How to launch a Kickbox innovation program in your organization.
Deploying Kickbox can be as easy as downloading the package of files and documents linked on this page. It's all freely available under a Creative Commons share-alike, attribution license (please refer to the actual license in the package). That means you can use it and modify it to suit your needs. However, you need to keep the license with it, share changes you make and include a link to this Adobe site. Why? Because some of you will adapt and evolve Kickbox in pretty cool ways and by sharing back it can grow as a community effort useful to all.
Note: If you have questions about bringing Kickbox to your organization then visit our frequently asked questions page and don't hesitate to contact us if your question still isn't answered.
Kickbox is all about getting big ideas off the ground through simple, concrete steps. So, let's break down how we deployed Kickbox at Adobe which you can use as a blueprint for launch Kickbox at your organization and becoming an innovation hero:
- Build Support. You don't need a lot of money or a big team but it'll be harder to do this alone. The more senior leaders and existing innovators you can enlist as supporters in your cause the better. Also, you need an admin. Preferably the kind with a cape and super powers.
- Get in sync. What are your organization's innovation goals? New products? Improved processes? Building innovation competency? Identifying innovation talent? Once you've defined your goals, how will you measure progress?
- Sit Rep (that's short for Situation Report). Where are you today? What has the org been doing for innovation in the past? What's it doing now? What's working or not? How do people feel about it? Where are opportunities for improvement?
- Understand the reality on the ground. The same day I decided to get serious about coming up with a new innovation process, I sent a quick survey out to likely innovators inside Adobe and I asked a lot of questions which hadn't been asked before. (LINK)
- Get support to do a pilot. Asking for a multi-year commitment is a stretch. Instead, start small, move fast and get some data quickly.
- Pick a date. Set the date to launch your first Kickbox test pilot. We suggest doing your first pilot quickly. Don't overthink your first pilot. Just pick a date now. Why? Until you get molecules in motion, you're not learning. BTW, a lot of Kickbox innovation techniques were used in creating Kickbox itself, which is sort of cool in a meta way. When you've picked a date for the test pilot, you can advance to Phase 2.
In Phase 2 we'll discuss a few of the key decisions we debated while creating Kickbox. Why? Because you may have the same questions arise as you deploy Kickbox. I'll try to give you my perspective on these but ultimately it's always your choice.
Who Gets to Kickbox?
When peers at other companies contact me to discuss what we're doing with Kickbox, many of them assume Kickbox is targeted at "likely innovators", such as engineers, product managers and research scientists. That's never been how we think about it. One of our key objectives is to dramatically increase the diversity of inputs at the top of our innovation funnel. Kickbox is open to any employee spunky enough to show up and try it. That includes our marketing, finance, sales, operations, facilities, support, IT and HR organizations.
One might ask "But aren't you worried about wasting money on the fanciful pipe dreams of unqualified innovators?" That concern would be valid if we were talking about more traditional approaches to innovation. Those programs invest substantially more resources in far fewer ideas. At Adobe we still fund innovation programs that devote hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to exploring a handful of carefully vetted, highly strategic ideas. That approach isn't wrong, it's just incomplete. It continues to work, which is why we keep doing it. Kickbox is in addition to, not in place of, traditional approaches. Compared to those investments, all of Kickbox is a smaller, higher risk bet that can deliver outsized results.
If you're struggling with this, remember the incremental investment in initial exploration of each idea is less than $1,000 (because not all innovators use the entire $1,000 on their debit card). Kickbox is playing the law of large numbers, where things can quickly become counter-intuitive. It doesn't seem to add up until you consider Kickbox only needs 1 out of 1,000 ideas to work to be very successful.
Finally, Kickbox fosters the psychological ownership and deep engagement that helps employees bring their smartest selves to work every day. By teaching innovation skills broadly, Kickbox sparks the kind of day-to-day continuous innovation in existing products, services, and processes that modern organizations need to survive and thrive. Spread these seeds far and wide and witness how small and large innovations can bloom throughout your organization.
"We can't just fund every idea without even hearing them"
Yes you can. In fact, it works really well. I've been told by some people who like the Kickbox idea, "We'd like to do Kickbox in our organization but we'd have to apply some filter to eliminate the most obviously unworkable ideas." No, you don't. There's a subtly dangerous assumption in the belief any such filter can reduce false positives, meaning obviously bad ideas, without also introducing false negatives, meaning eliminating an idea that might look bad but could have pivoted becoming a huge success.
Kickbox works because it is a rigorous system for investing a small amount of time and money in a large pile of unfiltered, divergent ideas. We expect almost all of them will fail. However, a few gems will emerge that a more traditionally managed innovation process would never have discovered. The high failure rate is by design. It's not a bug, it's a feature.
In the end, Kickbox delivers two things
- A small group of interesting concepts that have shown promise in early validation.
- All the other concepts, together in a big pile of fail.
Except... it's not. Seeing the projects which didn't pass validation with customers as failed is short-sighted. What some might see as failure, we see as learning:
- Teams now know how to come up with ideas, identify one with potential, express it concisely, evaluate it objectively, evolve it with feedback from peers, engage quickly with potential customers to test it, assess that validation data, build a business case and pitch the idea. That's a pretty valuable set of skills.
- Teams can recognize when a concept isn't working and can decide to drop or pivot it themselves, without management intervention. Or sniff out the adjacent opportunity and pivot to it.
- Some concepts are now proven with data to be unworkable, narrowing the possibility space you need to search for winners. When searching for a needle in a haystack, learning which part of the haystack does not contain a needle is valuable.
- New innovators who are building their skills and confidence. A good number of the Kickbox projects that advanced to the blue box were innovators working on their second red box, meaning their first project failed and then later they pursued a different idea that they validated.
If you want to increase innovation over time and at scale, focus on nurturing a culture of innovation and a population of skilled, experienced innovators.
Are you required to implement Kickbox with a "no look" approach to the ideas that are being tested? No, but you should think carefully before changing this aspect of Kickbox. Trying to filter ideas up front comes with downsides, starting with the fact the economies of scale in Kickbox work because of the very small initial investment both in money and time.
If you start increasing management involvement to look at and assess the ideas up front, instead of letting the Kickbox process naturally filter them as part of the innovation skill-building process, the overhead costs can escalate quickly. You'll also lose the value of creating innovators through hands-on experience because you're now doing some of the thinking and evaluating for them.
The Kickbox Workshop
At Adobe, anyone can get a red box but the only way to pick it up is by attending a two-day workshop in person. That's where our future innovators, we call them boxers, learn how to use the tools inside the box. More importantly, it's where they get comfortable with the idea of doing innovation in this new way. The purpose of the workshop is to build confidence. They enter wondering, "What is this all about?" but emerge thinking "I can do this."
The first day covers Levels 1-3 and Levels 4-6 are covered the second day. Here's an outline:
- What is Kickbox? What are our objectives?
- Distrubute the boxes.
- Open and review the content of the boxes.
- Levels, actions and the blue box.
- Discuss the money supplied on the credit card. What's it for and what does it mean?
Level 1: Inception
- Motivation: Why it can make all the difference.
- First-hand examples from Mark's experience.
- Individuals complete Level 1 card. Do not share with others.
Level 2: Ideate
- Ideation: How does it work?
- Input and Insight?
- The five behaviors of innovators: observing, questioning, associating, networking and experimenting.
- Divergent thinking and ideation frameworks.
- Brainstorming: it doesn't work very well.
- Effects and methods: How professional magicians think of new impossible things to do.
- Exercise: 20 minutes of focused ideation, write down every problems, solution, question or answer that comes to mind.
- Group discussion: how did that go for you?
- "You need to pick one idea to use for the exercises during the rest of this workshop. You can change it any time you want.
- Q & A
Level 3: Improve
- Group discussion: Boxers share their Zen statements and get feedback.
- Exercise: Share your Zen statement with the person next to you and get feedback.
- Discussion: Who got useful feedback?
- Exercise: Redraft or modify your Zen statement.
- The Scorecard, what it's for, not for and why it's so useful.
Level 3: Continued
- Exercise: Complete a scorecard for your idea.
- Exercise: Ask the person next to you to complete a scorecard. Do the same for them. Swap and compare. Discuss what's different.
- Discussion: How did the score differences provide perspective on the idea?
- Canvas: What is it and how does it work? Let's look at examples.
- Exercise: Complete the canvas.
- Discussion on canvas, opportunities and challenges.
Level 4: Investigate
- Overview: Qualitative and quantitative validation
- How to talk with customers
- Exercise: Everyone thinks of something they don't like about their mobile phone. Now interview the person next to you and try to find the thing they don't like by asking them about their daily usage. Interviewer cannot ask directly and interviewee shouldn't tell unless the interviewer finds the exact issue. The exercise lasts two minutes and then the partners trade places. Using the interviewing techniques taught, typically about half of the group can find the issue in two minutes.
- Discussion: What did we learn about interviewing?
- Discuss interviewing tools. How to contact and compensate your interviewees.
Level 4: Continued
- Quantitative validation. How do we do it? Examples.
- "I'm not an engineer! I can't build a validation website." Yes you can. Here's how. The secret is staying fast and using templates.
- Driving traffic to your site with ads.
- How to create effective ad words advertisements.
- Exercise: Create your first ad. You have three minutes. The format is three lines of 25, 35 and 45 characters.
- Some boxers are encourages to share their draft ads and get feedback from the group.
- Exercise: Share your ad with the person next to you and get feedback on focus, clarity and abstraction. Provide feedback to them.
- How to select keywords to target for your ads.
- Exercise: Select three keywords. Get feedback.
Level 4: Continued
- Running your ad campaign.
- Analytics: how to measure response.
- What to do if it's not working
Meet a Blue Boxer: A former red boxer who has reached the blue box phase presents their project, what went wrong, what went right, what they learned and their best advice. Much Q&A.
Level 5: Iterate
- How to advance your hypothesis to demonstrate increasing value.
- What data is the most compelling and why.
- Managing your budget so you don't run out of the funds before you get data.
Level 6: Infiltrate
- Welcome to the "Boss Level".
- How to pitch your idea.
- How to package your data.
- Who to pitch to.
- Who you should pitch before them and why.
- How to get the meeting.
- Why some pitchers fail and how to avoid it.
- Mark shows some of his pitches and discusses what he did right and wrong.
- Reviewing the pitch template.
- Mark shares some war stories about getting it done.
- "Don't worry. You either get a 'Yes' and funding or a 'No' and you learn something. Either is a win."
- Post-workshop logistics: the wiki, how to ask for help, how to connect with other innovators.
- "Where you go from here is up to you."
- Distribute evaluation forms.
Running a Successful Workshop
We collect fairly extensive evaluation forms at the end of each workshop. Attendees really like the Kickbox workshop. Our post-workshop surveys have dozens of comments like "This is the best workshop I've ever been to here or anywhere." and "Every employee should experience this." The NPS (Net Promoter Score) is around 94% across the over 1,500 innovators who have attended the workshop.
On the surveys we also ask for how we could improve the workshop. The most common suggestion for improvement is "Make the workshop shorter," but a very close second is "Make the workshop longer." So, we think we think we have the length about right. Early on we did try doing it in a single day as an experiment but that was nowhere near enough time.
One choice we made correctly from the beginning is that our workshop is run hands-on by a senior executive who has created new products both inside and outside our company. Speaking from first-hand experience brings a credibility and reality to Kickbox that is impactful. So, the absolute ideal is to get someone who has done innovation inside your organization to run the workshop.
The second thing boxers like about the workshop is hearing from people who were sitting where they are and then went on to get a blue box. We usually have one or two blue boxers present their experiences. Obviously, this wasn't an option at our first workshop. Instead we drafted the leader of an internal team that had been using a lean approach and having some good results.
How to Make a Red Box
Below is a list the contents of the red boxes that we make and how we make them, however it's important to point out that yours don't have to be exactly like Adobe's red boxes. We fully expect you to get creative with your own adaption and we want to see photos!
First, a note of caution. You'll be tempted to make your box entirely virtual. It's a lot easier and cheaper to email it or post it online but something gets lost if it's only on the screen. We've tried to do a good job putting the materials on this site but the reality is, it's just not the same as holding a Kickbox in your hands.
We created Kickbox as a physical box because in interviews with innovators there was a recurring theme that innovation itself seemed fuzzy and ephemeral. Everyone broadly understands the concept but it's hard to convert to tangible action. Making our innovation process "a physical thing" makes it concrete and real. It's something innovators can hold in their hands and that changes how they engage with Kickbox. Files and links can get buried in your email inbox but a bright red thing sitting on your desk is a conversation starter.
Start working on Kickbox for your organization while you have momentum. Every day of delay doesn't just push your workshop further into the future, it raises the chances you will never hold one at all. Tackle Step 1 by having at least one conversation with a leader innovator inside your organization. Today.
Innovation favors those in motion.