improving IBM’s business processes “Innovation Jams”, which is what often comes to mind when jamming is used within the context of collaborative innovation.

Global Pulse – Think big

Global Pulse was a hosted online event sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development that attempted to aggregate 10 of the greatest challenges facing the global community. The event allowed participants to voice opinions, share ideas, and create innovative solutions to social issues facing the global community within the fields of science and technology, entrepreneurship, and human development. The event utilized IBM’s Jam solution, which allows for discussions to be broken down into focused conversations based on areas of interest.

My Starbucks Idea - Wake up and smell the coffee

My Starbucks Idea is notable for being one of the first true two-way conversation points for customers and the company to interact on a large scale. Starbucks created this platform to give its customers a place to voice their ideas for improving almost any element of Starbucks: from their atmosphere and locations, to their products, to their corporate social responsibility and so on. The four components of My Starbucks Idea - share, vote, discuss, see - provide an ongoing loop of discussion, interaction and ultimately, action. In its first six months, My Starbucks Idea had over 75,000 ideas receiving thousands of votes and hundreds of comments.


Given the nature of SalesForce’s business, one would expect the CRM giant to pay close attention to the needs and wants of its own customers. SalesForce’s IdeaExchange allows customers to suggest new products and features, promote their favourite enhancements or interact with product managers.


The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) is Canada’s largest HR association and was one of the first professional associations in the country to adopt social networking. Their idea sharing platform is called Water Cooler, which allows engagement, networking, idea sharing, collaboration, and mentorship among all HRPA members. 

Within the first 30 days of launch, 800 members joined Water Cooler and 60 active discussions were created across broad subject matter groups. Built on Speechbobble’s platform, it uses that technology’s Analytics Panel to monitor trending topics, informal leaders, and member feedback to inform strategic decision making.

Considerations for success

While the results generated from these innovation platforms can be tremendous, it takes more than launching the idea platform and hoping customers will participate. If you engage in open innovation, you must have real intention and ideas about how to respond and implement the best ideas, and address the following considerations.

  • Set goals and measure success. Before initiating an idea generating platform, make sure you’re specific about your goals. Are you seeking input on a specific input from a defined community, for example, or generating broad and ambitious new ideas from a larger audience? Once you’ve established your strategy, determine how you’ll measure success: number of ideas generated, participation rate, revenue increase or cost savings from the innovations, etc.

  • Understand collaboration behaviour and know who is responsible. The technology enabling jamming is new, but the principles of brainstorming still apply. Just as a skilled facilitator knows how to sift through all the ideas being discussed and steer the group’s attention to those that are gaining consensus and are clearly strong, you need to set a process for turning collaboration into consensus and know how you’ll differentiate between genuinely good ideas and crazy ones. Also, not everyone will be motivated by the common good, and a small percentage may push an idea based on a personal agenda. Determine who will be responsible for managing this collaboration process.

  • Are you running an event or managing a process? The classic idea jams are an event, taking place over a defined period of time and resulting in specific outcomes. Early adopters of intranet 2.0 are learning that they can use the considerable data generated by social interactions to continuously gather data by listening and responding, fine-tuning communications initiatives based on what they learn.

  • Deliver return on participation. It’s essential that participants in these jamming initiatives see a return on their participation. If they’ve invested their time to share creativity and ideas, they must see a return in the form of prompt communications about the outcome of the activity and, more importantly, some of the ideas put into action with appropriate acknowledgment to the role that jamming activity provided.

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