Articles & Case Studies by Topic

Ideation and Prototyping

Topic Overview: Ideation & Prototyping

If forced to confront the reality of where ideas come from and how they’re prototyped, most companies would admit that at least two of these things are true:

  1. Too few people in the organization are invited to come up with ideas.
  2. The standards for evaluating ideas are inconsistent, or overly political.
  3. It takes too long, or costs to much, to build a prototype that can be tested with customers.

Our coverage of ideation and prototyping focuses on ways that companies are inviting a wider population of employees to develop ideas, sifting those ideas for the best ones, and getting to a prototype or “minimum viable product” quickly. Two related topic areas on Innovation Leader are Employee Engagement and Lean Startup & Pilots.

Editor's Picks: Recommended articles on ideation and prototyping
Innovation Leader Live

Our live conference calls that have focused on ideation and prototyping:

Downloadable resources shared by our members

Relevant documents from our Resource Center, shared by members:

  • Adobe: Innovation Scorecard
    Scorecard for ideas proposed as part of Adobe's internal Kickbox Innovation Workshops. Considers factors like customer value, company fit, and risk level. Good, clear definitions of things like "addressable market size" and "fit with brand."
  • Liberty Mutual: Innovation Ideation Session
    A guide to the company's 90-minute brainstorm session, including rules and exercises.
  • MTD: Innovation Process and Template
    The company's "Advanced Concept Ideation Template," outlining its brainstorming process and idea development.
  • Reliant: Idea Dash
    A document outlining the company's idea challenge, called Idea Dash, including a 10-week timeline, key activities, and awards.
  • Seyfarth Shaw: Idea Submission Form
    A four-page form for employees to submit ideas to the law firm’s innovation committee.
  • Tata Communications: Innovation Engine
    Overview of the challenges facing the $3 billion telecom firm, and the "Shape the Future" program that Tata runs to solicit and cultivate employee ideas.
  • United Airlines: Intrapreneur Friendly
    Information on how United has created an "intrapreneur-friendly" environment; the scorecard it uses to evaluate ideas; and how the innovation program is structured.
  • Viacom18: Innovation Portal
    A document outlining how the Indian media company implemented an idea collection system, including vendor selection, promotion to employees, outcomes, and future challenges.
All Innovation Leader articles & case studies on ideation and prototyping:

‘More Speed, More Local, More Custom’: How Reebok is Thinking Outside the Mold

When it came to designing and manufacturing athletic shoes, Bill McInnis, VP at Reebok Future, says the shoe company wanted to get “ a lot more speed, a lot more local, and a lot more custom.” This was the inspiration for initiatives like the “Liquid Factory” and “Cotton + Corn,” two new processes the team has come up with for manufacturing shoes. More from McInnis inside about these initiatives and Reebok Future…

After the ‘Shark Tank’ event: How BNY Mellon is Broadening Innovation Impact

Adetola Abiade, Director of Global Innovation for the Americas at BNY Mellon, explains the nuts-and-bolts of how the oldest bank in the U.S. runs its internal “Shark Tank” event, as well as how her team is using coaching, incentives, podcasts, and metrics to extend the event’s impact.

How GE Fuse is Prototyping New Solutions, with Help from an Online Community

“The concept [of Fuse] is around sourcing different problems from GE customers and then working with an online community to solve those problems,” says Amelia Gandara, the Community Leader for GE Fuse. Here’s how they do it…

What Google, Genentech, and Facebook have in common

We talk to MIT instructor Luis Perez-Breva, author of the new book “Innovating: A Doer’s Manifesto,” about hunches, testing ideas, collecting feedback, and getting ready to scale. “I don’t like the buzzword ‘experimentation,’” Perez-Breva says. “The way it has been used the last 10 years, it leads people to think that you’re doing a random experiment here and there to try things out.”

How NRG Energy’s portable power kiosks made it from concept to the Super Bowl

NRG Go’s automated kiosks rent out fully-charged battery packs at places like nightclubs, concert venues, and shopping malls so that people can recharge their phones and tablets — without hunting for an outlet and plopping down next to it for an hour or so. Senior Manager Stacey Butler discusses how the kiosks went from concept to launch in less than 18 months.

Advice from American Greetings VP: How creatives and the business side can get along

Many people think of American Greetings as a purveyor of greeting cards and party goods, but as Carol Miller describes it, the privately-held company is in the “meaningful connections” business, helping people make connections with family and friends. On a recent IL Live conference call, she shared her advice about building great teams that include both creatives and business-side employees.

How P&G has evolved its Clay Street innovation studio to have broader impact

Over the past decade, many of the ideas that had seemed novel when Procter & Gamble’s Clay Street innovation studio first opened — like its giant Marimekko bean bags, circle conversations, and cell phone bans — have become mainstream and “really commonplace in the rest of P & G,” explains Karen Hershenson. “We want to make sure … that people don’t feel they have to be at Clay Street to be innovative, that they can be innovative anywhere. So that’s been our goal as we evolve.” Photos and diagram inside…

How the Capital One Garage is incubating new products and ‘re-imagining the relationship with money’

“We incubate and accelerate great products,” says Gagan Kanjlia, co-founder of Capital One Garage, the incubator at the $24 billion financial services giant. “But also we’re driving this broader business transformation, which is essential for larger companies like Capital One.”

“Process kills innovation”: Merck exec’s advice on fostering innovation in a global business

When it comes to innovating across the globe and in emerging markets, Merck’s head of commercial innovation is adamant about streamlining processes and paperwork. “If you need ten steps and three forms to fill in for every idea you have, nobody is going to do it,” says Wim Vandenhouweele. Inside, his advice for building a global innovation capability in a highly-regulated industry…

Photos: How Lululemon Athletica is bringing designers closer to customers

At a new “lab” store in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood, customers come in to peruse merchandise in the front of the store, and when they head to the fitting rooms to try it on, or to a counter to pay for it, they’re just a few steps away from the designers who work in the back half of the space. Photos inside…

‘Learn fast’: At Wells Fargo, using prototypes to go beyond just talking about products

“Rapid prototyping makes something physical and tangible, so everyone can align their understanding of what it is, versus just talking about it,” says Wells Fargo SVP Robin Beers. Inside, she shares how the company uses the approach, along with a slide highlighting some guiding principles…

Treating projects like startups and keeping senior leaders in the loop at Johnson Controls

New projects at the company pass through three stage-gates: pursuit, realization, and commercialization. Johnson Controls’ Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President for Global Innovation explain how projects are funded, and how they work with senior leadership to make decisions about their fate.

Lessons from Alex Goryachev on running Cisco’s first company-wide idea challenge

On a recent Innovation Leader Live call, Cisco’s Alex Goryachev discussed the company’s recent Innovate Everywhere Challenge, including how he got thousands of employees to participate, how they recruited external judges, and why he changed his mind about letting the teams involved interact directly with customers. Includes 30 minutes of audio…

How the Catalyst Fund for new ideas works at Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters has come to the realization that building proof-of-concepts and prototypes can require significant funding. The $13 billion media and information company created an internal seed fund called the Catalyst Fund in January 2014, overseen by CEO Jim Smith and Katherine Manuel, the Senior Vice President for Innovation. It provides up to $350,000 in funding to build and test prototypes. Here’s how it works…

Why India’s Tata Communications sends employees to Silicon Valley for ‘immersion week’

“We want to show people that there are different ways of growing a business, defining customer problems, and becoming more customer-centric,” says Alex Pelletier, Head of Innovation at $3 billion Tata Communications, part of India’s Tata Group. “In the old telco world, that is historically not so true.” Pelletier explains how his company’s Shape the Future program works, and shares slides…

How MasterCard adapted the Adobe Kickbox innovation kit to its culture

Participating individuals and teams receive an Orange Box containing a $1,000 pre-paid card and tools to help them explore an idea and develop a pitch in 60 days. If the pitch is approved, the team receives a Red Box, which contains $25,000 and 90 days to develop their project further. We talk to Senior VP John Sheldon about how the program works.

Examples: How companies are using Indiegogo to assess consumer demand

Indiegogo SVP Jerry Needel explains how companies like GE and Hasbro have been using crowdfunding as a way to gauge consumer demand for new products — or engage collaborators in new ways. Needel also shares his advice. “We always counsel people to be authentic: who they are, what they’re trying to accomplish, and where they’re coming from,” he says.

Innovation Labs Report: What’s Inside

What exactly is an innovation lab? Ask ten companies, and you’ll get ten different answers. For our 53-page report on innovation labs, we talked to more than 20 executives at companies like Walmart, Home Depot, IKEA, Fidelity Investments, Royal Dutch Shell, MasterCard, Target, and others.

Achieving impact in a large organization: Advice from your peers

We recently brought together a group of twenty senior innovation, product, and strategy executives in Manhattan, in collaboration with our partner Mindjet. The goal: to discuss how to create sustainable innovation programs that deliver big results. Here are twenty pieces of advice from the group…

Ten lessons from ExxonMobil on spurring operationally-focused innovation

The innovation team at ExxonMobil provides a first-ever look at their Grassroots Innovation Forum, focused on sourcing and testing operational innovations, including missteps they encountered and lessons your company might want to consider. Includes internal screenshots and presentation.

‘Vapor to paper to brick’: Universal Orlando exec on deploying tech to theme parks

Talking about ideas is great — but it’s just vapor. Universal Orlando exec Al Callier explains how his team takes ideas from “vapor to paper to brick,” and what new technology they’re exploring now.

How the accelerator program at Daimler Trucks trains intrapreneurs

A three-month long accelerator program at Daimler Trucks North America gets employee teams talking to customers, cultivating ideas, and then pitching the board. Lori Heino-Royer, director of the company’s Business Innovation and Program Management Office, talks about the objectives and one of the projects that resulted. Includes slides…

How IKEA is exploring the future of furniture, home design, and meatballs

To test ideas and prototype designs, the world’s biggest furniture company built a model apartment in southern Sweden. It invites local families to move into the apartment and document their experiences with the experimental furnishings. Includes slides…

How customer interactions guide innovation at toolmaker Snap-on

Chief Innovation Officer Bennett Brenton explains how the company gathers input from its franchisees and end-users to shape new products. Includes slides and audio…

How Weight Watchers is innovating in a relationship-based business

Global Vice President of Innovation Dondeena Bradley talks about driving multiple new initiatives aimed at transforming Weight Watchers into a holistic, community-driven company.

General Mills VP on getting to the first dollar fast, failure, key metrics

Few companies have as strong a track record when it comes to open innovation and pilot testing as General Mills. In a recent Innovation Leader Live call, Jim Kirkwood, Chief Science and Technology Development Officer, explained how the company “gets to the first dollar fast” with pilot tests. Includes 30 minutes of audio. (Not a subscriber? Get an excerpt here »)

How GE is using crowdfunding site to test demand for new products

The story of the Opal ice maker is an early case study of how a large organization leveraged crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to get a new concept in front of consumers fast.

Visa explores future of buying without plastic at innovation center

When most people talk about connected products or the “Internet of Things,” they mean a new generation of devices that can communicate with one another wirelessly. But what if devices could buy stuff, rather than just conveying status or the need for maintenance? Here’s what Visa is experimenting with …

How Taco Bell accelerated progress on digital and mobile initiatives

When Taco Bell tried to deliver new digital and in-store technologies for its customers and team members, the quick-service restaurant chain felt like it wasn’t able to move fast enough. A recently-formed 20-person team focused on Digital Innovation and On Demand is changing that. We talk to leader Lawrence Kim.

How appliance-maker Jarden is testing new business models

Our October Innovation Leader Live call guest was Asoka Veeravagu, VP of Business Development for Transformational Innovation at Jarden Consumer Solutions. The Boca Raton, Fla. company owns brands like Mr. Coffee, Aerobed, and Sunbeam.

Q&A: Elements of lean innovation

We’re about to embark on a “lean innovation” journey at our company, and I was wondering if you’d seen any studies or best practices that large corporations should consider?

How $36 billion grocer Ahold is experimenting with smaller stores

A new small-format grocery store from $36 billion Dutch grocery giant Ahold that is integrated into a neighborhood streetscape may be the key to attracting a young, discerning urban shopper who frequents farmer’s markets or Whole Foods. We talk to one of the developers of the company’s new bfresh concept.

New book on design sprints: Exclusive excerpt, with exercises

“Design Sprints” wants to teach you how to clarify the problem at hand; identify the needs of potential users; distill your ideas into one or two solutions that you can test; and prototype your solutions and bring them to life. Download a 95-page PDF excerpt from it.

Q&A: A guidebook to successful hackathons

“I see you’ve written a lot about hackathons, and have some great case studies from companies on how they run theirs. But I wonder if you have a kind of ‘guidebook’ or ‘top 10’ list of things to do to (a) get started; and (b) succeed.”

How Jamba Juice is becoming more than just a smoothie store

In recent years, Brian Lee, vice president of product innovation at Jamba Juice, has engineered a number of new product launches, expanding Jamba’s reach in beverages with fresh-squeezed juices and making a leap into the healthy food space with energy bowls. Lee lays out the steps Jamba goes through in developing a new food or drink idea.

How Royal Bank of Canada moved fast to deploy mobile payments

Staying ahead of a technological shift in your industry can be tough when you’re not a tech leader like Google or Apple. Should you marshal the internal resources necessary to do cutting-edge development on your own, or simply wait for one of the tech giants to make their move, join them as a partner — and risk letting them come between you and your customers? Here’s how Linda Mantia tackled that question…

Video: How corporations are supporting the ‘maker movement’

Google, Chevron, Saint-Gobain, and SolidWorks talk about what they’re trying to achieve by setting up makerspaces — a/k/a Fab Labs — for employee or community use, or a mix of the two. Ninety minutes of video from a recent conference at MIT.

Why Google does ‘Beer & Demos’ every Friday

Craig Nevill-Manning, Director of Engineering at Google’s Manhattan office, talks about why the company encourages engineers to show off raw prototypes every week. “The most important thing is that your demo exists,” Nevill-Manning says. “That’s the biggest achievement.”

Q&A: Expanding crowdsourcing without getting overwhelmed

We currently hold an annual crowdsourcing event for the technical services division of our company. This year, we want to expand the event outside of tech services, but I’m not sure how people could watch even more ideas to vote on them.  How have others addressed this challenge?

How NTT Data has diversified innovation with global workshops

In 2014, Tokyo-based NTT Data held 11 workshops in cities like Phoenix, Toronto, Barcelona, and Beijing. This year, the IT services giant is planning another dozen, with a specific focus on disruptive digital innovations, according to Naureen Meraj, senior global director of digital engagement and social gamification for the company. She shares the inclusive approach they developed, along with several slides.

NBCUniversal shares its hit hackathon formula

On the heels of recent hackathons in New York, Orlando, and London, NBCUniversal’s chief technology officer and chief information officer share their advice on topics like how to link hackathons with business unit objectives.

How MTD Products shepherded an impossible product to market

When he took over a new role as Vice President of Business Development in 2012, Roy Keating understood that he was being handed a big mission at Ohio-based MTD Products: to help the privately-held manufacturer accelerate its growth coming out of the recession. “We wanted to do more breakthrough technology, and launch things that were unique to the market — not keep playing a zero-sum, dog-eat-dog game with the competition,” Keating says.

Q&A: Innovation software

We’ve got what I’d call a first-generation legacy PLM [Product Lifecycle Management] system that we’re not really using or getting value from.

MasterCard exec talks Whirlpool collaboration, startup accelerator

Group Head of Innovation Management John Sheldon shares the strategic objectives behind MasterCard’s Start Path accelerator program, and explains how his MasterCard Labs group collaborated with Whirlpool to rethink laundry.

United exec shares idea scoring system, innovation challenges

Jason Flores of United Airlines shares his RAMP scoring system for employee ideas, and talks about some of the challenges of leveraging technology to make significant changes inside an established organization.

Hershey’s exec on metrics, learning, and focusing innovation

Deborah Arcoleo, Director of the Advanced Innovation Center of Excellence, talks about how Hershey’s thinks about innovating beyond its product portfolio; how they measure innovation impact; training and capability development; and ensuring continued management buy-in for the innovation team. Includes audio and slides…

Webcast replay: Fidelity VP on tools for innovation teams

“If you just talk a lot about innovation and make a lot of noise, it can backfire,” says Rick Smyers, VP of the Center for Accelerated Innovation at Fidelity Investments. “People can hear a lot about it and think, ‘It’s just another management fad. It’ll go away.'” Smyers explains in this webcast how you can put the right strategy, tools, and people in place to make a real impact — and details some of his team’s successful projects.

Kelly Services exec on impact payments and disruptive ideas

Kelly Chief Innovation Officer Rolf Kleiner talks about his CEO’s expectations; developing a process for collecting incremental and disruptive ideas; creating an incentive system for idea submitters; and one high-potential idea Kelly Services is preparing to roll out. Includes 30 minutes of audio from our Innovation Leader Live call…

Thomson Reuters innovation VP on limits of idea management

The head of the Data Innovation Lab at media giant Thomson Reuters argues that if you want to generate significant revenues from innovation, just installing idea management software won’t get you there. Here’s what she’s doing instead…

How EMC reignited its innovation program

Troubling question: What happens to all those employee ideas we collect? EMC executive Calvin Smith realized that the innovation team needed to enhance its capability to craft business plans and prototypes — and eventually hand market-tested products and services back to the business units.

Advice: Sorting ideas to focus on the winners

It’s a big question, and one that’s crucial to the success of innovation teams: What are the best approaches to sorting and prioritizing ideas so that you can focus resources on those with the highest potential? We’ve got input from executives at Kraft Foods, Allstate, Intuit, Brown Brothers Harriman, and more — and you’re invited to add your perspective…

Why Adobe gives employees a red box with $1,000 inside

Nearly 1,000 employees of Adobe Systems have participated in the Silicon Valley software company’s Kickbox Innovation Workshop, where they learn how to develop ideas and collect customer feedback. Participants get $1,000 to spend, no questions asked. Adobe exec Mark Randall explains how it works, and shares the program’s scorecard.

Marriott Exec: How we Prototype, Crowdsource, Measure

Marriott executive Brian King talks to Innovation Leader members about rapid prototyping, collecting ideas from employees and customers, and why naivete is crucial to innovation. Includes highlights and audio from our latest Innovation Leader Live call…

Why GE created the new FirstBuild maker community

GE design executive Lou Lenzi explains how the company’s new co-creation initiative, launched this summer, is allowing GE to “take little bets and do things fast.” Includes video and slides from a recent presentation.

Is this the fate of every employee idea-sourcing initiative?

You launch an innovation initiative and cast a wide net for employee ideas. What happens next? This slide from Thomson Reuters VP Mona Vernon predicts it with startling accuracy.

How Sargento created a product with $50M in first year revenue

Rod Hogan, VP of New Platform Development at privately-held Sargento Foods, explains how a dialogue with consumers helped the company create a product that produced $50 million in revenue in its first year on store shelves, and recently won a Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award.

Lessons from AGCO: Successful university collaborations

Ravi Godbole, a research and engineering executive at the $10.8 billion agricultural equipment manufacturer, explains how strong university relationships fit into AGCO’s organic growth strategy — and discusses the pitfalls you should avoid.

How Heathrow Airport clears emerging technologies for take-off

How do busy organizations build innovation capacity? London’s Heathrow Airport handles 72 million passengers a year, with a plane landing or taking off every 45 seconds. Amidst the need for operational efficiency, safety, and security, Head of IT Strategy and Innovation Richard Harding explains what the innovation team has achieved.

How DuPont’s innovation centers bring it closer to customers

Karen Weining, Global Innovation Excellence Leader at DuPont, explains how the pioneering materials company has been collaborating with customers at its network of 12 innovation centers around the world.

Why Intuit says ‘you never know’ about ideas — until you test ’em

At plenty of companies, persuasive PowerPoints and buy-in from top executives are required to move ideas forward. Intuit executive Bennett Blank explains how his company is creating an infrastructure that encourages teams of employees to test ideas in the market, and gather data, to help determine which ideas hold real promise. Includes a graphic explaining how “Innovation via Rapid Experiments” works at Intuit…

How Roche pursues patient-centric innovation; inside the ‘Imaginarium’

Global Head of Innovation Management Sheila Babnis offers an inside look at how the Swiss pharma giant’s innovation function was created and how it operates today, including tight partnerships with business units. “We find that doing innovation within the business, it sticks much better than if it’s done to the business,” Babnis says. Includes a downloadable PDF overview of Roche’s “Imaginarium” approach to design thinking and prototyping…

Why Lockheed Martin bet big on large-scale 3D printing; with video

Execs at $45 billion Lockheed Martin are demonstrating that 3D printing isn’t just for prototypes — they’re already producing parts for real-world projects like NASA’s Juno spacecraft, now on its way to Jupiter. Lockheed’s Steve Betza lays out the benefits…and shares a video.

How Beech-Nut innovated within a ‘category in decline’; rigor + speed

In 2012, Beech-Nut acknowledged that it had a problem. Moms were no longer relying on baby food from the supermarket, and they regarded homemade food as the gold standard. “We realized we needed to completely innovate across the total product offering,” says Beech-Nut exec Andy Dahlen. Here’s how they did it…

Innovation matures at Transamerica from skunkworks to true partner

Chief Innovation Officer Aaron Proietti explains how his group’s mission has evolved, shifting from an isolated “skunkworks” responsible for developing its own projects to more of a consultancy to the business units. Here’s why that happened…

Google execs explain how the company spurs innovation, kills projects

From last week’s Innovation Leader Field Study in Boston: Google executives Don Dodge and Leonidas Kontothannasis offer an inside look at how the company hires, why reasonable goals are not good enough, and how internal projects gain or lose momentum. Includes a half-hour of audio…

Inside Moen’s prototype-driven product development strategy

Moen’s SVP of Global Strategic Development describes the customer-focused innovation process behind a new line of motion-sensitive faucets. “With our prototypes,” says Mike Pickett, “if we’re not activating emotional excitement about the product, we’re probably not on the right track, and we’ll keep working.”

How Constant Contact blends lean startup & design thinking

Andy Miller, Chief Innovation Architect at the digital marketing company, shares slides and a video that offer a look at Constant Contact’s approach to developing new offerings.

How Ingersoll Rand hires, trains, tests and prioritizes innovation

Listen to our recent “Innovation Leader Live” call with Michael Wynblatt, VP of Innovation & Emerging Technology at Ingersoll Rand, the $12.3 billion industrial giant. In the audio, Michael discuses the complexities of his role; how he creates and tests innovation hypotheses; training and capability-building; metrics; priorities; hiring and more.

How $2.3B Autodesk “looks to the edge” for emerging trends

Autodesk VP of Corporate Strategy Jon Pittman talks about 3D printing, synthetic biology, programmable matter, and other trends he’s tracking. Pittman also discusses the software giant’s new IdEx program that lets selected employees spend three months developing new ideas that aren’t connected to their regular roles.

Fidelity VP: Pick the right innovation tools for your trip

Rick Smyers, who runs the Center for Accelerated Innovation at Fidelity Investments, likens running a successful innovation program to planning a mountaineering expedition: you don’t want to leave base camp without a plan of attack, the right people, and the proper equipment. Details, slides, and video inside…

Exclusive excerpt: Why you should kill off ‘zombie projects’

Are your innovation initiatives plodding along? Do they lack resources? Innosight managing partner Scott Anthony says the problem could be too many “zombie projects” — and an organizational inability to kill them. Learn more in this Innovation Leader exclusive.

GE’s chief marketing officer talks innovation, partnerships

Innovation Leader had ringside seats at a Harvard Business School event, where GE’s marketing chief Beth Comstock discussed the company’s views on crowdsourcing, the Internet of things, the lean startup movement, and more. Quick bullets from her presentation and the complete audio are inside.

Lessons from Marriott on rapid prototyping and co-creation

We recently sat down with the Global Brand Officer of Marriott International to discuss how innovation works at the $12.8 billion hospitality company. Inside, Brian King takes you into “The Underground,” Marriott’s innovation lab, to see how rapid-prototyping works there, and offers lessons for replicating the process.

What we learned running our hospital’s first hackathon

Innovation exec Lesley Solomon explains how Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston set up its first hackathon, what the event achieved for the organization, and what they will do differently next time around.

General Mills shares learnings, pitfalls on open innovation

Mike Helser, head of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network, shares what the $17.8 billion consumer packaged goods company has learned from its open innovation experiences. We’ve got slides, steps for porting his model, and details on his “X-Squad.”

Why News Corp. is trying ‘under the radar’ innovation

After launching a high-profile iPad newspaper that didn’t succeed, the Manhattan-based publishing company is taking a quieter approach to incubating new products. News Corp. senior vice president of product Nick Bell explains.

What you can learn from GE on connecting with entrepreneurs

GE hunts for breakthrough ideas by engaging with startups and academic researchers in new ways. Says exec Venkat Venkatakrishnan, “Our challenge has become, how can I find a technology that I will be the first to apply, not, what do I invent tomorrow?” Here’s a look at how Vankatakrishnan’s group held a first-of-its-kind event last fall.

Sweet! Four steps Hershey’s uses to reduce innovation risks

Director of Adjacency Innovation Deborah Arcoleo lays out the four steps she uses to de-risk innovation initiatives, from assembling the best team possible to ensuring that key stakeholders at the company have contributed to the key measures of success.

Gap Inc.: Moving Ideas from ‘Fuzzy’ to ‘Fruition’

Dean of Global Innovation Michael Perman explains how Gap Inc. has trained about 250 employees to be innovators, through a program called Mindspark. But Perman also asserts that not everyone in large organizations is cut out to innovate: “Not everyone is built that way, anymore than everyone should be an accountant.” Perman also outlines Gap’s current innovation priorities. Includes audio.

Will your project live or die? Predicting corporate infanticide

In business, internal “corporate infanticide” happens all the time. Corporate innovations are encouraged and funded one year, only to be stymied and shut down by their parent companies a few years later. Thomas Thurston of Growth Science, a business model simulation firm, explains the role that corporate culture plays in predicting whether internal innovations and acquisitions will survive.

Project flow: 3 key trends in distributed work

There’s an undeniable shift happening, toward judicious and strategic use of distributed talent — whether full-timers who don’t happen to live where your company has an office, or freelancers who prefer not to become anyone’s employee. We explore the shift with oDesk CEO Gary Swart, left, and Scott Berkun, author of the new book “My Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work.”

Learning to love Innovation Day at UnitedHealth Group

Ryan Armbruster, VP of Innovation Competency at UnitedHealth Group, shares an outline of how the company structures its annual Innovation Day event — and discusses his initial skepticism about it. “To me, innovation is about deep skills and competencies, not something you just celebrate on a single day,” Armbruster says.

Why Coke is hiring founders & holding failure conferences

VP of innovation and entrepreneurship David Butler shares the experiments Coke is trying internally and externally as a way to “regenerate the culture” of the 150,000 employee company, including hackathons to improve its soda dispensers and conferences focused on learning from failure. Above, two employees present an idea at Coke’s first employee Startup Weekend, held in June 2013.

Community hackathon how-to: 5 keys to success, 5 examples

Companies like Campbell’s Soup, Coca-Cola, and Hasbro have started to organize hackathons as a way to get outsiders building prototypes of new products and services — some of which may help further the company’s strategy, or get a new kind of ecosystem going. Here’s advice on how to do it right, and some of the controversy that can arise.

Simplicity: Put it on the menu

Are you confusing customers with a constellation of choices, add-ons, and upgrades? The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, a southern California wildlife attraction, decided to streamline the options it presents to visitors. You’ll be surprised by the impact it had on their business — and by what inspired the park’s design approach.

How the Game Show Network runs employee hackathons

The cable network’s digital game development studio spells out the goals, process, guidelines, and awards for its quarterly employee hackathon. Includes a downloadable PDF used to organize the most recent one, in July.

Intel’s Brandon Barnett: Mapping the future

The chipmaker’s Director of Business Innovation explains how he uses experiments, hackathons, and networks of experts to help Intel map out areas of future potential — and talks about what it takes to get the attention of business unit heads.

Naomi Fried: My 3 highest-impact programs

Three years into the job, Naomi Fried, the Chief Innovation Officer at one of the world’s top pediatric medical centers, reflects on the three initiatives that have moved the needle most. Fried also offers a look at her annual innovation progress report.

What Philips wants from open innovation and crowdsourcing

Philips North America chairman Greg Sebasky, left, calls it “one of the first attempts by a large company to do open innovation.” The company is dangling $100,000 in prize money, plus mentorship from Philips execs, for new product ideas in healthcare. But before the competition launched, Sebasky had to deal his attorneys.

How VMware funds innovation like a venture capitalist

At the cloud and virtualization giant, more than 60 ideas have been presented over the last year-and-a-half, in areas like R&D, customer service, and field sales. A handful have gotten seed funding so far, and one recently moved on to second-stage funding. Employees who participate get a stake in their venture — and also must accept some risk.