The Greatest Idea Campaign Ever Run

Since joining the industry in 2001, I’ve seen a lot of really good idea campaigns. Many have produced breakthrough ideas, from the most unlikely of sources. But I’ve never seen a campaign which changed the course of history. This next example did just that, and might be the best idea campaign ever run.

A problem at sea

After a victorious battle with the French at Gibraltar, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and his men set sail for England. Like hundreds of ships before them, they misguided their longitude, and headed straight for the Scilly Isles. The flagship of the fleet, the Association, crashed into the Isles first, sinking within a few minutes. Three more ships crashed before they had any chance to react. Two thousand men perished. This was a familiar scene for the seafaring men of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.

The problem was clear – not knowing the precise distance east or west of the home port. The problem of longitude was a giant one – the cost of losing so many ships, and so many men was devastating to a seafaring nation. But to solve it required a true breakthrough innovation, a technology of the like which had never been seen before.



The English Government decided to act

In 1714 it established the Longitude Act, a public idea campaign to find a solution to the crippling problem of navigating the seas. To get people excited they offered a reward, the equivalent of several million dollars in today’s money, an astronomical amount for the time. They were seeking a ‘practical, and useful means of determining longitude’.

The expectation was that a member of the scientific elite would hit upon a solution. In particular the fifth astronomer royal, the Reverend Nevil Maskelyne, competed vigorously (perhaps even unfairly at times). Isaac Newton feared it couldn’t be solved. The campaign received overwhelming amounts of ideas – and it was expected that a solution would eventually come from mapping navigation via the stars in the sky. It’s easy to discount this today, but at the time it was hard to see a solution coming from any other place. The astronomy community was the dominant one of the day, and leading astronomers played a significant role in national affairs; they were also expected to find the solution.

But ultimately, and remarkably, the solution finally came from a source that can only be described as completely out of left-field.



John Harrison, a man of no formal education or apprenticeship, constructed a clock which solved the problem of longitude like nobody could have imagined. He constructed several friction-free clocks, which required no lubrication, and no cleaning – this alone was remarkable. They were made from materials impervious to rust, and their inner parts perfectly balanced in relation to each other – no matter how much the waves shook them. There was no pendulum, and the materials inside were constructed in such a way as to expand or contract depending upon the temperature, keeping the clock ticking at a constant rate.

William Hogarth, the English artist, wrote in his book Analysis of Beauty, that Harrison’s clock was “one of the most exquisite movements ever made.”

Anatomy of a great campaign

The outcome of the campaign cannot be overstated. The solution was truly a breakthrough technology, and a disruptive one at that. Many modern horologists and historians would argue that Harrison facilitated England’s dominance over the oceans, directly leading to the creation of the British Empire (some might argue that wasn’t a good thing!).

The campaign itself was structured in a way that still makes sense today:

1. A killer problem

Not knowing how to accurately navigate the seas was a real problem, and everybody knew it. The prospect of finding a solution was so alluring, not just to the British Government, but also to the general population – at the time it was akin to finding the Holy Grail – taking on mythical proportions. Every business or organization has killer problems – being willing to open up those problems to a wide audience is still difficult for some, but for those that do the results can be tremendous.

2. A sponsor with clout

Having a sponsor that really cares about the problem is profoundly important. The British Government needed an answer, and were willing to throw money behind it to get there. The King of England was a man who could get things done – if he said he’d support promising ideas, then people believed him. Every company has individuals that can get stuff done, and have a reputation for it, these folks are the best campaign sponsors you can find.

3. Support prototypes

The Board of Longitude knew that complete ideas were rare – for a problem this tricky there had to be room to iterate over proposed solutions, thus the Longitude Act allowed the Board to give smaller incentive awards to help impoverished inventors with building a prototype. Over the course of the campaign, thousands of pounds were given out to support inventors attempts. The Board of Longitude was perhaps the worlds first official R&D agency. Do you have an iterative step to build out prototypes – if not, why not?

4. Challenges spur knowledge forward

The problem definition was highly specific, yet just like any innovation manager out there knows, you always get ideas that have nothing to do with the question at hand. Some of the participants were so eager to win the prize, that they never stopped long enough to consider the conditions of the campaign. But they did create solutions for improving the ships’ rudder, purifying drinking water at sea, and perfecting special sails to be used in storms. The campaign itself was such a bold statement by the King, that it unleashed a wave of creativity in the nation. A big hairy audacious campaign can have that kind of galvanizing effect on your employees.

5. A diverse audience

We all know that diversity is the key to achieving astonishing results with idea campaigns. There is simply no better example than John Harrison – a country bumpkin, with no ties to the establishment, no formal training, and no regular way to get his voice heard, was able to so compellingly smash a giant problem of the day. The story of the campaign is riddled with incidents of the not-invented-here syndrome, with the elite refusing to believe anybody outside the astronomy community could have a solution to the problem. But Harrison persisted, and his ideas were clearly superior. You never know what employees you have in your organization who can deliver a breakthrough thought – and going outside the company, the possibilities become so incredibly vast.


It was 300 years ago this year that the Longitude Act was created, yet idea campaigns haven’t changed all that much – the basic good practices still apply. Today however, we are able to go broader and do so with greater speed, thanks to online platforms. But are we taking full advantage of this tremendous capability? Are you looking at your greatest challenges, and asking your audience to try and solve them? If not, why not, and if not now, when?

A new Longitude Prize was launched earlier this year, to try and crack some of society’s biggest challenges. You can read more about it here: If you want to read more about the original one, I highly recommend Dava Sobel’s book Longitude.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Going Beyond Ideas With a Crowdsourcing Platform

The word idea is a loaded term, and it’s easy to become fixated on the ideation part, especially since the products are often called “idea management tools”. But a well-developed platform, firmly established in a company, enables much more than just ideation. The same structured process can be used for a wide array of business activities.

The power of the tool is its ability to handle scale and a distributed workforce, matched with a rigorous way to manage the content generated. But instead of collecting ideas, why not collect insights or problems? Collecting those in a small group of people in the same room can be immensely effective, but being able to do it with ten thousand people across the globe – reaching into areas of the business otherwise isolated from these activities – is potentially game changing.

The first step is to acknowledge that valuable input comes from anywhere in the business, and not just the typical homes of creativity and innovation. For example, why not ask your sales and marketing teams what they are hearing from customers and prospects? These individuals are on the front-line and have some of the best insights into the mind of the customer. The input can be sorted and ranked quickly, and conclusions can spark clear challenges where idea campaigns should be run.


Defining the problem

Most companies, and indeed individuals, are not short of ideas – but they are often short of knowing exactly where to ideate. As Albert Einstein reminds us, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes determining the problem, and 5 minutes on the solution”. Once a company knows precisely which problem to target, it typically has all of the necessary ingredients to solve it. Yet it is still not a common practice for companies to use their innovation tools to discover the problem areas on a mass scale.

At the center of any innovation is a coming together of two key aspects: making a problem known and identifiable, and combining fragments of input (ideas, insights, facts) into a single concept. A P&G example shows the potency of this:

“Research showed that about 80% of consumers in India wash their clothes by hand. They had to choose between detergents that were relatively gentle on the skin but not very good at actually cleaning clothes, and more-potent but harsher agents. With the problem clearly identified, in 2009 a team came up with Tide Naturals, which cleaned well without causing irritation … [it] has helped to significantly increase Tide’s share in India.” – Harvard Business Review, June 2011


Campaigns are an ideal tool for gathering input first, allowing people to suggest broad areas of interest, attach and reference research and data, and highlight known expertise. This input can be quickly sorted into groups, ranked according to suitability or other criteria, and then used as the basis for a follow-up idea campaign. Running these insight campaigns enables companies to generate volumes of rich data which can be mined and searched on an on-going basis, and it also continues to demonstrate openness to the audience, welcoming the perspectives of all employees.

Innovation as a central utility

At HYPE, we have seen clients using their collaborative innovation platforms with this purpose, and in many more inventive and disruptive ways. We are seeing, for example, an on-going increase in the direction of cost saving and continuous improvement. We call this innovating your business, and strongly recommend it because of the fast return on investment – cost saving ideas and process improvement tweaks can often be implemented quickly, which allow the program to gain momentum, and bring sponsors and employees on side.

The biggest challenge and, at the same time the biggest opportunity we have seen, is the notion of innovation as a utility, powered by a collaborative innovation platform. Many companies now have a central team responsible for driving innovation, usually home to the Chief Innovation Officer. These teams are typically small, and not provided with deep pockets of money or resources. However, they have the tools and mandate to make a sustained impact. They promote the use of campaigns to help business units innovate, allowing the sponsors to reach out widely across the business, in a familiar and consistent way. Furthermore, they follow a well managed and structured process for dealing with the input received, and handle the critical follow-up steps.

Central innovation teams can act like a Swiss Army Knife, with an array of capabilities for boosting innovation. With a platform in place and well organized, companies can run frequent large scale initiatives with minimal cost and effort. The innovation team is able to handle a diverse array of requests, from pure idea generation, to process improvements, knowledge sharing, expert identification, needs and resource exchange, to open innovation with partners, suppliers, and customers.

This notion, of going beyond ideas and creating a process to do so at scale and in a reliable way, with a central utility built around it, is the challenge we see companies racing to overcome.

Key Points

  • Ideas are the easy part, seek out more insights, problems, opportunities
  • Identifying problems and gathering perspectives on them leads to innovation
  • The tool offers a generic process for many use cases
  • Companies are innovating their business, not just products
  • A successful platform can enable innovation as a utility for companies

This post was originally published on LinkedIn

How to handle rewards and motivation in idea management campaigns

Rewards are often considered an essential part of idea campaigns, it seems natural to give out prizes to those people who submit breakthrough concepts. After all, people have a choice whether to share their idea, nobody can force them to spend time in the system, and willingly give over their intellectual property.

However, rewards are a complicated topic, they can have short term effects on participation and interest levels, generating excitement – but they can also have severe detrimental effects on the long term health of your program. For example, a client of ours in a services industry started their initiative with substantial tangible rewards, including cash and holidays for winning idea authors. These rewards had the desired impact at first, but over time the focus on rewarding ideators meant that commenting and collaborating dramatically declined. People only saw value in the idea submission. Subsequently, they decided to stop issuing rewards – the result was a lack of interest in the program altogether.

The substitution effect

This problem summarises the biggest warning we’ve discovered with rewards – if you put them in, you will struggle to take them out. In psychology this is known as the effect of substitution; one experiment helps to clarify the problem:

A group of children were given ten minutes to freely paint pictures, most of the children enjoyed being creative, and a handful found it boring and did not fully engage – as you might expect. Next they told the children that they would receive rewards for their paintings, a gold star, a chocolate, etc. They ran the ten minute exercise again, and had similar results. Finally, they took the rewards away, and ran it for a third time. Now, even those children who were originally highly engaged became less engaged, and produced less creative paintings. The act of painting itself was the motivation for the children – but after being rewarded for it, the pleasure has been substituted for the reward, and when the reward is taken away the original interest had declined. This substitution effect has been seen in many similar experiments in both adults and children.

The challenge lies in finding the right balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and in directing rewards towards the most relevant areas of the process.

Intrinsic motivations

Intrinsic motivations are those which are not controlled by external factors, but stem from an innate desire to act. Dan Pink, in his book Drive, describes three primary categories of intrinsic motivators: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Autonomy – having the freedom to choose how to tackle a task or challenge

  • Mastery – to become better at something, develop confidence and expertise

  • Purpose – to be aligned with a common goal and vision

Participants have a good deal of autonomy when it comes to online ideation campaigns – they don’t have to take part, and if they do, they can often choose when and to what extent to do so.

Mastery can lend itself well, allowing employees to learn from the interesting contributions of others, and to engage with experts from around the company. To have your idea developed by others, or to see it implemented, can be a tremendous boost to one’s confidence about their own ability and reputation.

Purpose is a strong driver within collaborative innovation, and it can be seen in the following examples:

  • The company has a clear vision and purpose for the ideation – there is a shared goal to which everybody is aligned. If this purpose is worthy, engaging, and in harmony with the individuals, it can be a powerful driver.

  • A desire to solve problems. Many individuals are strongly motivated to figure out a solution to a difficult problem. Idea campaigns are an ideal way to tap into this motivation and create a compelling sense of purpose.

  • A desire to help others. A sponsor who is well known and respected can drive engagement by asking for help. Ideas from fellow employees can drive collaboration and lead to stronger concepts.

In most organizations the culture is such that intrinsic motivations are enough to build and sustain momentum. It is recommended to try to avoid the use of rewards at first, and seek to find these inherent levers which engage people, such as those mentioned above, and additionally:

  • fun mascot for branding can create an identity for the program. It’s important to make it feel welcoming to employees, while also demonstrating a willingness to consider ideas seriously.

  • Make use of key sponsors who have a reputation for getting things done, and garner general support from the employee base.

  • Be consistent with follow-up, don’t allow cynicism to develop.

  • Celebrate successes, communicate them frequently, and recognize the participation of everybody.

“Are rewards important? Not really – something else motivates you to get involved. A reward is just a nice after effect. What people really want most is feedback about their ideas, what happened, where did it go, is it being actioned by somebody?” – Innovation Manager at European Engineering Company (HYPE Client)

Where rewards make most sense

When implementing rewards, consider first where they are most needed.

The job of submitting ideas is already preloaded with strong motivation – most people want to put their ideas into the system given the chance to do so. Commenting however can sometimes be seen as a less appreciated activity, but is just as critical for success. Rewarding frequent and constructive collaboration can encourage the right behaviors in the community. Evaluating ideas is also seen as a less glamorous task, but is key to developing ideas and concepts which can traverse the innovation pipeline. Similarly is the task of implementing ideas, which is where ideation truly meets innovation. One client told us of how they reward both the ideator and the implementor equally each month – typically they are not the same person, but they are both part of the story.

Dan Pink cites examples where rewards have a negative impact on creative tasks, but for routine and repetitive work rewards can boost performance. Reviewing is often seen as a bottleneck in the innovation process – reviewers struggle to find the time, ideas can be complex to properly evaluate, and the volume is sometimes overwhelming. If there is one part of the process that is most congenial to extrinsic rewards, it might be the evaluations.

“Creativity-supporting organizations consistently reward creativity, but they avoid using money to ‘bribe’ people to come up with innovative ideas. Because monetary rewards make people feel as if they are being controlled, such a tactic probably won’t work.” – How to Kill Creativity, Harvard Business Review, Teresa Amabile

Unexpected rewards pose less risk

Rewards which are expected have the most potential for damage – cash prizes for the winning ideas, for example. Unexpected rewards can have a positive impact however, with less risk. A European logistics client of ours has experimented with giving random rewards to boost interest, by contributing a comment to an idea in a campaign you’ll be entered into a draw for a prize at the end. For an employee it’s a matter of simply being in it to win it – a relatively small hurdle – but once in the system the hope is that ideas and contributions will spark more interest and drive more engagement. Tactics like this can be helpful to simply fuel awareness and get people moving into the campaigns.

Key Points

  • Once rewards are in place it can be hard to take them away

  • Avoid substituting the intrinsic motivations with rewards

  • Rewards can work best on the less glamorous tasks like commenting or reviewing

  • Intrinsic motivations stem from autonomy, mastery and purpose

  • Monetary rewards can make people feel they are being controlled

Campaigns are the driver for idea management success

In a recent Booz & Company study it was reported that only 40% of the 1,000 most innovative companies have a structured idea management program in place (The Global Innovation 1000: Navigating the Digital Future). A surprising fact given the importance of idea generation in the innovation process. This means that 60% of the biggest and best companies in the world are still using archaic methods to collect, organize, and manage ideas. Whether it be offline in face-to-face brainstorming sessions, using email, excel spreadsheets, open suggestion boxes – or ultimately, no idea gathering at all.

Even for those companies that do have an enterprise-wide idea capture tool in place, Booz & Company reports that there is general discontent about the effectiveness of these programs. There are many reasons for the poor return on investment which we explore in a white paper, but the obvious starting point is the campaign methodology.

The structured campaign methodology

Many companies still try to launch an idea program in the old fashion way – like a suggestion box: ideas of any kind are dropped in from across the business without a clear problem statement defined. A good marketing splash can make this work for a short time, but it’s not sustainable.

Campaigns allow you to focus on the areas of the business that you want to innovate in right now. By defining a clear topic you improve idea quality, which in return increases the probability that they actually get implemented. Showing an innovation pipeline with ideas moving through to implementation builds trust and momentum with the audience. Campaigns by definition have a given time frame, and sometimes target a specific audience – both of these help to focus the right amount of corporate energy on the best possible outcomes.

With a campaign approach you can begin to think strategically about your efforts. Define the hunting grounds where you want to find ideas, then map out a series of campaigns to tackle those areas.

We find that the most successful companies have a balanced approach to running big strategic challenges, interspersed with tactical ones. Tactical ones, such as cost saving or process improvements, can generate ideas which can be implemented quickly and allow innovation managers to show results. This is both advantageous to innovation managers and sponsors, but also critical for momentum within the audience. Strategic campaigns have a longer timeframe, and often the ideas must be combined and taken through a concepting phase before real opportunity can be identified. If there is a clear roadmap of activity in both areas, the program is more likely to grow in adoption and becomes sustainable as a process.

The myth of missing big ideas

There is sometimes the feeling that always-open suggestion boxes must be available just in case a big idea comes along. This is largely a myth. Ideas themselves are almost always just a fragment of an innovation – they must be developed and built upon from several sides before they can be made into something valuable. It is more productive to first demonstrate that as a company you are open to ideas from all areas, and you will follow-up on them. Campaigns are a more reliable way to build this trust, and if you achieve this it’s more likely that breakthrough ideas will find their way into the process. The alternative, of having an always open suggestion box can lead to skepticism when ideas linger and do not find their way into a project.

Why not have both? This is the option some companies have taken, for example, a global logistics firm we spoke to is running frequent campaigns but also providing a 24/7 365 space for unsolicited ideas. This can work if you ensure you have momentum developing in the other areas, and if you have a structured approach to dealing with unsolicited ideas. The company has a review process every eight weeks to look at all unsolicited ideas, and either close them as not useful right now, or route them to an owner who can develop them further. This kind of rigor is not simple, and it will consume significant time from an individual who needs to be well connected and know how to push ideas into the right areas of the business.

A South American client in the financial services industry runs campaigns in each of the eight countries it covers. Every year they survey the countries to measure the perception of innovation from the employees, and whether they feel part of the innovation process. In the countries that run frequent and systematic campaigns, they have a higher statistic on these survey points.

Campaign leader kits

Companies that take the campaign process seriously have begun to develop campaign kits – a kind of education pack which enables sponsors and administrators to follow a guided process for launching and managing their campaigns. A European engineering company found that sponsors often want to just start and run something immediately, and underestimate the work involved. The first step towards improving this is an interview with the sponsor, where they are asked to define the problem, decide how much investment they will provide for winning ideas, allocate time for people to run the campaign process, and define the criteria for judging ideas. If these steps are not fully explored the campaign does not go ahead.

“If you are unprepared as a campaign leader, it is quite certain that you will fail.”
– Innovation Manager, European Engineering Company

A campaign questionnaire is a good starting point for developing these leader kits, but it needs to go further into the specifics of communication. For example, showing details of past campaigns – what worked and what didn’t – can serve as inspiration for new sponsors. It is recommended that innovation teams keep a workbook of every campaign, listing hard factors about participation and outcomes, along with soft factors such as the written communication and word of mouth feedback from participants.

Key Points

  • Define the high level hunting grounds for new ideas

  • Balance your campaigns between strategic and tactical

  • Cost saving and process campaigns help to build momentum

  • Always-open suggestion boxes can create skepticism

  • A campaign leader kit helps to create a consistent approach

This article was originally published on the HYPE Innovation Blog.