When you are running a Collaborative Innovation program in your organization – whether it’s online or offline – there will be criticism. Maybe you already have experienced that yourself? You will encounter blockers continuously questioning the program, and you will get destructive feedback. Some of this feedback might even cause you to doubt your Collaborative Innovation program. So how will you deal with that feedback? Will you concur with the critics or will you fight for your innovators?

Don’t fool yourself. It’s not a battle between you and the critics, it’s a battle between your inner thoughts and what you believe is the next best thing to do. Actually, this potential paradox in our minds is a great example of what the story of two wolves tries to learn us. Here it goes:

An old Cherokee chief teaching his grandson about life…

“A fight is going on inside me.” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. The other is good. The same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person too.”

The grandson then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied “The one you feed.”

Whenever you are faced with criticism, it is of paramount importance that you keep feeding the right wolf in order to succeed. Sure, it’s easier to give in to it than to fight for the purpose. Nobody said running a Collaborative Innovation program would be easy, but at least let us help you by giving you some tips to help you feed your inner light wolf.

Feeding the right wolf: Your inner battle for collaborative innovation

Let’s have a look at 5 of the most appalling criticisms received by innovation teams running a Collaborative Innovation program, and two common thoughts that can cross their mind on how they should deal with that criticism. One thought is likely to kill your Collaborative Innovation program, while the other one can skyrocket it.

Criticism#1: The submitted ideas aren’t the ones our company is looking for.

A common criticism encountered when innovating collaboratively is that the submitted ideas are not the ones the company is looking for. In other words, the critics consider it unlikely that the ideas will deliver the desired return on investment when invested in. Innovation managers can in this case be persuaded in thinking very different things:

“Maybe our people don’t have relevant ideas?”

“How do we help our people to share the desired ideas?”

It’s easier to believe that people don’t have relevant ideas than to investigate why they are not sharing the ideas the company is willing to invest in. Here is some food for thought that might help you to find the real cause instead of simply following the dark wolf and ditching your Collaborative Innovation program:

  • There is a mismatch between expectations and outcome. This is most often a discussion between corporate management and the executing innovation team. Focus on aligning the expectations and agree on reachable KPIs to have an objective judgement.
  • Wrong questions were asked. In order to get the desired answers, one must ask proper questions. A common mistake is to not involve the business in the definition of your innovation challenges.
  • No feedback was given. When running a(n) (online) Collaborative Innovation program, you should always give honest and transparent feedback on ideas. This helps participants to better understand the expectations. It’s better to give negative feedback than to give no feedback at all.
  • Lack of inspiration. You get what you give. If you want more ideas on a certain topic, share some inspirational stories in your innovation community to spark your innovator’s minds.

If you are not satisfied with the ideas and there is no way to move forward with those ideas, the next best way forward is to learn from it and do better next time.

Criticism#2: Not enough ideas were collected.

It is true, the more ideas you collect the greater your chance of encountering that relevant must-do Moonshot Idea where nobody ever thought of before. So, the critics expected more ideas. And if these critics are also the people who are sponsoring your Collaborative Innovation program, you better think twice. What will be your next step to prevent them from cutting back the funds? The future of your Collaborative Innovation initiative is at stake here, so be careful which thought – dark or light – you decide to pursue.

“I need to find statistics that show all forms of participation and that participation was actually good. Maybe that will convince them?”

“What would stop people from sharing ideas? Let’s investigate and learn what we can do better!”

Once the idea submission is over, it is too late to change the numbers. It is a waste of time to dwell on past results, so the best thing you can do now is learn from what went wrong and how you can improve.

When people say there are not enough ideas, this has most often one the two following causes :

  1. Expectations and outcome were not aligned.
  2. People were actually refrained to share their ideas.

In case of the first cause – expectations – the advice is rather straightforward: Always make sure that you know what is expected upfront and align your innovation topics and communication strategy to reach the desired outcome. For more in depth advice on this topic, we invite you to read our blog on how you can amplify your Collaborative Innovation message.

The second cause, can have many underlying causes. Maybe you recognize one of the most common reasons why people are not sharing (enough) ideas:

  • People stopped caring because no feedback was given on earlier submissions. Withholding negative feedback out of fear to disappoint people will actually lead to even more disappointment. As mentioned before, bad (constructive!) feedback is better than no feedback at all!
  • The barrier for entry was too high. Start simple and elaborate after a first validation to prevent scaring off people.
  • Communication channels were not used effectively. If your Intranet is not being visited regularly, then don’t use it as the main channel to communicate your innovation efforts and call for ideas. Use the popular channels and involve your communication champions. Don’t focus on one channel, but on multiple ones.

You cannot change the outcome of your previous collaborative innovation campaign(s), but you can change the results of your next run. Follow the path of your inner light wolf and focus on improvements instead of trying to prove that the previous run wasn’t that bad.

Criticism#3: Some groups of employees will never participate. 

When launching your Collaborative Innovation Program, you obviously want to onboard as much people as possible. One of the biggest barriers to a full rollout is the doubt that some groups of employees will not be interested or reached to participate. There are different ways on how you can deal with this:

“We’ll never reach all employees, so this will never be successful.”

“Which employees should we involve first?”

Different employees, mean different tactics. I am sure that if you want them to participate, you will find a way to reach and/or convince them. So maybe that’s the real question: Do you want them to participate?

And if this is a nut too tough to crack, simply start with your early adopters – you will already learn a lot from them and I am sure you’ll find some ambassadors to help you with onboarding the others.

Running a successful Collaborative Innovation program is all about having the right focus. Sure, it would be amazing if you could involve everybody, but in my experience, nobody ever fully accomplished that. So ditch those negative thoughts and choose. There’s a place and time for everything and everyone. Choosing is hard, but not choosing at all could mean the end of your Collaborative Innovation program before you even properly started.

Criticism#4: I am doing my own “innovation thing”

Many people like to own innovation so they can apply their own vision and follow their own process. When you reach out to them with your initiative, it is not unlikely that you will bump into a wall. Continue with caution on this one, because this wall could become the size of an entire fortress.

“If we cannot convince the critics, we just do it without them.”

“How can I involve the critics and allow them to do their own thing?”

Excluding these people is not your smartest move. Ownership is a good characteristic. Even more, it is a necessary element in order to succeed in collaborative innovation. So, let them do their own thing, but try to bring it under the wings of the ‘global’ Collaborative Innovation Program. Using the same name and branding will ease communication and eventually assignment of resources. Allow these people to innovate freely, let them launch their own innovation challenges, and help them turn into real innovation champions. If you shut them out they might even become opponents feeding other critics. Innovation can never be truly owned by the lucky few, it remains a continuous collaborative effort.

Criticism#5: We don’t have any resources to work on the collected ideas.

You have been running your Collaborative Innovation program for a while and you collected plenty of ideas. This is the moment where you might have gotten the feedback that there are no resources available to elaborate or execute the ideas.

This feedback is most often point number 1 in disguise. It simply indicates that the ideas are not the desired ones. Every organization is tight on resources. Not surprisingly, this “objection” is also one of the 5 most common reasons to say no to collaborative innovation. When you have desired ideas, resources will be found. You can have my word for it – yes, pinky promise.

Haters gonna hate

Some things you can tackle, but it’s almost always about keeping your focus on the right thing. People will always have their own opinion on collaborative innovation and what the outcome should be. Some will always want more and bigger and better. Whatever you say, you won’t convince them. So don’t focus on discussing with them. It will take too much of your time and even more of your energy. The best thing you can do, is to prove them wrong by showing them that you are running collaborative innovation and that you are running it successfully. How? Focus on empowering your innovators. Focus on the ones that participate or want to participate or even the ones that are not sure. But never ever focus on the ones that trick you into following the dark wolf.