Christian Finn (Microsoft) talks about the ideation process at Microsoft. They have “ThinkWeek” to plan the future.
[These are my notes from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2011 in Boston. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]
- ThinkWeek. This is something Bill Gates started — it was a personal retreat during which he read through a stack of papers written by Microsoft employees. He passed notable papers on to other decision makers within the company. Originally, you had to be invited to write a paper for ThinkWeek. Ultimately, it was a way to get your ideas in front of Bill Gates and obtain his comments (and, if possible, his support).
- ThinkWeek Today.Now ThinkWeek participation has been opened up to the company. Microsoft has a call for papers, which can be related to any subject of interest to the company (including admin and HR). The papers are prepared with senior review by subject matter experts who can provide thesis supervisor level of review and support. The focus is on finding ideas that are original and supported by rigorous thinking and writing. The papers are posted and available for anyone to read. They are then rated.
- Reach and Value. Last year, there were over 200 papers by over 400 authors from 13 countries. About 50% of the total Microsoft employee base will read at least one paper. Plus active communities spring up around the papers to provide comments on the ideas within the papers. What’s the value for the company? First, it massively increases the number of ideas generated. Plus because of the wide review and comment, the ideas are refined to a higher quality level. For authors, the process provides a valuable boost to their professional reputation and network. The company can also mine the ideas across the papers to identify meta trends. The process creates a rich treasure trove of ideas and thinkers who can be tapped later. Finally, the business value — the winning ideas have a measurable impact on the business. The two examples he gave were XBOX 360 Kinect and the Microsoft employee buses (both of which started with ThinkWeek papers).