EMC’s Innovation Conference is, in large part, a celebration of ideas submitted by employees–particularly those that have progressed to become finalists. EMC employees have submitted over 1400 ideas to this year’s innovation contest. This is the third year of the contest, and the process for reviewing the submissions has evolved with the tremendous growth in the number of ideas. In the first year, there were a few hundred submissions and a panel of judges narrowed the ideas to a group of finalists. In the second year, there were almost a thousand submissions and a selection committee rated the ideas to help reach a group of finalists which could be reviewed by the panel of judges.
In the spirit of building on the innovation network, the entire EMC community has the opportunity to review and vote on all of the ideas that are in the system. We had a long discussion on the EMC internal wiki site about how to make sure that the community vote does not become a popularity contest. One of the outcomes of the discussion was that a selection committee chosen from the senior technical staff (see Polly Pearson’s post on the EMC Distinguished Engineer and Fellow program) will also review the submissions. I’ve had the honor of being part of the committee (I’ve been nominated to help by a distinguished engineer) last year and this year. Ideas from both the community and the committee will be designated as finalists. The panel of judges will then choose the winners.
But which is a better indicator that an idea is truly innovative: the finalists that get the most community votes, or those that the “experts” pick? On the right is a 2×2 grid; one axis is popularity and the other is technical value. The community defines popularity, and the selection committee should be able to determine technical value. It should be obvious that anything that is neither popular nor of technical value (quadrant 1) does not need to be considered further. Out of the remaining choices, would the overlap between the two groups (quadrant 4) be the best, since they are both popular and of technical value? Should something that the community chose, but not the selection committee (quadrant 3) be eliminated for being popular, but not necessarily of high technical value? Do we trust the selection committee to spot the innovation that is not high in popularity (quadrant 2)? While the contest is not exactly a battle of wits to the death, it is inconceivable that we can simply choose one of the quadrants.
There is a large cross-section of ideas across not only EMC’s breadth of products and services, but also process enhancements. Some ideas are incremental improvements, and some are adjacent or outside EMC’s current marketplace. In general, we look to provide a climate where there is encouragement for all ideas. While only a select few will win prizes, the contest and the conference help to make innovation a popular idea.
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Another great reference for this discussion is Hutch Carpenter’s “Tapping Communities to Accelerate Innovation“