This afternoon a dozen or so newsroom staff, our opinion-makers, got together to discuss the proposed launch and operations of the Innovation Time Bank. It was a lively and engaging discussion that, for the short term pointed out some clear (but solvable) problems in our communication plan and, for the long term, raised some very interesting questions about the way the Innovation Time Bank will work.
Below are my imperfect notes on the meeting - we'll discuss them at our steering committee meeting tomorrow (Tues) at 2 pm. That meeting is, of course, open, but if anyone who was at today's meeting feels I've missed an important point — or misreported one — please hit "Reply All" and set the record straight.
I've tried to organize the group's thoughts thematically, rather than chronologically; these aren't so much minutes as a harvest.
Innovation Time Bank Feedback Meeting
Monday, October 30
General Thoughts on the idea of the Innovation Time Bank
- Neat idea, but we're all suffering from "process fatigue" - will we really have enough time to even generate the ideas needed to pitch a proposal?
- A marvelous idea, it involves everybody, gives everyone a chance to take part, it should help generate some excellent ideas.
- You won't get a lot of ideas at first, but once people understand what it's about, they'll realize it's a gift and you should get some great ideas.
- I'm indifferent, it feels like another layer (of bureaucracy). If I have a good idea I like to be able to walk in and talk to the one person who can say yes or no
- Isn't this management's job? If I get a good idea, I don't want to have to go through all this (proposal and pitching process), and make up a business plan and everything - give it to management, it's their job.
Thoughts about the draft Pitching Guide
- Need to make it very clear that SMALL ideas are welcome - they don't all have to be big projects that involve two weeks off. (The room was unanimous on this point)
- Overall it's too formal, too complex - I found it intimidating
- Don't use the term "Deadline" (for Nov 24) say something like "we'd like a first look at your ideas" by that date
- Make it clear that ideas can be pitched at anytime
- Don't let it seem to be "one more thing" that I have to do
- Make it clear who will (afterwards) make a new product/process pitch to senior managers
Thoughts about the Launch
- Talk to people, in groups like this, don't do it in writing (with the guide)
- Offer some real examples of innovation - at the Spec (Ruby, TiCat programme, web video, etc) and outside in other industries (Post-it Notes, transistor radio, etc)
- Define ideas and innovation as clearly as possible
Thoughts about ITB operation
- The process can be intimidating, is too formal
- Why only have set times for proposals? (We don't) When I get the idea THAT'S when I want to work on it. You can't be creative on demand.
- I need a day (from the innovation time bank) in order to develop my idea enough to pitch it
- Why can't the innovation time bank time be automatic? Why can't staff simply be given the 2 weeks time and then book it off with their supervisor as they need it? Some may abuse it, but so what? Think of all the other who will love it and use it well...
- Find some successes early and let people know about it - that will be the best way of selling the ITB
- I don't want to have committee sitting in judgement on my idea and telling me it's bad or it's okaaay, but.... I know you said the committee will help move the idea along, but it will still feel like a judgement. If it was a bunch of my peers sitting around batting the idea around....
Thoughts about idea/innovation generation in general
- We need a way to pitch an idea that the "pitcher" doesn't want to do herself, but thinks should get done
- Need a way to capture the full range of ideas, from the one sentence idea to the two week business plan
- Maybe the ITB should be sitting at the top of a pyramid of idea generation processes. We need a range of ways (formal and informal) of capturing a range of ideas:
an informal group you could bring an idea to and have them bat it around for half an hour
some kind of idea incubator
a message board where you could post problems and invite solutions
a place you could put ideas up and invite people to use ITB time to work on them
a blog to discuss and promote the ideas
- How about a pool of people, say 20 or so, and when someone had an idea to propose you'd get together maybe five of them and sit down and talk about it. It's not a committee with regular, long term meetings, but an occasional thing. I'd do that. Not the steering committee - the name alone is too bureaucratic.
All told it was a very useful gathering - as one participant said afterwards:
"THIS is what the learning newsroom should be all about, not committees and that, but ideas coming off the floor and people listening to them."
We would have been smarter and benefited more from this if we had we done it earlier in the process. Still there is much to chew on and some clear suggestions I think we should adopt immediately. Others I think will require some more thought and investigation.