Deploy Kickbox

Deploy Kickbox

This section covers how we use Kickbox at Adobe and includes a step by step guide for a Kickbox 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 attribution license (the actual license is in the package). That means you can use it, modify it, give it away or even sell it. However, you need to keep the license with it and credit Adobe. Why? Because it’s cool the company is giving away Kickbox for free and that deserves a shout out. We’d also appreciate it if you sent us any mods, hacks or improvements you make to the program. We expect you’ll do some interesting stuff with it and we’d love to see Kickbox continue to grow and evolve as a community effort.

Kickbox is all about getting scary-big ideas off the ground through simple, concrete steps. So, let’s step-by-step how you’re going to get Kickbox launched and become an innovation hero at your company

Phase 1

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’s the goal? How will you measure progress?

Sit Rep (that’s short for Situation Report).


Where are we 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 need.

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.

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 no longer than six weeks from today. Here’s a little secret. The time between when I started trying to figure out Kickbox until the first pilot workshop was about three weeks. 

That means the whole concept was dreamt up and red boxes were designed, sourced and built. Budget was solicited and obtained. Credit cards were printed and all the material in the box and the two day workshop was conceived, written and printed. And that was working part-time with the part-time help of the apparently AllSpark-powered Barb Spencer and the world’s best admin, Sarah Angeli, who is rumored to live in a small, ancient lamp when she’s not at her desk. I managed to cajole Ryan Hicks, a supernaturally talented Adobe designer, into donating a few unofficial hours to work on the designs. Much of it came together over weekends and late night phone calls. Was it an impossible deadline? Maybe. But you can choose to see that deadline as a curse or a gift. At least it forced us to stop thinking and start doing. 

Don’t think you can launch a pilot in six weeks? Well… you can. 

If a small, part-time team can invent all of Kickbox in three weeks, you can deploy it in six weeks. It’s important to not 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.

*Pro Tip: Meetings are not motion, in fact, often quite the opposite. Physicists predict that the universe we live in will someday stop expanding and all light, motion and energy will begin to slow down, fading until no molecules are moving. Then, millennia later, the last atoms will gradually come to a halt. Eventually, the last energetic neutrino will arrive at its final resting place signifying the heat death of the universe. We don’t know the exact moment this final death of all motion, energy and progress will occur, but many scientists believe it will, more likely than not, be during the fifth hour of a departmental budget review meeting. 

Phase 2

Okay, congratulations on picking a date. That will help drive things forward nicely. In the meantime, grab a cup of coffee and settle into your comfy chair because you’ve got some decisions to make.

Phase 2 is where I’m going to run you through many of the key decisions we debated internally 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. In my opinion, how you handle these key decisions could dramatically impact the success of your program, so… don’t screw up?

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 what I’ll call “likely innovators”, such as engineers, product managers and research scientists. Interestingly, that was never how I thought about it. One of our key objectives was 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 anyone from our marketing, finance, sales, operations, facilities, support, IT and HR organizations. I want our call center support reps, admins and, yes, even lawyers.

I’m known for addressing large groups of employees and saying “Kickbox is open to any employee who has their Adobe Innovator’s License.” This draws puzzled looks so I continue by asking “How many of you have an Adobe Innovator’s License?” More blank stares. “It looks like this,” and I hold up my standard employee badge which is dangling from everyone’s belt or pocket. “If you have one of these, you are already a licensed Adobe Innovator, some of you just haven’t picked up your toolbox yet.” Corny? Indeed. But also effective at driving an important point home.

Some very bright and enthusiastic German university business students challenged me over beers in Berlin, arguing “You’re simply throwing money away on the fanciful pipe dreams of unqualified innovators.” I don’t agree. 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 as well as it always has, 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 much smaller bet that’s capable of delivering outsized results. 

If you’re still struggling with this, remember Kickbox operates at massive scale, over a thousand innovators so far. But 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. Yes, it can all seem a bit crazy until you consider Kickbox only needs 1 out of 1,000 ideas to work to be very successful. I like those odds.

"We can’t just fund every idea without even hearing them"

Yes you can. It works really well. In fact, if you hedge even just a little, maybe filtering out only the most obviously unworkable, stupid ideas, you risk breaking your Kickbox program and losing your entire investment.

First reason: As discussed above, Kickbox works because it’s big (a lot of disparate ideas) and it can only be big because each idea is cheap. It’s only cheap because there’s no, as in almost zero, management overhead. If you start looking at the ideas,

Second reason: diversity of inputs

Many innovation programs focus on increasing the quality of the ideas and the quality of the selection process. That makes perfect sense in the right context but with Kickbox the context is already upside down. In reviewing the academic literature as well as surveying Adobe’s substantial history of innovation programs, it became pretty clear to me there was another variable we weren’t addressing.