So sorry I vanished into thin air after I kicked up that recent ruckus about banks not doing social media. You see, the manuscript of Futureproofing is due with the publishers in January, and I'm on that final death march to get everything done. But I digress, because what I wanted to talk about today is something that my team and I have been working on for some time.
We've been struggling, you see, with finding a way to create an innovation culture that's quite different to the one we have now. What happens in most banks (and I know this from the research I've been conducting for FutureProofing) is that staff dump ideas into some kind of suggestion scheme, and a central team does something with them. Most ideas, of course, don't go anywhere, and it's not because they are bad: the key problem is there is never enough innovation resource to do everything that shows up.
You have to pick and choose. In the end, you leave a lot of money on the table.
Turning an idea into reality is hard work. But creating the idea in the first place is fun. Therein lies the dysfunction between ideation and innovation. You can can get lots of people to do the former, but its so much harder to motivate the latter. But what if you could make the innovation part fun as well? That's what we've tried to do with something we've been working on that we call the Innovation Market.
Innovation Market is ideation with a difference. We've created a virtual currency we call Bank Beanz. We pay Beanz to our staff for participation in an online community that collects, rates, and categorises new ideas. Staff can vote for the ideas they like, or comment on them in forums.
We measure the buzz of all these activities, and then promote the most successful ideas onto an internal stock market. Then, staff can use their Beanz to buy into ideas they like. The price of the idea approximates the chance it has of going into production. Consequently, believers in the idea can get in low, and sell high. They can make windfall gains in Bank Beanz, and use them for rewards in our Innovation Store.
Yes, we back the Bank Bean with cold, hard, cash. It is an exceptional motivator.
Now, here's the fun part. Because we've created an internal market for ideas, we are getting all the standard market behaviours you get externally. Firstly, we had hyper inflation of the Bank Bean. We had to put special controls in place avoid what was essentially a system that just printed money. It is hardly a reward for participation when your Beanz buy you a gift voucher one day, and nothing the next. Anyway, we fixed that.
Then, we had insider trading in ideas. Just as we were about to try to fix that too, we realised something interesting: when you're talking Bank Beanz, insider trading can be a good thing. It makes people want to be on the inside so they can speculate successfully. And how do you get on the inside? You have to work on the team making the idea happen.
In other words, we coupled ideation and innovation together in a way that's fun. It was an interesting revelation to us.
Innovation Market just won at the Financial innovation Awards in London – it was voted most innovative IT project in a bank. We were thrilled of course.
But the most interesting thing now is to see where Innovation Market takes our programme in the future. The idea, we hope, is that with this coupling of ideation and innovation we'll make it possible to accelerate our pipeline of interesting things. Instead of being scale-limited with headcount constraints in the central innovation team, anyone can be an innovator.
And isn't that the definition of an innovation culture in the first place?