In 2013, CEO Scott Raskin turned heads when his company, Mindjet, acquired Spigit, instantly becoming the largest software purveyor in the innovation industry. Scott’s vision took Mindjet from being the number one mind mapping and brainstorming software company to become the leading provider of enterprise cloud software for innovation practitioners. Because he and his 350-person team go behind-the-scenes inside numerous global corporations each year, we wanted to get Scott’s candid assessment of how innovation is being practiced, and what’s changing in the innovation space. Edited excerpts:
- Scott, your software is used by 83 percent of the Fortune 500. But for readers who may be unfamiliar, briefly explain what idea management (IM) software does.
Sure. IM software provides a systematic process for generating, capturing, and evaluating ideas and turning the best ones into practical, real-world innovations. With a cloud-based IM platform, businesses are able to tap into the thinking and ideas from a much wider array of people –employees certainly, but also customers, partners, suppliers, you name it. And with our system, the customer gets functionality that includes advanced data science, algorithms and crowd analytics to power what users see and engage with on the surface. They get a space to discuss ideas, a way to conveniently vote on them, provide suggestions and feedback, and collaborate to turn great ideas into new products, marketing programs or business processes.
- What’s changing in the innovation space? What new customer needs are you seeing emerge?
In the past few years, the focus on implementing an innovation management program or creating a center of excellence for innovation at the enterprise level increased dramatically. Yesterday’s need was more ideas. Today the need is finding the best idea. In a survey two years ago by The Corporate Executive Board, 77% of executives said they were concerned with not having enough ideas. This problem was solved and is what most innovation or ideation software vendors provide today. The good news is they provided a lot of ideas; the bad news is they provided a lot of ideas! So what customers want now is a way to more effectively get to the best ideas with high value predictability – what it’s worth, how much it will cost, how much revenue it will generate. This has been our focus and what has helped our customers achieve such demonstrable results.
- One of the big complaints with IM software is that people are so busy they stop submitting ideas into a company’s portal. How have your clients overcome the challenge of falling participation rates?
Keeping your crowd of employees and partners engaged is just about the most crucial piece of the innovation management process. There is no innovation without ideation, and if your pool of participants is restricted, so are your opportunities. Companies that manage innovation successfully do three absolutely critical things: first, they make the idea selection process transparent and simple, so participants are never in doubt about the value of their contributions or confused about the process. Second, they motivate through recognition, continually demonstrating why participation matters and how it influences leaders’ decisions. Finally, they make it fun by using a platform that has game mechanics built right in.
- What percentage of firms set up idea portals to invite employee ideas, but do nothing to change their cultures, or to accomplish innovation differently?
It’s absolutely not enough to just tell your employees that innovation is important. It’s not even enough to buy a tool and tell them to use it. Innovation has to be a part of every single person’s daily work. It has to be a central piece of an organization’s DNA, and most importantly, it absolutely must be communicated through and supported by the company’s culture. It’s tough to provide an accurate percentage regarding where the invitation to innovate doesn’t effectively extend beyond just the first step. But I can tell you that the companies that choose that path aren’t the ones you’re going to be hearing about in the future.
- Your software is now used by 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies. It’s used by almost all of our Ten Most Innovative Companies in the World (see: Tucker’s Top 10 List). So why do you believe there’s a huge market opportunity still out there to be tapped?
In a global economy, companies have to continuously innovate at a rapid pace to build markets and value for shareholders. Innovation isn’t just the purview of technology companies – in addition to the leaders you would expect in the tech sector, we have customers in agriculture, construction, government, financial services, and health care, as well as many other unexpected industries. Every company needs innovation, so that leaves us with a constantly growing market to tap into.
- In the innovation field, there’s lots of talk about crowdsourcing. Companies like Lego invite customers to contribute ideas for future products, and reward them if their idea goes into production. Mindjet is in a position to know how widespread this trend is – especially in house. Are firms really crowdsourcing internally or just blowing smoke about this trendy tool? What is really going on behind the scenes? And is it helping improve success rates and drive revenue growth?
Companies are absolutely using crowdsourcing to generate new ideas, but it’s more than that – crowdsourcing is about increasing collaboration. It’s about using every resource available to raise your chances of striking innovation gold. As old-school business approaches die out and hierarchies flatten, we’re seeing attitudes change drastically. The direction that leadership is taking today is far more concerned with building mutually beneficial networks. It’s more about encouraging ownership than it is with funneling directives through some narrow, disconnected pecking order.
- While I occasionally hear innovation practitioners extoll how wonderful their innovation portal is for driving participation, I’ve never heard an example of where a submitted idea became a breakthrough and really moved the growth needle.
We see these kinds of returns on innovation constantly. UnitedHealth Group used our software and ended up with 40,000 program participants and millions in cost savings. Novant Health shortened their product development cycle by over 40 weeks. Citibank used SpigitEngage to coax over 46,000 participants to submit over 2000 potentially viable ideas. DPR Construction was able to increase productivity by 20 per cent, reducing the average time per project by over 10 weeks. There’s just no denying the value of crowdsourced innovation management.
- You all wrote about an NGO that uses your software as well. Tell us about that.
But when it comes to something globally impactful, my favorite customer story comes from the team at UNHCR, which we featured in the third issue of our industry publication, INQ Magazine. They face huge challenges that have significant and lasting global implications for the 45 million refugees they work with. Backed by our software, they developed a dedicated innovation program to promote collaborative ideation and surface suggestions for improving the lives of refugees. From tackling access to educational materials, to rethinking how to meet the housing and energy needs of displaced communities, theirs is an incredible program. It even gathers ideas from the very people they’re trying to help. And because the process is systematic and repeatable, investors can see up front where their funds are going and what they’re being used for. Similarly, as innovations evolve, the ability to provide lasting help to those in need continues to grow and advance. That’s what I call a real return on innovation.
- Mindjet is pioneering IM software by employing data scientists and other highly trained specialists to add value to your products and services. How is Mindjet capitalizing on the Big Data trend?
The thing about Big Data is that, like innovation, its status as a trend doesn’t diminish the value of what it can teach you or how it can impact a business. The incredible research done by our data science team has made it possible for us to become the market leader in innovation management software, because they’re always analyzing the data produced by customer program results as well as the constantly changing behaviors of participants inside of the platform, which gives them a crucial understanding of what’s working and how. Our Predictions Module has essentially taken the luck out of innovation, and replaced it with logic. It enables organizations to use the collective knowledge of the crowd to forecast time to market, implementation costs, and resulting revenue of ideas. We also recently released Insights, a new visual reporting and analytics tool in SpigitEngage that helps stakeholders understand all that data and use it to drive greater, faster returns.
- Amazing evolution, Scott. What’s next? Where do you see Mindjet impacting the innovation space in the near future? What’s next for the SpigitEngage platform?
We expect to extend our lead even further in working with global companies to execute on the great ideas their employees and customers bring to the table. It turns out that the crowd is not just good at coming up with ideas – it’s also very good at deciding which ideas to pursue, and how to pursue them.