Since its founding in 2005, Facebook has become one of the most innovative companies in the world.
They’ve used their influence as the number one social network masterfully, evolving into an ecosystem of brands – Instagram, WhatsApp, Aquila (Facebook’s Internet plane), and others – all aligned to further the company’s mission of giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.
But how did they get to this point? How does “just a social network” evolve into a tech behemoth that has surpassed 2 billion users, is pioneering ways to deliver the Internet to the most rural parts of the world, and has played a significant role in how people connect today?
When you take a step back and dig into the evolution of Facebook, you’ll notice one distinct thing that sets them apart from most:
- How they leverage the collective intelligence of their employees to keep the company a step ahead of the competition.
How Facebook taps collective intelligence
Facebook’s hackathons have become legendary in technology folklore.
Many of Facebook’s products and features we know and use today were a direct result of an employee scratching his or her own itch. Products and features such as:
- Location requests in Messenger for when a friend is missing
- Offline messaging
- The iconic Facebook ‘Like’ button
- Facebook’s ad and developer platforms
According to Inc., Facebook runs hackathons pretty frequently – every month or two.
It’s this consistent focus on ideation that gives Facebook a competitive advantage over most companies, and sets their culture apart.
Creating a culture of innovation, and how to do it, is a topic that’s often talked about – it’s the number one reason why Planview IdeaPlace customers launch ideation programs. But what isn’t talked about is the significance of capturing employee ideas through frequent ideation.
Consistent ideation – whether your team is in one office or distributed across the world – is what leads to a culture of innovation. In other words, when employees ideate, add to, and rate each other’s ideas frequently, they develop a mindset of challenging the status quo, collaborating with each other, and thinking outside-the-box to solve problems and bring new possibilities to the company.
The missing, and arguably the most important, ingredient in creating a culture of innovation is making innovation itself a daily habit for employees. Think of innovation as a muscle. The more you work it out, the bigger it gets and the better it performs. This is what Facebook has tapped into through their hackathons.
The direct result of Facebook encouraging its workforce to dream up new ideas and bring them to life, whether it’s an incremental product enhancement or something entirely new, is a culture that thinks and breathes ideation.
Now, before you start thinking “We’re not Facebook, or even a tech company,” try this on for size: You don’t have to be a tech company to encourage ideation…or even run hackathons. 19% of Planview IdeaPlace’s enterprise customers, including large companies in financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing, are already running hackathons on Planview IdeaPlace as a part of their ideation activities, according to our 2017 Business Innovation Report.
Lessons from Facebook
Whether you want to incorporate hackathons or some other form of ideation, there are a few things you can learn from Facebook’s efforts.
- Ideation frequency matters. What makes Facebook’s hackathons a valuable asset for the company is how frequently they run them. This enables them to develop a habit for ideation, which quickly produce product enhancements and feature additions. No matter which form of ideation you choose, frequency and consistency are keys to ultimately developing a culture of innovation.
- Idea implementation is critical. Ideation without implementation does more harm than good. Not only are you missing opportunities to create new products, services and enhancements by not implementing ideas, you’ll slowly lose employee energy leading to low participation. The crowd can help you on the road to implementation. Using a platform like Planview IdeaPlace, you can involve employees in vetting, refining and valuing ideas.
- Executives need to be involved. When it comes to Facebook’s hackathons, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives take employee input into account and then give the final go or no-go on projects. The point here is that having executives involved in the ideation process sends a clear message to employees about how important their contributions are to the success of the business.
Facebook is no different than any other company. They have access to the same talent, technologies, press, and consumer base.
What sets them apart from most is their willingness to go all in on their employees. They recognize that the collective intelligence of many far exceeds the intelligence of a few, and through hackathons they’re able to increase the chances of surfacing breakthrough ideas.
Whether it’s hackathons or some other initiative, making innovation a daily habit through ideation is the missing link for any company that’s looking to establish a culture of innovation.