Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Guest Post: Time to Kill the Suggestion Box

Posted by Guest Writer - July 14, 2010

By Christine Crandell, CMO, Accept Software

BP recently created what may be the biggest suggestion box in history; it has over 35,000 ideas to improve the oil situation in the Gulf and is staffed by 70 full-time employees. This has led to a wave of experimentation in oil clean-up methodologies including a five-mile sand barrier on Dauphin Island, actor Kevin Cossner's oil separator and oil-absorbing hay.

This suggestion box may lead to some of the greatest advancements in oil cleanup in decades. As a company that lives and breathes innovation and ideation however, at Accept Software we know that the suggestion box is a cruel creature. It's no surprise that mainstream media is flooded with reports of inventors that feel they're being ignored - leading to a public perception that the whole thing is a PR sham.

Throughout history suggestion boxes have proven to be extraordinarily valuable, conceptually. Since the first recorded implementation of the suggestion box in the British Navy in 1770, suggestion boxes have been proving over and over that individuals, staff and customers really do have valuable ideas. But as a process the suggestion box is a cumbersome, slow, resource-intensive form of ideation that generates only submissions instead of meaningfulcollaboration that then actually results in a better product, service, or new innovation .

The fact is more than 90 percent of ideas submitted in any ideation process aren't remotely viable. Consider this audio clip at Gawker of a reporter submitting an idea to BP that stopping the leak hasn't worked, so they should simply allow it to flow and work on getting the world used to the idea of oil in the water. Then there's the idea to place a giant cork over the leak. Out of 35,000 ideas, how many are just submitted by angry people? How many are outrageous?

Borrowing some stats from our own blog on product innovation, we can see how flawed the process of the suggestion box is:

BP faces an incredible timeline issue to innovate, yet it's not entirely unlike any product company that's leaking market-share, revenues and buzz because it has slipped behind the competition or the market's pace, and appetite, for the next, more advanced product release. The challenge for product companies is that 50 percent of R&D investment do not generate any revenue, ever. The other 50 percent investment in R&D returns only three to eight times the investment over an average of five years, according to PRTM. Integrating ideas into a product innovation lifecycle process and having key stakeholders collaborate on them produce better products and features, faster and profitably.

The ideation process needs conversation and collaboration. Submitters need to be able to review, rate and comment on each other's submissions; to improve on them and work together collaboratively online. Allow submitters to get feedback on their ideas, which ones are being identified as most relevant and why.

So our suggestion to BP - and to every business really - is to go beyond the knee-jerk reaction to create a suggestion box as a way to solicit information. You don't have the resources or time to sort through thousands of giant corks and angry customers before fixing a giant oil leak in the middle of the ocean.

Christine Crandell is the CMO of Accept Software, the developer of the Accept 360 product innovation management suite. Christine writes regularly for the company blog "The Innovation Jam"


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