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Innovation on Steroids: The OpenIDEO Approach to a Better Society

Innovation on Steroids: The OpenIDEO Approach to a Better Society

In this blog, I'm going to introduce you to OpenIDEO, an extraordinary site that encourages innovation in creating social change through tapping into the diverse viewpoints and inspirations of a global community.

A student-run farmer's market. After-school cooking classes. Healthy kid recipe cards. These are among the winning ideas from an inspirational challenge from celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver. He didn't run this challenge on television, however, but online, through OpenIDEO, an impressive site that takes a compelling new approach to open-source such innovation for social change.

OpenIDEO targets creative thinkers from all over the world working together for the greater good. It's the brainchild of Tom Hulme, the design director at IDEO in London. IDEO is an extraordinary innovation consulting firm that takes what it calls a design approach to help private-sector and public-sector organizations identify talents, needs and desires among their employees to find new ways these organizations can change and grow. IDEO is best known for a set of amazing product designs that many of us know and love: Notable examples are Apple's first mouse, Microsoft's second mouse, the Palm V PDA and Steelcase's Leap chair.

In imagining OpenIDEO, Hulme also asked himself, "What would IDEO look like on steroids? What would it look like when you invite everybody into everything?" So social change become possible through crowd-sourcing similar to IDEO. "I set myself the challenge of how radical open-innovation collaboration would be valuable for OpenIDEO," Hulme said.

In coming up with OpenIDEO, Hulme was inspired by the work of Clayton M. Christensen, author of the "The Innovator's Dilemma," and his theory of disruptive innovation, which concerns the improvement of a product or service in unexpected ways.

OpenIDEO broadens the scope of IDEO to an international community that addresses the challenges of creating social change, addressing such areas as hunger, nutrition, the environment, education, the voting process and urban redevelopment. The process of innovation works along IDEO lines, but with a more far-ranging and diverse community.

OpenIDEO, like IDEO, emphasizes three things in innovating:

1. Process. "Innovation requires some sort of process, which I think people find counterintuitive," Hulme told me. "They imagine this sort of low and anarchic approach to it, that creativity is like anarchy. To us, it's a fairly fixed process. Process is important because it gives people something to navigate around."

2. Diversity. "If you look at the Industrial Revolution in England," Hulme said, "you'll see that part of that was fueled by people coming into the city for the first time, people with contrasting viewpoints, people from different areas having different perspectives, clashing points of view, creative tension. IDEO does that in projects."

3. Open-mindedness. "One of the things we believe in passionately in problem-solving is that you always start with a human challenge," Hulme said. "You don't want it to be constrained to solving it by a product or service or brand: You want to stay open-minded to all of those to meet the need best."

For each challenge OpenIDEO puts into motion three phases: inspiration, what it calls "concepting," and evaluation. Inspiration is that phase concerning the ideas that arise from the challenge, concepting is how to put them into action, and evaluation assesses how those ideas and concepts are working. At every step, OpenIDEO provides feedback.

For example, Hulme said, "If you submit a concept, you get 'concepting points,' and if I add some comments, you get extra concepting points because you have something of quality but I get 'collaboration points.' These become valuable assets to people -- it's interesting how much the community cares about collaboration points."

IDEO works with Fortune 500 CEOs, as well as entrepreneurs who are looking to do big, bold things in life, but OpenIDEO works with sponsors on its challenges. It focuses on five to six challenges a year. Anyone can join as a participant, without charge.

OpenIDEO has completed 15 projects to date (the Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution was among its first).

The site now has a community of close to 39,000 people from 160 countries, with the bulk in the United States. "It's a virtuous cycle," Hulme said. "Much of the U.S. community comes back to the platform because of the inspiration of people in the developing world contributing their experience on the ground. So we're very careful when we set missions for people to think through those different types of experiences and locations. If we're doing a challenge about maternal health in Africa, we'll ask people on the ground there to share their experience, but then we'll ask people in the U.S. to share what's the cutting edge," he said.

"Different community members play to their strengths and add value."

In my next blog I'm going to write talk about the OpenIDEO process, its notable challenges and successes, what it learned from them and how it built its ever-growing community.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

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