by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte
e-mail: mercedesbenzblog@gmail.com

Daimler HighTechReport: The Fascination of Technology - Issue 02/2008 - PART V


OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE

Stuttgart, Nov 25, 2008

Innovation Management: Online Workshop for Creative Ideas

The Daimler Innovation Jam, which took place this summer, represented the start of a special test event - a three-day intranet workshop that allowed employees to exchange innovative ideas. The results of this “virtual brainstorming,” which was initiated by Daimler Corporate Research, Mercedes-Benz Passenger Car Development, Bus Development, the Innovation and Technology Strategy unit, and the Business Innovation unit, speak for themselves.



Minton’s Playhouse was a relatively inconspicuous club in the New York of the 1940s. The atmosphere wasn’t very stylish, the visitors weren’t all that hip, and the food was average. But every night by 1 a.m., after the big dance halls in Manhattan had closed and after the swing bands led by Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington had played their final encores, Minton’s Playhouse was transformed into the coolest place for jazz music in the Big Apple. That’s because club owner Henry Minton kept the stage open until 4 a.m. for anyone who wanted to play. Appropriately, the sign in the entrance read “All comers welcome.”

And come they did - musicians like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, drummer Kenny Clarke, saxophonists Charlie Parker and Ben Webster, and many others, including gifted pianist Thelonious Monk, who could be found pounding the keys almost every night at Minton’s. Some guests even joked that Monk was part of Henry’s inventory. There was no set repertoire or group of musicians agreed upon beforehand. Many of the musicians had never even played together and didn’t know one another personally. In some cases, they had only heard of each other from the radio or albums.

These jam sessions, which took place night after night in the small Harlem club, were viewed by the participating professional musicians as “cutting contests” - like a type of musical arm wrestling. Much more importantly, such informal jams offered the artists the kind of creative musical freedom not available within the highly structured arrangements of the big bands. The musicians often changed the phrasing of songs and even tried out new playing techniques, using the melody lines of jazz standards as a platform for new musical improvisations. They engaged in a musical dialog with their colleagues on stage, or else went into “battle” with them in a purely instrumental manner. The jam sessions also made Minton’s Playhouse the birthplace of what is perhaps the most magnificent of the many musical offspring jazz has produced, namely Bebop, a style that is now old but which nevertheless continues to impact jazz to this day.

Virtual stage A new type of jam session took place in June 2008, when an initiative group from Daimler Corporate Research and Development cooperated with the Business Innovation unit to invite the approximately 10,000 employees working in research and development departments to participate in a jam of ideas. Like Minton’s Playhouse back in the ’40s, it was “all comers welcome.”

However, the stage for the three-day “Innovation Jam” didn’t exist in reality. Instead, all the action took place on the Daimler intranet, powered by WEB 2.0 tools and technologies. This virtual network wasn’t set up so that employees could simply exchange their vacation videos. On the contrary, the point of the exercise was for participants to utilize the communication possibilities offered by WEB 2.0 technologies to generate creative ideas for all kinds of vehicle innovations, to come up with new business concepts, to exchange ideas, and to improve cooperation.
Back in November 2006, Bharat Balasubramanian, Vice President Group Research and Advanced Engineering E/E, IT, and Processes, had the idea that conducting a “thought jam” might enrich innovation management activities at Daimler. He and his department heads thus got together with the leading companies in Silicon Valley to find out what recipes they had to ensure that the ideas from the innovation pipelines could be kept flowing. “In doing so, we also found out about the jam concept, which generates ideas in a way that allows all of the company’s employees to get involved,” says Balasubramanian. “We agreed that this concept fits in well with our company.”

The decision was thus made to introduce the Daimler Innovation Jam, and Florian Zimmermann, a young engineer at Business Innovation, was commissioned to prepare the first of the automotive jam sessions in less than three months. Although it was a very hectic time, the work gave him great satisfaction. “Because we wanted to implement the jam as a pilot project as quickly as possible, we decided to limit the scope of the participants to employees from the company’s research and development departments, and to hold the forums exclusively in German,” says Zimmermann describing the early days of what was possibly the most unusual form of innovation management in Daimler’s recent history.

Three forums The Innovation Jam was divided into three forums that laid down the themes for discussions: The “Innovation” forum focused on automobile-related product and service ideas. The “Profitable Growth” forum accommodated participants who wanted to discuss new business ideas and services for current and future customers, while the third forum addressed “Internal Cooperation.”
“As the inventor of the automobile, we continue to drive developments in the field of innovation,” says Herbert Kohler, head of Body and Powertrain at Corporate Research and Advanced Engineering, and Daimler’s Chief Environmental Officer. “However, our rivals have caught up a lot in terms of innovation - but the Innovation Jam will enable us to support the creation of a new culture of innovation at the company.” Kohler served as the moderator of the “Innovation” forum.
Balasubramanian, moderated the “Profitable Growth” forum, which focused on new business ideas and new types of services that go beyond the pure vehicle business. “In this age of globalization, we need to be able to determine customer requirements at a very early stage and work together to react to the dynamic changes taking place in the markets,” he says. “Achieving profitable growth in this environment is, and will remain, a key challenge. However, this task also offers us the opportunity to reshape our company’s future.”

A team including Richard Averbeck, head of Global Development at Daimler Buses, moderated the “Internal Cooperation” forum, which examined concepts for simplifying the establishment of networks and improving cooperation processes across all business units. The forum also focused on achieving the most efficient transfer possible of individual knowledge across Group projects and hierarchies. “As expected we received a wide range of different contributions,” says Averbeck. “Some of the concrete suggestions can be directly implemented and are already being utilized for areas such as communication and the way products are experienced. Other contributions are very abstract. We now have to work together to find out what can be effectively implemented here. In any case, the large number of participants shows that there is room for improvement with regard to communication and international cooperation.”

2,500 participants Nearly 2,500 employees accepted the invitation to participate in the Innovation Jam, and this number “far exceeded” the expectations of the initiators, according to Claus Ehlers, who is responsible for Innovation and Technology Strategy at Group Development. “Alongside the number of contributions, we were impressed by the constructive and open manner in which the proposals were discussed,” says Ehlers. The event demonstrated just how valuable such Group-wide discussions can be. Development engineers at EvoBus in Ulm, Germany, for example, discovered during the jam that their colleagues from Passenger Car Development at the MTC in Sindelfingen were thinking exactly along the same development lines with regard to a product idea, and were also facing the same difficulties. The high quality of the ideas presented was confirmed by the subsequent strategic assessments and content evaluations. For example, nearly one-third of the 311 ideas generated in the “Innovation” forum were either organized into a theme pool or else forwarded to relevant units - for example, Sales - for further discussion.

Zimmermann spent as much time online as possible during the three-day jam. The greatest thing for him was that “managers also got involved as well as employees. We were therefore able to achieve what we had dreamt of accomplishing: an extremely dynamic discussion across all hierarchies.” Says Balasubramanian: “The Innovation Jam helps to shape corporate culture at Daimler. After all, it’s still rarely the case that employees have the opportunity to express their ideas and receive a reply from members of top management within 60 seconds.” But times have changed - directors, department managers, heads of centers, and Board of Management Member Thomas Weber all actively took part in the online discussions.

Business Innovation Community A new platform on the Daimler Intranet continues to implement the concept behind the Innovation Jam. Known as the Business Innovation Community, the platform offers all Group employees the opportunity to submit new business ideas. The community, which consists of all employees who register for it, can then discuss, assess, and refine the ideas. The first 60 proposals submitted were generated in the Innovation Jam’s “Profitable Growth” forum. The ideas were transferred to the platform before the BI Community was launched, and the original contributors were invited to develop their concepts in more detail.

“The BI Community has given us a permanent platform for new business ideas,” says Jerome Guillen, who heads the Business Innovation unit. Guillen describes the approach utilized here as “a cross between Wikipedia, YouTube, and Xing.” The BI Community organizers were indeed inspired by these three successful online forums, as anyone can input BI Community content and change it, each idea can be given a star-based rating, and every contributor has a personal profile that all community members can view. Still, the community network does not see itself as a substitute for Daimler’s very successful improvement suggestion system, or for the work of the Intellectual Property Office, which helps secure patents and trademark rights for employee inventions. Instead, the community is meant to supplement such activities. In general, the BI Community consistently relies upon the “intelligence of the masses” and functions as a self-regulating system for idea development.

Outstanding response Although it’s only been running for a short time, the BI Community has developed well. The almost 6,300 employees registered there have already submitted 323 ideas and posted nearly 1,400 comments on the other participants’ proposals. The reason for this great response is the opportunity the community offers employees to participate in innovative developments at the company. “The BI Community gives us an open platform,” says Guillen, “and the fact that it’s Group-wide and extends across all hierarchies makes it very successful. Colleagues from completely different areas can get together here to work on new ideas.”
The Business Innovation unit takes the results of such cooperation very seriously. For one thing, the authors of new business ideas are invited to attend workshops with business unit or center managers to discuss the chances of implementing their innovations - as are members of BI Community discussion teams that have developed promising ideas.

Approach with a future The Innovation Jam, says Ehlers, will also be held again: “Perhaps not with as broad a range of issues as was the case the first time. Instead, it will be more focused, and targeted toward specific development questions.” The team that initiated the jam has received a lot of feedback, just about all of it positive. “People look at the jam as an approach that enriches and supplements existing creative processes in research and advanced engineering, rather than replacing them,” says Ehlers.

“The WEB 2.0 technologies make it possible for everyone to discuss ideas across all company hierarchies.”
Florian Zimmermann, project manager for the Daimler Innovation Jam at Business Innovation
“The Innovation Jam doesn’t replace existing creative processes; it supplements them.”
Claus Ehlers, Innovation and Technology Strategy

Three online forums

Three online forums were established to enable Daimler employees to discuss innovations, opportunities for profitable growth, and forms of internal cooperation. With regard to each of the issues, the employees addressed a few key strategic questions:

Innovation

What can be done to ensure that Daimler remains the innovation leader in the automobile industry?
What new ideas will promote sustainable mobility and innovations that can be experienced by customers?
Which specific regional requirements can be used to penetrate new markets?
What can be done to promote employee pride in the company and its products?

Profitable growth

Where is there potential for growth that goes beyond mere increases in volume?
What new businesses and services are conceivable?
What new abilities and expertise can the company and its employees develop?

Internal Cooperation

How can internal cooperation be further improved?
What new forms of cooperation (whether global or local; in projects, corporate bodies, or model series teams) can further improve the company’s performance?
How can we strengthen mutual trust at all levels?


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