CIO Zone

Taking the guesswork out of innovation

With the right tools, it is possible to tell your innovation story in a successful way, says James Gardner, CTO at Mindjet.

Johannesburg, 20 Aug 2015
Read time 4min 20sec
James Gardner
James Gardner

Innovation has become a bit of a business buzzword. Every CEO and CIO worth their salt wants to be seen to be on the forefront, bringing new products and services to a market. However, it doesn't always go to plan, and rushing in to things head first without the proper due diligence can land a company in hot water, says James Gardner, CTO at Mindjet.

For example, Amazon last year reported losses of £273 million, with much of this being blamed on heavy spending in new initiatives which are yet to bring in a substantial return.

With this in mind, business leaders are likely to be keeping a close eye on where and how their money is being spent. And as the results of an innovation programme are not always obvious to see, it becomes harder to justify spending money on incremental changes, while the more disruptive ones may be too risky for certain businesses. However, with the right tools, it is possible to tell your innovation story in a successful way. Here's how...

Pay attention to quantity as well as quality

Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and the same can be said for innovation! Using a crowd sourcing platform to collect innovative ideas is a great way of finding better ways of working, but pay attention to how many ideas you collect.

Sifting through hundreds or thousands of ideas is certainly a daunting task, but there are solutions out there. Using a crowdsourcing platform will often remove the majority of the legwork, utilising the crowd as decision makers, and implementing algorithms which automatically graduate ideas which are popular and in the case of the Predictions solution, financially valuable. This automatic graduation leaves you the opportunity to review only the most popular, and therefore the most realistic ideas.

Don't go mental, go incremental

Innovation is often associated with big, disruptive ideas, tantamount to creating the next iPhone. However, by focusing solely on these, organisations risk putting all of their eggs in one or two very big baskets, which are unlikely to give you a quick return. Bringing in radical new products or new ways of working can be risky, and many business leaders will be cautious in investing significant amounts of resource and money into something that might not work - especially if they already have a way of working that is adequate.

An alternative to this is to look for new ideas that can make incremental or operational improvements, to complement those disruptive ideas. As you're spreading your innovation investment, you're more likely to see a return in a shorter space of time, building a demonstrable ROI and achieving buy-in for your innovation programmes (which is key when you do come to gaining support for those larger, disruptive ideas) from key internal stakeholders. What's more, the incremental changes are usually the ones which add up to big, disruptive ones. This is called emergence.

Use your crowd!

Your colleagues and counterparts have helped you come up with a great idea, so why not trust them to go all the way? In 1987, Jack Treynor, a finance researcher, took 56 students from the University of Southern California and asked them, as a group, to guess how many jellybeans were in a jar. As a group, they were only 2.5% off the actual amount. Think back to that great nineties quiz show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, where contestants had three "life lines": Phone a friend, 50:50 and ask the audience. This is early crowdsourcing, and always proved more accurate than phoning a friend, or taking a risk with going 50:50!

By applying this logic to your innovation programme, you are able to get an accurate prediction of how much an idea will cost to implement and how long it would take to deliver. A recently developed module for Mindjet's Spigit platform, aptly called "Predictions", allows the crowd to judge whether they think a project will cost more or less than a certain amount. Clever algorithms take this data, analyse it and eventually produce an accurate number. By quantifying innovation in this way, innovators will have a much easier job justifying innovation spend to CFOs and business leaders.

Don't go it alone

Methods of innovating differ from business to business and there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution. On one hand, spreading your bets with lots of small incremental initiatives is a safe bet, while on the other, big disruptive ideas have the potential to transform your business, but are risky. However, by getting the crowd involved in both the idea generation and the ROI prediction, innovators are able to take a lot of the guesswork out of innovation.


Mindjet is committed to enterprise innovation excellence. They provide the first software platform with the capability to drive repeatable business innovation at scale. Millions of people, as well as 83% of the Fortune 100, use Mindjet's enterprise-ready innovation management and productivity suite, featuring Spigit and MindManager. Mindjet enables the world's leading brands to build and manage sustainable innovation programmes with social dynamics, purposeful collaboration, crowd science, and analytics, to surface and develop the best ideas and bring them to market. Mindjet is headquartered in San Francisco with offices throughout the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia.

Mindjet and the Mindjet logo are registered trademarks of Mindjet LLC in the US and other countries. SpigitEngage is a registered trademark of Spigit. FORTUNE 100 is a trademark of the FORTUNE magazine division of Time.

To learn more, visit the Spigit Web site.

Editorial contacts
Mindjet Nicola Frazer-Reid (+44) 020 8231 7623
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