Sometimes you need to cast a wider net to capture the best creative input. Tod Bedilion learned that lesson after staging a bold experiment.
Bedilion, a senior executive at Roche Diagnostics, examined how the global pharmaceutical company sought innovative input in its research-and-development unit. He feared that rigid hierarchies within the huge company stifled creativity.
When he surveyed 250 R&D managers throughout Roche, he learned that they felt the same way. They worried that they weren’t harnessing the innovative potential of the company’s far-flung workforce. Staffers were too wedded to their silo and didn’t venture beyond.
As an experiment, Bedilion listed six specific problems that Roche faced and invited all 2,400 R&D employees to submit their best ideas. But only 40 individuals sent proposals.
Unhappy with the limited participation of Roche’s employees, Bedilion broadened his sights outside the company. He described a challenge that Roche had grappled with for 20 years to an online network of 160,000 people via the InnoCentive website. (InnoCentive is an open innovation platform in which users compete to solve tough problems that plague organizations.)
Bedilion received 113 submissions from the public. Within two months, he awarded $25,000 to the winner for coming up with a solution that no one within Roche had ever proposed.
Roche staffers resented that an outsider wound up solving the problem. But Bedilion didn’t dwell on that; instead, he urged employees to collaborate more freely and forge cross-departmental networks across the vast company to engage in creative sharing and brainstorming.
— Adapted from Beyond Measure, Margaret Heffernan, TED Books.