Kate O’Keefe on Building an Innovation Bootcamp with Impact

January 3, 2019

Idea challenges are exciting when they happen. But the aftermath can be underwhelming: a slough of ideas that ultimately fizzle out. Many innovation teams are still in search of an innovation event, or series, that can deliver a lasting impact.

Kate O’Keeffe, Founder of Cisco’s Hyper Innovation Living Lab, has designed one solution: a 48-hour innovation bootcamp that has led to two startups, seven patent applications, and over 20 internal growth initiatives so far. The program, known internally as CHILL, often involves a mix of Cisco employees and outside partners.

“We call that process massive inclusion,” O’Keeffe explained. “… The rule is that anyone who could be a blocker to continuing to investigate or explore this innovation has to physically be there. You have to include folks in order for them to feel really bought in.”

During a recent conference call with InnoLead members, O’Keeffe discussed how CHILL was developed, the importance of massive inclusion, and advice on how to improve idea challenges.

“[You want] on-the-spot innovation investors to be really confident that everybody’s voice that would be needed to sign off on an innovation, that they’re there in the room. … [T]hat they’re smiling [and] they’re clapping,” O’Keeffe says. 

However, Cisco’s collaborators do not get to participate for free. “To innovate with [Cisco] … through my work, it needs to be peer-to-peer, which means we both have to have dollars on the table,” O’Keeffe said. “It’s not a truly egalitarian, shoulder-to-shoulder situation unless we’re both prepared to invest.”

While Cisco spends more money to organize the bootcamp, parters are asked to invest $200,000 before the CHILL lab begins. O’Keeffe said that this payment buys the company equal rights to intellectual property, projects, prototypes, and other outputs created by CHILL.

“They’re aware that our own CEO is likely to be there, and so [they] know Cisco will come, and [they] know enough executives are willing to put aside two full days to be on a team,” O’Keeffe said. “The minute people start hearing that you have SVPs, and you’ve got EVPs, and you got your CEO coming, there’s a beautiful kind of peer aspect to that.”

Throughout the conversation, O’Keeffe shared advice on how innovators can run challenges that lead to greater impact. She recommended including end-user input earlier in the process.

“There are … ways to create a hybrid model, where you’re collecting ideas through an innovation challenge … and finding a way to up the emphasis on prototyping and end-user exposure,” O’Keeffe said. An alternative, she continued, is prototyping ideas as part of a challenge, and then getting live end-user reaction as part of the judging process.