Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vital Signs: Dell's 8,970 ideas and Starbucks' Top 20 Ideas In Action

As it relates to measuring innovativeness and creating growth strategies, measures of corporate performance, or vital signs as I refer to them in this blog, should include a sense of how good the organization is at generating ideas and converting them to products that generate cash flow.

I have previously written about Idea Capital and the value of ideas.

This posting is about how Dell and Starbucks are using's Ideas application to generate new ideas for themselves to make them more innovative and competitive. describes it like this:

Who is it for?

Innovation is vital to the growth and success of any organization—large or small. The more people you can engage, the stronger your feedback loop becomes.

There are lots of ways you might leverage Ideas internally. Create a community for “ Sales Advice and Winning Strategies” to capture the knowledge of your top sales reps. You could also create a company wide community with categories for each department so that your employees can submit ideas to Marketing, Product Development, or HR - regardless of where they sit within the organization.

Customers and Partners
Ideas can be extended to your customers and partners as well. Many companies are interested in using it to capture customer feedback, You could also use it to facilitate discussion between customers, deflecting questions to experts in the community while driving down support costs.

At Dell, as of March 30, 2008, they're Ideastorm website claims to have received 8,970 ideas which have been promoted 615,865 times and have been commented upon 69,514 times by other users.

Of particular interest is the user rankings table . Dell has exposed the list of contributors in its community, complete with a total points ranking, votes cast, and articles submitted. Currently, user dhart has 49,774 points, 109 votes cast, and 7 articles submitted. This could mean that dhart has the most quality ideas to help Dell become more successful.

Over at Starbucks, they launched a similar idea site on March 19, 2008, also on the platform. MyStarbucksIdea begins with the following invitation to participate:

You know better than anyone else what you want from Starbucks. So tell us. What’s your Starbucks Idea? Revolutionary or simple—we want to hear it. Share your ideas, tell us what you think of other people’s ideas and join the discussion. We’re here, and we’re ready to make ideas happen. Let’s get started.
Starbucks also delivers a blog called Ideas in Action to share how the ideas are being evaluated and implemented. The first entry by CEO

At the core of the Starbucks Experience is human connection. Every week, nearly 50 million customers are connecting with over 170,000 partners (employees) in Starbucks stores around the world—creating an unparalleled sense of community.

This unique Starbucks community has inspired many people to suggest that Starbucks participate in the phenomenon of online communities. Well, now we’re ready to begin.

Welcome to This is your invitation to help us transform the future of Starbucks with your ideas—and build upon our history of co-creating the Starbucks Experience together.

And just like in our stores, our curious and passionate Starbucks partners are here. Engaging in daily conversation—bringing the warm, human connection of a great Starbucks experience to this online community.

So, pull up a comfortable chair and participate in My Starbucks Idea. We’re here, we’re engaged, and we’re taking it seriously.

Two days later, a Starbucks spokesman posted in the Ideas in Action blog:

We are completely thrilled at the number of ideas (thousands!). We are stunned by the level of conversation (half of the top 20 ideas have 50 or more comments each -- 50!). We are stoked by the amount of participation (tens of thousands of votes).

What's particularly interesting about both of these examples is that the companies have gone outside their own walls, beyond merely engaging their own employee base (although they should obviously do that!) to engaging their customers in creating ideas to help them be more successful. They're gutsy moves, opening themselves up to potential public criticism (e.g. "DO something about the click noise..." idea)

Starbucks' fine print regarding its ownership of your ideas is here:

The submission of your Idea to Starbucks is entirely voluntary, non-confidential, gratuitous, and non-committal. You understand that Starbucks may be working on the same or a similar Idea, that it may already know of such Idea from other sources, that it may simply wish to develop this (or a similar Idea) on its own or it may have taken/will take some other action. In return for Starbucks' review and consideration of your Idea, you acknowledge that you have read, understand and agree to the terms enumerated below, and further agree that these terms shall apply to any additional material previously or later submitted, until such time as Starbucks otherwise agrees in writing

The challenge in these implementations is that the companies do not place bounties on solutions (as in the case of Innocentive or the $100M innovation fund for Apple iPhone native applications mentioned in this blog) but view it more as a conversation, with no promise of financial reward to their external contributors. It will be interesting to see if these attempts at incorporating the "voice of the customer" into the innovation cycle will pay off for Dell and Starbucks. It's not clear whether Finance is at the table helping to place a value on these ideas but if they're not they should be. My view is that the bounty-approach will ultimately generate more interest.