Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

A few years back, I helped the Quill Corporation (a division of Staples) launch their innovation efforts. To introduce innovation to the employees, we kicked things off with a competition – “The Quillionaire” – based on the reality TV show, “The Apprentice.” You can read about the work we did then in an article published in the European Business Forum (pdf).

Since then, Quill has done a great job of keeping innovation alive.

“Across the organization, associates have contributed to Quill’s growth by providing innovative ideas and solutions for challenges and opportunities,” said Larry Morse, President of Quill Corporation. “We launched a program a few years ago to facilitate our ability to become a company of ideas. It is this wellspring of ideas coming from all over the company that is helping fuel our growth and will assist us in remaining competitive into the future,” he added.Recently, they re-introduced the reality TV show concept by launching their “The BIGGEST Winner!” contest. Two hundred and twenty individuals, including teams of associates, submitted 139 ideas, judged by a panel of Quill executives. They reviewed employee ideas in a two-stage process, beginning with an essay and expanding into a detailed executive summary along with visual presentations. Ideas were judged on their value proposition, competitive advantage, feasibility and risk, market potential/resources and uniqueness/originality of concept. Entries were received throughout every division of Quill across North America.

“As a result of this competition,” said Morse, “one of our junior staff members modeled out a program that would potentially create a $9 million revenue stream for Quill. To ensure the idea’s success, we have promoted her. A vice president will mentor her as she works to make sure the idea takes hold throughout the company. Having worked on creating an innovative environment over the past few years, this is the kind of success and excitement we hope to continue to foster well into the future.”

While the contest represents a creative way to encourage innovation, it is only one part of a much larger program for innovation that drives associates at every level of the company to think about ways to generate growth. Based on the motto: “Sometimes the simplest ideas are ones that make the difference,” ideas are incubated through diverse methods. In addition to hosting an Intranet site that allows associates throughout every North American division of Quill to share ideas, Quill has also accumulated a resource library to help spur creative thinking and brainstorming and holds “Innovation Lunch and Learn” sessions where associates gather to discuss relevant concepts that can launch creativity.

“Since the ultimate goal of the innovation program is to make innovation an organic part of Quill’s approach to business, Quill recognized that such a program can only be ingrained within the company when it is supported from the top down, creating a culture of innovation,” said Kyle Anderson, vice president and chief marketing officer. “In fact, every vice president throughout the company is required to identify three challenges that exist within their areas that are important to the business. The VPs then must generate innovative ideas to address these opportunities. Our challenge now is to ensure innovation becomes imbedded in our culture and becomes part of what we do on a daily basis.”

What creative approaches – such as internal reality TV shows – can YOU use to instill a mindset of innovation at every level of your organization?

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