Corporate Innovation Is Still Very Much A Thing. Impressions From My Time With 888

Updated: Aug 28, 2018


It’s been a while since i gave a lecture or supported (mentored as they say) a program of any kind. I’ve been at Google, MS, LSM, StarTAU, Failcon and more, but the one at 888 really got my hopes up for what corporate innovation (done right) can turn into for both the company and even more important — the employees.
The Innovator’s Dilemma

I believe the Innovator Dilemma is the best way to understand how companies (corporates mainly) see and act upon innovation. in short companies can either:

  1. Keep innovating (internally) in an S-curve: Improving a product takes time and many iterations, keyword being time.

  2. Acquire innovation to achieve Hockey stick curve: This is the main reason large companies buy smaller companies (sometimes startups) to get “instant” innovation.

There is a lot more to it than that, and the author of the Innovator’s Dilemma also introduced a new theory called Disruptive Innovation which offers a new perspective which has changed the way CEOs and management see innovation.

888

888.com is a veteran online gaming and game studio design company generating yearly revenues of 541.8 million USD (2017). Recently they launched an innovation program called Firestartes, and while i can’t say much about the content of the program and the products i’ve witnessed, i can shed some light about how 888 handled innovation right and where i think there is room for improvement.

About the program

Essentially the program was created to encourage internal innovation while realizing that the human capital talent they already have just needs a little stick and then the carrot will do the job, hell, we won’t even need the carrot if all goes well.

Eventually it was way bigger than anyone anticipated and management got excited (as they should). Now it spills over to HR, culture, business development and all concluded from working with a ~150 worth ideas and the people behind them and their stories.

Why i was there

Once they realized the opportunity, scale and long-term inbound and outbound advantages, they wanted to make it more. In the past 10 years i’ve been running a small workshop titled EPS — effective presentation skills (for corporates), which then transformed to FTYSP — fine tune your startup pitch (for startups) and today it has transformed into a bit of a mix of the two.

Once they moved past the first 2 auditions (filtering process) they wanted to offer something extra for the employees who made it to the final audition. I came for a few hours to talk about what happens when you present, how to deal with questions, how to build a story, how to make it memorable, etc.

There were ~60 people both face to face and remote, and we discussed a few things, among them:

  • HOW TO TURN AN IDEA INTO A PRODUCT

  • HOW TO MAKE IT A BUSINESS

  • HOW TO ALIGN IT WITH THE MARKET

  • HOW TO BUILD THE ACTUAL SLIDES OF THE PRESENTATION

  • HOW TO PRESENT IT

  • HOW TO COLLECT FEEDBACK

The main objective i had is to align it with the business of 888 as much as possible. This makes sense because this IS an 888 program, but nonetheless cool was the weight the gave internal ideas, ones that can improve the work environment of all or some of the employees.

I must say, that the teams i talked more about their idea — have something good which makes sense to management, and they should pursue it, all it needs is simple molding.

Why corporate innovation is important

Wow, so many reasons! let’s focus:

Fast innovation, fast TTM Your employees know your business, sometimes they know more about a specific area of the business than you, and they should. Management however, must realize that they are not the smartest and they will never have the POV of the employee and that’s a good thing for business.  If you encourage internal innovation from the human capital your already spend tons to hire and retain — you gain highly skilled employees who already bring all the relevant experience for the industry you operate in, how cool is that? you can found a startup with the best team ever in no time, just pick… This leads to extremely short time to market for new ideas, and you want to move fast when experimenting and stepping outside our comfort zone.

If you’re releasing a beta you’re proud of, you’ve waited too long

Culture How cool is it for an employee to work at a startup where he already works?? seriously, no funding, no salary worries, no sacrifices.

It’s a win-win for both management and employees, and is marketed the best way possible — word of mouth.  Internally it can creates a viral effect, much like a meme.

Here’s a secret: Your employees are always thinking about other opportunities and are always looking for a better option

if you’re in tech, i can assure you many of your employees talked to me about how to start a company, or about an idea they had. I always encouraged them to pursue it, because obviously they think they can do more.

The curiosity, the courage it takes to submit an idea, the process, the results — are all fascinating in the eyes of people who didn't submit or chose to participate in any way in the program, thats ok, they’ll have another chance, by then they will be so pumped.

Employer branding How hard it is to find good people today? how much are companies — small, medium and large spend on hiring the best personnel, and then spend so much on getting the best work environment for them so they would just stay — because trying to retain an existing employee is cheaper than hiring a new one (much like the acquiring a new customer vs. keeping an existing one costs)

With running a good innovation program internally — the company can become a destination for actual career and personal development. That employees highly value today.

You know Google allocates 20% of their employees’ time to work on personal/side projects? whatever they may be.

Cheap Yes, it’s that cheap. While it requires some top management commitment, time and resources, it doesn't feel like work at all, that’s the beautiful part about innovating or taking a front row seat to watch it happen.

we’re not talking more than several hours a week (2–6), and other resources your company already has (infrastructure, servers, service-providers, partnerships, market penetration, etc.). So we’re really talking about assigning a program manager (can be outsourced) and dedicating a few time slots a month and sticking to a pre-determined tailored process, and we’re talking low expanses.

Besides, you can do the entire program like a startup — Lean. You can announce the program, test awareness, then move on the first submission stage, evaluate the quality of the ideas and/or understanding of the program, and take it one step at a time, without committing all the way through.

Remember though, that if you lack direction and a defined ‘why’ for your program, your employees will also feel that. At least figure out how you get to 20 good ideas.

Defined and contained (if)

If you have decide to give it a try, first think about why you are doing at all. some reasons can be:

  • It can boost innovation (fast development, fast testing, fast real conclusions)

  • It can boost morale and employee excitement

  • It can create new revenue streams or open new markets

  • It can save the company money

  • It looks good

All are great reasons, and if you made through here allow me make your decision just a little more the Right one

Room for improvement

Yes, 888 has and will do an amazing job and definitely have the opportunity to create something bigger than what they thought, but still what i would improve there is:

  • Clarification of aligning business interests — can filter at the initial submission stage all these great but unrelated ideas.

  • Time allocation — align interests with team leaders and middle-management to allow a portion of the employee time to be allocated to the program and working on it

  • External mentors — while they have great internal mentors and key support, since this is a different game the employees are playing, enrich their career by offering great external mentoring/workshops/1-on-1's/etc.

  • Space — while i was there i suggested that once a month all the selected teams will spend 3 hours in a nearby co-working space. This was accepted almost immediately and is easy to implement, and creates a prestige for the program.

How to do it?

Instead of just walking, let’s talk.  Below is a flow diagram depicting reasonable steps to run an internal innovation program within an established company.

The stages are:
  1. Forming — defining and specifying why run an innovation program, what needs to be allocated, business related decision and top management sign on.

  2. Announcement — how and when to announces crucial as the clock starts ticking from that point

  3. Submitting — the excruciating stage of filtering, sometimes hundreds of various ideas from personal issues to manned flight to Mars

  4. Incubation — the part where the actual innovation occur

  5. Acceleration — the part where the business stage occurs

  6. Growth — maximizing ROI

Of course for each step there is a defined process of how to achieve this the best way possible while tailoring the innovation to the company itself, keep in mind, this has to make sense (and business sense) to all parties involved.

If you wish to have the full document, let me know in the comments :)

Thinking about running a corporate innovation program? we’ve done it @ RET2082, talk to us

Cheers, RT

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