Innovation Using the 2% Solution

Home » Leadership » Innovation Using the 2% Solution

For years, I’ve been teaching leaders about the many ooptiosn other companies are using to harness its employees’ creativity and generate innovative solutions. For instance, 3M is famous for giving its employees up to15% of their paid time to work on challenges that could lead to innovations for their company. Intuit does the same, while Google goes one step further – 20%.

That’s why I found Babik Foruntanpour’s solution, in which he documents the impact of a 2% solution so interesting – it’s one that any company can adopt. (See full story in Braden Kelley’s new book Charting Change.)

Working at Qualcomm and committed to finding innovations to enhance its imaging solutions, he brought together a group of seven diverse employees to meet every two weeks for an adhoc 90 minute lunch to brainstorm about possibilities.  After his initial group developed patentable innovations, others inquired about the model and sought to copy it.

Six years later, thousands of employees on four continents were contributing 2% of their time to routinely discuss challenges, unleash creative options and see if they could be channeled into commercial innovations. Collectively, the groundswell of group lunches initiated by small groups of employees every other week, brought Babik to the office of the CEO, inspired numerous R&D projects and captured 70 patents in 70 months!  This voluntary assembly of people eventually became institutionalized as the employee-run innovation program, Forward Looking User Experience (FLUX).

The key ingredients are (1) curiosity by employees and (2) a supportive and transparent culture that encourages brainstorming.  As Daniel Pink, in Drive, notes, the main motivations in successful companies are purpose, mastery and autonomy. If employees believe in the mission, the work is something they enjoy doing and want to do better. When management gets out of their way, magic happens.

In sum, your company may not have the budget to give employees 15-20% free time to explore creative ideas. Babik’s initiative and leadership shows that even 2% commitment can make a significant difference for a company. And it doesn’t have to cost much – in Babik’s case, it was a $500 a year budget for lunch pizzas! The key is to hire passionately curious employees who are committed to unleashing their creativity, embrace diversity (of opinions and viewpoints) and trust each other enough to look foolish in front of one another as they brainstorm.

Are you ready to unleash your employees’ creativity and encourage innovation? Share your success stories with us!

time) that  bout how his team unleashed its creativity to innovate significant enhancements in Qualcomm’s imaging solution.

Taking the wider perspective – that smartphones have lots of sensors – his team recognized that by turning on the microphone to listen for buzzing of fluorescent lights, they could tell if the user is in sunlight or artificial light. That led the team to discover other smartphone assets that could enhance the imaging solutions. For instance, by sending out an ultrasonic pulse, the speakers could be used to liste for reflections; if it hears echoes then the user is probably indoors. Similarly the system’s GPS system and clock could be used to tell whether the sun had probably set, indicating that the light source was artificial.

The ability to tap into non-light sensors for information to feed its imaging algorithms, was something that had never been considered before by the camera team. But a team of outsiders who started with a different perspective (focusing on the context for the camera – the smartphone), were able to offer breakthroughs for Qualcomm, which were patented.

At Vistage Worldwide’s local meetings, the value of getting input from experienced leaders with different perspectives is seen monthly, as members pose challenges and others share “outsider” perspectives.  It’s one of the reasons that Vistage members grow their companies faster than non-member competitors, according to studies by Dunn and Bradstreet.

I see the same phenomenon when I help improve clients’ presentations. The “outside perspective” I’ve acquired, after helping thousands of leaders develop effective presentations, enables me to suggest ways to turn data into compelling fact patterns and persuasive stories.

How have you used the input of outsiders to help you develop superior solutions to business challenges?  Share your stories.