October 22, 2020

10 Rules of Innovation Management – Part 3: Seeding and Advocates


“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Pablo Picasso

Have you ever revisited a story you wrote as a kid and been blown away by the sheer creativity you had back then? Unless you’re a fiction writer, the thought of inventing a tale so imaginative might seem impossible today. Our school systems are crushing the creative thinking of our children (see creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “How Schools Kill Creativity”), and this follows us to our professional lives as well.

We’re taught to do things a certain way (color inside the lines, use this theory, follow that process, etc.), and that’s how we do them. And in many cases, following best practices is the way to go because we shouldn’t continuously reinvent the wheel. And it makes total sense that companies want to stick to approaches that proved successful in the past.

But what happens when we want to find new ways and/or see different results? Doing things the way we’ve done them for decades will continue to produce the same results. Now is the time to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions – and it’s our job as innovation managers to rally the troops and collect these ideas. But when we’re taught to do things a certain way and then asked to do things differently, it’s natural to feel: first, a spark of excitement; and second, the paralyzing cloud of fear and uncertainty.

Innovation consultant Howard Tiersky likens this experience to breathing underwater during your first scuba dive (read Howard’s post, “Teams Not Innovating? Try SCUBA Diving!”). As a scuba diver myself, I think this analogy is spot-on. What’s the first thing you do before jumping into a pool? Hold your breath(and then cannonball, of course). That’s because we were taught from an early age not to breathe underwater. We don’t even think about it anymore. As Howard says, “we have become so habituated to this that it’s ingrained in our subconscious.”

Being told to forget that and do the opposite is one of the hardest concepts most new scuba divers must overcome. In fact, as Howard explains, a lot of new scuba divers go through that same process mentioned above of excitement (“Yay! I am breathing underwater!”) to fear and panic (“I am crazy, what was I thinking, I’m going to drown and die.”). Once they “forget what they know,” and learn to “breath underwater,” a whole new world suddenly opens.

The issue in innovation, and why we see it often fail, is that prior conditioning can prevent your audience from engaging and sharing ideas. Seeding, however, is an excellent solution for overcoming this!

So, what’s seeding exactly? Seeding is the act of inspiring your crowd at the start of an innovation effort to improve the submissions. And for that, your seeding should be aligned with the goal and ambitions of your campaign. For example, if you’re looking for incremental cost savings or process improvements, the campaign seeding should set this tone by success and failure stories of earlier attempts inside or outside your company.

But, as Tim Woods, innovation management expert and former HYPE marketing director, said: “if you want others to come up with something truly new, then your seed ideas should be unusual, radical, and different.” In the article “Creativity In Innovation: An Introduction for Innovation Managers,” Tim refers to two studies which show that those triggered by unconventional content are better in coming up with radical innovations. 

Spending some time up front to provide this inspirational content makes total sense. As stated in the book “The Four Lenses of Innovation” by Rowan Gibson, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation: “…breakthrough thinking is usually built on an illuminating insight (or series of insights) into a situation or a problem that inspires an unexpected leap (or leaps) of association in the mind, resulting in a completely novel configuration of previously existing ideas.”

Recommended reading: “How to Apply the Four Lenses of Innovation,” by Paul Hobcraft

Lead innovators, trend scouts, or (external) subject matter experts provide seed content before opening your targeted campaign to the invitees. Submit seed ideas on your online innovation management platform, and/or invite (external) speakers to stimulate the awareness process. So, in an efficiency campaign, encourage a process owner to explain where delays pop up, ask a product manager to showcase new product concepts for a feedback campaign, or maybe a startup or trend scouting agency to excite your crowd to come up with the more radical ideas. 


“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” Sure, it’s the title of the catchy anthem written and produced by the French “robotic” house duo Daft Punk (listen here), but it’s also the first thought that came to my head when I was thinking of a way to summarize the effects of seeding your innovation campaigns. So far, we talked a lot about how inspiring your crowd upfront will allow them to innovate “harder.” But seeding can also create the side benefits of “Better,” “Faster,” and “Stronger,” which I’ll explain below. 

Better Alignment

People should be able to submit their ideas based on your strategic innovation areas and the specific question in your focused campaign. But, to get the ideas you are really looking for, you probably need an extra level of detail. You may have some initial thoughts that you’d like your crowd to build upon. Or you might have run pilots that weren’t successful for – now very insightful – reasons.

Seed ideas will steer idea submissions in the right direction, improving the number of “good” ones, relative to the total number. Also, using seed ideas will keep out existing “bad” ideas, which will ease idea processing and prevent disgruntled participants whose ideas got declined because “we tried that before.”  

Faster Submissions

Nobody wants to be the first on the dancefloor, and it’s just as scary to be the first to contribute to a campaign. Targeted campaigns are often open to large crowds, and people can be uncertain about the content of their idea, the quality of their writing, how others react, etc. Seed ideas can eliminate these worries and push early activity.

“Nobody wants to be the first on the dancefloor, and it’s just as scary to be the first to contribute to a campaign.”

Roel De Vries

Stronger Idea Quality

Seed ideas can increase the quality of each submission if you make sure to submit your seed ideas in the way you’d like to see new ideas come in. People are copycats and will (hopefully) mirror their idea descriptions to the ones already in your campaign. When your seed ideas include all the elements that you need (like technical feasibility or early insights on the business case), the invitees are likely also to incorporate that information (or at least try).

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Let’s jump back to the scuba diving analogy above, which explains that asking people to start innovating can be just as scary and insecure as breathing underwater for the first time. The sport of scuba diving is rife with lessons, and one that fits with our next rule is: “Always dive in a group with a buddy!”

When diving with a buddy, you take a second person under water who can help check your diving equipment, take you to the most beautiful spots, and – above all – perform possible rescue operations when you’re out of air or entrapped in a fishing net. When innovating, I see a similar role for such helpers that we label as “innovation advocates.” Let’s take a deep dive into advocates (pun intended), the topic of Rule 6.

The concept of an advocate is simple. An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy,” (thanks, Oxford Dictionary!). And this is precisely what you need for taking your innovation management program to the next level.

Simply sending emails and hanging posters won’t create real excitement. In fact, it will result in limited participation. Innovation advocates are people who are intrinsically enthusiastic about your program in general or the specific cause of a targeted campaign. They can help promote your efforts and/or be the first point of contact to go to for questions. 

When I oversaw a global innovation management program reaching more than 40,000 employees in over 15 countries, we had country teams in place for local campaigns as well as to promote the international ones – in the local language, relating to local culture and regional programs. On top of these officially assigned teams, we had a volunteer advocate community in place (The Wildfire Club) that got additional program information and early invites to campaigns to spread the word (like wildfire!). However, they didn’t have any official tasks as the assigned teams did. Besides their guerilla advertising, I liked meeting up with them now and then to get their feedback on recognition topics for instance.

Another example of advocates in innovation programs comes from the aircraft manufacturer Airbus. The Airbus innovation team built an impressive community of advocates that help manage, grow, and realize ideas. It is a network of more than 150 “catalysts” (as they like to call them) whose mission is to foster, focus, and accelerate innovation within their designated perimeter, and more globally through Airbus via the advocate network.

The network is animated and managed by a central innovation function called Corporate Innovation, and one full-time employee is responsible for that. The Corporate Innovation group helps keep the network active by connecting members via an online community, meeting at physical events to share knowledge, and inviting them to webinars and trainings to learn innovation methods, tools, and processes.

Konstantin Heckmann, Strategic Innovation Manager & Chief Architect Airbus IdeaSpace at Airbus Group, told me that the advocate network has a significant impact on the success of projects and the transformation of the company.

Make sure your advocates are fully aware of upcoming campaigns and provide them with information and materials to use in their activities. Besides these promotional pursuits, advocates – and especially those that are also subject matter experts – can play a role in maturing the ideas. As stated by innovation management consultant Eugene Ivanov, a company should strive to create a pool of ad-hoc innovation experts. Having these knowledgeable go-to persons from areas relevant to innovation allows innovators to validate the need and sanity check the feasibility to improve the quality of submitted ideas.

I would advise having an advocate per department per location. That should improve engagement and idea quality in all places – and not only where the assigned innovation managers sit. Create a matrix (see example below) with all departments, teams, locations, etc., and identify available advocates per intersection or “cell.” Based on the data from your innovation management system, also classify the engagement levels per cell and see if improvements can be made by adding advocates or further supporting them. You won’t have (or need) an advocate per cell from the start, but this matrix will help understand the reality in the ground and help you work towards the desired advocate occupancy.

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In most cases, these advocates are (assigned) volunteers, so that is a big difference with stereotyped advocates, like the character of lawyer Harvey Specter from the Netflix series “Suits.” Innovation advocates probably aren’t paid a (legal) advocate’s salary, nor do they get a tailored suit, or are allowed to drink whiskey on the job (but hey, it all sounds great!), so search for intrinsically motivated people that are genuinely interested in collaborative innovation and don’t need expensive rewards to thrive.

Search for articulate, lively personalities that are known by the people around him or her, and are also aware of the organization, people, and projects to make the connections that are so important to make innovation happen. And you need to keep them enthusiastic – even more so than your general crowd. Make it a fresh and exclusive club that people want to belong to, and your advocates will stand up for you regardless.


Launching an online campaign and sending out invites is not always enough to identify the innovators and ideas you’re looking for. You need to get people in a specific state of thinking aligned to the goals and ambitions of your innovation campaign. Inspiring your crowd with seed content is a powerful way to push engagement and submission quality. After submission, you can further improve this quality by linking idea submitters to innovation experts that can also advocate for your program in general. Having a pool of advocates will help you share the word – even to the far corners of your organization – and it is an excellent source for getting feedback.

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  1. Push early activity by taking away uncertainty with seed ideas
  2. Improve submission quality with seed ideas that are set up according to your campaign and idea criteria
  3. Inspire your crowd and set direction with seed ideas aligned to the goal and ambitions of your campaign
  4. Encourage enthusiasts to advocate for your innovation program
  5. Create a pool of ad-hoc innovation experts to help innovators improve the quality of their ideas

Originally posted at the HYPE Innovation Blog.