Inside Renault’s Community-Driven Approach to Innovation

The Renault Research and Development Center is holding an innovative competition with a special feature: in addition to the fact that employees can say whether they like promising ideas, it allows them to volunteer to help implement the idea when it gets the green light. Upon completion of the competition, the successful inventor may contact some or all of the people who have stated that they wish to help turn the idea into reality, who can provide the skills and support that the project will need.

Often, even the best ideas do not come from the winners of the innovation competition in the shop. Before accepting them, they must find domestic champions.

However, as important as this move is, most innovation initiatives tend to cover it up, believing that the brilliance of the concept – whether it’s a new widget or a Wavy West Coast fries – will be enough to earn an innovation place in the world.

Renault, a carmaker, has found a solution to the problem of finding domestic champions of promising innovation, thanks to a special feature on its own innovation platform. The platform, initiated and sponsored by the company’s Creative Lab, which “supports projects by facilitating access to digital prototyping technologies and design techniques”, aims to encourage Renault Technocenter, the company’s research center outside Paris, to invent and develop new concepts. mobility. This is very similar to many other innovative platforms, except for one important difference: the center’s staff not only has the opportunity to “like” the idea, but also promise to help develop and implement the concept if the inventor’s proposal is accepted.

This simple feature has several advantages. This gives a good indicator of relative inner enthusiasm for the project and gives the inventor a team of experienced supporters to help develop and implement the idea. Upon completion of the innovation competition, a successful inventor may contact some or all of the people who have stated that they wish to help turn the idea into reality, who can provide the skills and support that the project will need. They may ask them, for example, to help conduct market research or develop a first prototype. The winning inventors have the right to work on their projects up to two days a week for one year; those who join them can negotiate with their leaders.

The feature has given us a unique opportunity to take a closer look at the crucial role that the community plays in the innovation lifecycle.

The value of a volunteer

When we explored how platform members use this option for volunteering, we noticed a few weird things. In our study, 1,201 participants responded to 244 ideas posted on the platform, and in the following interviews with Renault staff, we found:

Huskies don’t matter.

Renault has told us – and empirical results have confirmed – that volunteering to work on the ideas of others is more important than just “liking” an idea that can be a signal of “cheap talk” rather than genuine and active support. When participants accept an idea, they “talk”. As one participant told us, “There are no commitments with the likes.”

Volunteers did not line up to work on the undisputed winners.

Instead, supporters – mostly engineers – were more inspired by the challenge posed by very new and technically ambitious ideas. One consequence: if companies want to expand the number of more radical ideas in their innovation portfolio, they should pay more attention to those subscribed to by volunteers in their research organizations. Such volunteers seem to have a greater appetite for new and complex ideas than more cautious managers, who are often more concerned about the feasibility of implementing proposals.

Inventors who were more willing to engage in other people’s projects tended to attract more volunteers for their own.

On the innovation platform, for each obligation taken by the inventor, the rate of received obligations increased 1.29 times – an increase of 29%. It wasn’t a simple reciprocity of “I’ll like your idea if you like mine”. Instead, generous inventors seemed to elicit even more generous responses: Employee A’s public commitment to working on Employee B’s idea seemed to inspire Employee C to volunteer for Employee A.

Create a community, not a contest

This 29% increase in support has intrigued us by confirming what we have been thinking about for some time: perhaps innovation competitions are structured in a way that focuses too much on prizes and not enough on building a community of people who are innovation-oriented. Could it be that by turning to altruism and collaboration, we could stimulate even more innovation?

Adding functionality to a platform that allows volunteers to commit to implementing ideas is a useful way to build more creative, collaborative cultures among employees. Managers can reinforce these sentiments by clearly communicating that they value collaboration and consider it important for innovation. In addition, they could consider more direct rewards for collaboration, developing incentives not only for those who generate ideas, but also for those colleagues who help implement them.

Indeed, our previous study with the International Committee of the Red Cross has shown how important collaboration can be for the success of an innovation competition. The Red Cross competition was conceived not only to help inventors come up with new concepts, but also to support them in creating strong startups to implement their ideas.

Creating more opportunities for participants to interact and support the development of their colleagues ’ideas in the early stages can give inventors the opportunity to work with a team with a more diverse skill set, providing a head start once an idea is selected for implementation.

It should be noted that many of the most successful crowdsourcing projects – such as Wikipedia, Linux and, more recently, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies – have a similarly simple flat architecture and a particular focus on collaboration. Although none of these venues offer many prizes other than the respect of peers, the collaboration they have promoted has had a major impact.

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