IBM brought 150,000 employees and stakeholders together to help move its latest technologies to market. Both the difficulties it faced and the successes it achieved provide important lessons.
The IBM Innovation Jam was the largest-ever event to promote networked idea generation. More than 150,000 IBM employees, stakeholders and vendors participated in two three-day online events to foster innovation and help IBM bring products to market faster. Using Web sites, wikis, forums and other online tools, Jam participants generated literally hundreds of thousands of new business ideas. From those ideas, IBM focused on several major topics for the second part of the Jam and invited its employees to build on the ideas within those topics. As a result of this process, 10 distinct businesses were funded.
However, it wasn’t these successes that make the Jam interesting, argue the authors; it was the difficulties that IBM faced in implementing the Jam. Given unique access to the Jam, the authors discuss the complications inherent in collaborating with so many people. In particular, it was hard to sustain individual “conversations” in the collaborative process. Rather than building on each other’s ideas, many participants — because of excitement about their own ideas — would “hijack” a thread or take it in an unintended direction. Some great ideas were left to wither on the vine.
The authors discuss other attempts at large-scale collaboration, including some by Dell and Starbucks. These include the use of promotion tools to ensure that “good” ideas are seen and captured by as many eyes as possible. The pros and cons of these methods are discussed as well, and the authors provide a framework for thinking about how an organization can collaborate with its stakeholders.