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IBM Uses Internal Kickstarters To Pick Projects

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the let-the-grunts-make-the-decisions dept.

IBM 40

alphadogg writes "IBM is readying its fourth internal Kickstarter-like crowdfunding effort over the past year or so to inspire employees to innovate and collaborate, often across departments and the globe. According to IBM Research member Michael Muller, IBM has embraced the crowdfunding model popularized in recent years by Kickstarter, Indiegogo and hundreds of other such platforms that match up creators and financial backers from among the masses. But IBM's 'behind-the-firewall' form of crowdfunding, for which Muller has coined the term 'enterprise crowdfunding,' is unique in that it isn't open to the public. In an experiment held in the third quarter of last year, 500 Watson Research Center employees were each given $100 to invest exclusively in colleagues' proposals, which ranged from procuring a 3D printer to setting up a disc golf course to recording and sharing seminars."

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40 comments

hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753927)

so IBM won't pay for employees whimps.

More like (1)

spokenoise (2140056) | about a year ago | (#44753955)

All your idea are belong to us!

That did not start at IBM (4, Interesting)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year ago | (#44754359)

All your idea are belong to us!

The first time I encountered the above phenomenon I was at my sophomore year.

During one of the many brainstorming sessions we had with our mentor I blurb out (at that time) a very outrageous idea. The idea was so outrageous that even the mentor was visibly taken aback somewhat.

5 months down the road that mentor applied for a patent based on that outrageous idea of mine, and of course, my name wasn't appearing anywhere in the patent application.

Re:That did not start at IBM (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44755395)

All your idea are belong to us!

The first time I encountered the above phenomenon I was at my sophomore year.

During one of the many brainstorming sessions we had with our mentor I blurb out (at that time) a very outrageous idea. The idea was so outrageous that even the mentor was visibly taken aback somewhat.

5 months down the road that mentor applied for a patent based on that outrageous idea of mine, and of course, my name wasn't appearing anywhere in the patent application.

You should claim prior art

Re: That did not start at IBM (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44758805)

Idea thieves are often the first people to openly ridicule and belittle a unique idea in front of others. It's because they're envious of creativity.

Re:That did not start at IBM (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44758985)

Obviously, all outrageous ideas deserve an immediate blog post or something similar. USPTO patent number, BTW?

Re:hmmm (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753959)

"whimps"?

Sounds Good In Theory (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44753929)

Sounds like a good way to make employees feel they have some say in what the company does. I wish more places did this, unless they simply scrap the data afterwards and management vetoes the winning projects.

Re:Sounds Good In Theory (4, Insightful)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about a year ago | (#44753967)

There is only one way to have a significant say in what any company does: owning it.

To think you have any influence in a company which might show you the door in 10 minutes is just part of the silly modern promise of worker freedom.

If you want business freedom, own your own company, or join a co-operative.

Re:Sounds Good In Theory (1)

gelfling (6534) | about a year ago | (#44754897)

It's bullshit. It's paying your workforce a hundred bucks to come up with the next million dollar idea. And senior management gets to decide which idea is the one they like apart from any sane rational or even free market factors.

Does IBM Still Have Workers? (4, Funny)

CodeBuster (516420) | about a year ago | (#44754011)

I thought they fired all of them and replaced them with robots.

Re:Does IBM Still Have Workers? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44754301)

apartmanyonetimi.com.tr

Re:Does IBM Still Have Workers? (2)

LordWabbit2 (2440804) | about a year ago | (#44754755)

I thought they fired all of them and replaced them with Indians.

Re:Does IBM Still Have Workers? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44755065)

I thought they fired all of them and replaced them with robots.

By "workers" they mean "salesmen". IBM still has lots of those.

Re:Does IBM Still Have Workers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44762057)

They are under a hiring freeze; including ex-employee positions. With a wage freeze and overtime ban, the work force has to be dwindling fast.

It turns out that disc golf... (3, Informative)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | about a year ago | (#44754029)

... involve neither putters nor 3.5" floppies. I'm so disappointed.

(For those who share my former ignorance, it is getting a frisbee to a distant target with as few throws as possible.)

Sounds more like a mockery (2)

mysidia (191772) | about a year ago | (#44754351)

"employees were each given $100 to invest exclusively in colleagues' proposals, which ranged from procuring a 3D printer to setting up a disc golf course to recording and sharing seminars."

Given how small the employee population of a company like IBM is; $100 per person might add up to 10,000 or so. Talk about guaranteeing any significant idea, such as a new product could never be sufficiently funded by this.

It sounds like they are remiss about the whole kickstarter thing. If they were serious about it, they'd have at least $10,000 per person for each employee to intelligently divide among projects -- with some sort of reward for folks supporting winning projects; in the form of a revenue share, E.g. 10% of revenue reserved for winners; allocated among employees that supported in proportion to each employee's contribution.

Re:Sounds more like a mockery (1)

somersault (912633) | about a year ago | (#44754391)

It actually said right in the summary (in the same sentence you quoted part of, even) that it's 500 employees.. $50,000 isn't exactly to be sniffed at, but it's not that great if everyone pulls in opposite directions. I'd probably try and encourage everyone go for getting a good 3D printer.

Re:Sounds more like a mockery (2)

whydavid (2593831) | about a year ago | (#44754393)

Ignorant much?

IBM has, according to their website, 434,246 employees. So much for a small employee population...unless you meant 'a small country' or 'a small state.'

In any case, if you even took the time to read the 4-sentence blurb, you would see that they did this with 500 employees at their research center, which would still give 5 times your estimate of '10,000 or so.'

And I don't see why it would make any sense for IBM to give every person $10,000. The idea is to ferret out popular/worthwhile ideas. That doesn't really work if one or two people can fund it, as any of the examples could have been if each had $10,000 to spend.

And finally, your idea of profit sharing with regards to the selected ideas only works if the idea is meant to have some immediate financial impact. Procuring a 3D printer might not directly lead to financial results, but it may help someone rapidly prototype something that becomes a million dollar idea. You will never be able to measure the financial contribution made by that 3D printer, so why bother? Similarly, a disc golf course might provide some intangible stress relief, and employees may be a little more productive as a result, but how are you going to quantify that? IBM is pretty good at identifying business opportunity on their own...that clearly isn't the point of this exercise.

Re:Sounds more like a mockery (2)

mysidia (191772) | about a year ago | (#44754537)

The problem I have with this is crowdfunding is about big ideas; Procuring a 3D printer is not a big idea. When was the last time you saw a kickstarter project with someone asking for help buying themselves a personal 3D printer?

A big idea is something more like "go to the moon and start working on an interplanetary computer network" or "build a supercomputer"

You will never be able to measure the financial contribution made by that 3D printer, so why bother?

Sure you will. The practice is to imagine two worlds: one world with the 3D printer, and one world without the 3D printer. Then estimate the outcome, and how revenues and costs change, without having purchased the 3D printer, to figure the opportunity cost.

By the way; if the 3D printer was required for a $3billion in profit generating project to first get off the ground; then the opportunity cost of having not purchased the 3D printer was ~ $3bn.

The assumption is the project would not have happened at all if not for the 3D printer.

You can also entertain worlds where that was not the case ---- you can assume the idea would occur anyways, but implementation would be delayed, or you'd realize at a later event that a 3D printer (or other method) was needed; in which case, you would need to figure out how much the costs go up, or how much the revenues go down by not having the 3D printer at that time.

It's tedious to work, and the math only worth doing later if the project turned out to be obviously valuable --- but it's not intractible.

Re:Sounds more like a mockery (1)

evilbessie (873633) | about a year ago | (#44754729)

But then do you not have to evaluate all the unsuccessful stuff. How do you quantify the rapidly prototyping with a 3D printer vs. slower prototyping, which out of necessity is only going to be used on well formed ideas and the various success rates. It's pretty hard maths and it's only by judicious use of these tools can maximum benefit be obtained.

And even if you could do this you wouldn't be measuring anything, you'd be estimating.

Re:Sounds more like a mockery (1)

mysidia (191772) | about a year ago | (#44754827)

But then do you not have to evaluate all the unsuccessful stuff. How do you quantify the rapidly prototyping with a 3D printer vs. slower prototyping, which out of necessity is only going to be used on well formed ideas and the various success rates.

This, by the way: is not a new problem. It's part of the accounting that management of businesses like IBM already have to do in order to figure out their return on assets, and other metrics typically used by management.

And technically.... operating a 3D printer is separate from having a 3D printer. For example: the organization could lease time on a 3D printer instead of buying one.

Personally, I think it's all moot -- because a 3D printer is less than $5,000; and it's more like a line item expense, than a capital investment.

Major projects that use a 3D printer should probably not be credited to whoever decided to buy a 3D printer. Buying one is not something novel or innovative: it's an obvious choice.

And even if you could do this you wouldn't be measuring anything, you'd be estimating.

All measurements in the real-world are estimates. There is always some degree of error in any measurement; they are only exact when comparing to the definition; for example the "reference cylinder" at the BIPM; that 1 kilogram is defined to be the mass of.

Re:Sounds more like a mockery (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44758365)

This seems more like it's meant for making the office more enjoyable and easy, and realizing the guy sitting on the top floor of the skyscraper doesn't really know what employees want.

Re:Sounds more like a mockery (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44762435)

Given how small the employee population of a company like IBM is; $100 per person might add up to 10,000 or so.

IBM has 100 employees? You are a troll.

Survey (2)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44754427)

Umm, it's not crowdfunding. It's a survey or poll. Like what do you want for the break room? Ping pong table? Cappuccino machine? Etc.

You know, stuff people have been doing for forever to get information on what a group wants.

It's missing all the elements of crowdfunding. Like the actual funding from the crowd.

Re:Survey (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44754967)

yes. this is identical to a Prediction Market https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prediction_market.

Re:Survey (1)

ET3D (1169851) | about a year ago | (#44759841)

Right (and wrong, see below). This is a bad article by Network World, trying to frame this as crowdfunding, and bundling it with other crowdfunding news. It's possible that this is how IBM presented the subject to them, but I'd have liked a bit more critical thinking from the reporter.

The result is that most comments here make it clear that people didn't get what IBM did. To quote the relevant part of the article: "they were able to propose and fund projects designed to improve corporate culture and staff morale".

Where you're wrong is that it's not a survey or poll, because the suggestions come from the employees. That's where this scheme is better, because the company is saying "we're giving you a maximum of $50,000, what would you do with it?" rather than the higher ups providing the suggestions.

How to make it work (1)

jiadran (1198763) | about a year ago | (#44754565)

It won't work because people cannot do anything else with the money and thus will spend it on some project. They will not choose the best project as they don't have any particular incentive to do so. They will rather spend the money on the project of the people they are friends with.

To make it work I would propose the following changes:

- Employees have to invest real money (e.g., from their salaries). Investments are, of course, completely voluntarily. Investments could be limited to e.g., $1000 per employee per year. The important thing here is that the employee has to invest real money that she/he could use otherwise, so they will only do so for projects that they really believe in.

- IBM would increase the investment to e.g., 10x the value the employee invested. This would ensure that there is a boost to what an employee can achieve with her/his investment.

- The employee gets a bonus if the idea turns into a (viable) business project / product. The bonus could be e.g., 10x the value invested. This would ensure that the employees have an incentive to participate in such projects and that they really choose projects they think are viable rather than the projects of their friends. There could be additional factors, such as a 100x boost if the project not only succeeds but really takes off.

How to choose the "boost factor"? Well, if 10% of projects succeed on average, then the boost factor should be bigger than (1 / 10%) to ensure that investors get on average their investment back (and thus are motivated to participate).

Re:How to make it work (1)

CBM (51233) | about a year ago | (#44761847)

This.

Kickstarter is about putting your own money where your interests are. You wouldn't do otherwise because it's your money.

This IBM project is about putting fake money where your fake interests are, so the results will be fake.

How low IBM morale is.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44754983)

"46% of the employees involved actually did “make a mark on the database” by investing, viewing projects, volunteering to participate in projects or taking other actions"

That's right, less than half of all employees even looked at this. And these are research people that are always interested in the latest ideas.

Stupid (2)

afidel (530433) | about a year ago | (#44755207)

At $100 they've wasted 99% of the funds on making people choose, when I was at Cisco anything under $10k could be put on a corporate credit card because it cost $68 in personnel time to cut a PO with approvals, I can't see how this model can possibly be effective with such small amounts of money unless it's a testbed to research the concept for bigger corporate-wide use.

Re:Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44757671)

unless it's a testbed to research the concept for bigger corporate-wide use.

Exactly. Crowd funding is the Next Big Thing (TM), due to their similarity to assurance contracts. There's a wealth of information in your employees, but it currently goes unused because of the politics surrounding corporate hierarchy.

Furlough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44755337)

Is furloughing their server employees how they're paying for the projects?

Anyone heard of other enterprises doing this? (1)

alphadogg (971356) | about a year ago | (#44755617)

Have heard maybe a German bank was doing something like this, but havent come across other examples

Throw away Lotus Notes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44755631)

I'd pay good money for that alone..

Dollars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44756229)

Shouldn't that be rupees?

BFD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44756803)

So they furloughed a huge number of US employees so they could give non-productive eggheads money to come up with something IBM bigwigs can fatten their purses with. Too bad IBM has no clue how to do modern software or hardware development so they will just ruin whatever they come up with like thy do with every company they acquire. A slowly dying dinosaur, it should be put out of it's and our misery.

Not the system I was expecting to read about. (1)

eyenot (102141) | about a year ago | (#44759105)

I had assumed that I was going to read about an internal system IBM uses to determine which projects to pursue, that operates similar to "Kickstarter" but where the donors offer their professional services as employees of IBM toward projects proposed by various members of various departments.

I think a system like that would work if each user had to spend "priority" in some fashion. For instance, you could be doled out 5 priority tags to attach to a particular skill tag which you will in turn offer toward a project that shares or requests the involvement of that skill tag.

You would whore yourself out, 5-4-3-2-1.

Then if the project you tagged with the top priority (5 we'll say) falls through from lack of support, then you will find yourself fulfilling the duties you pledged with the next priority down. And so on down the line until you're a failure because you didn't pick any winners.

Then the successfully "funded" projects would go into overtime, and the people who haven't "found work" would be able to tag themselves onto the second echelon of support, like a reserve or a bullpen, or even (if the project can find use for them) as active participants.

Instead "well uh they gave them all uhh $100, uhhhh, you can buy a car with that, or uhhhhhh a candy bar even!"

IBM Research Only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44761061)

This is only within IBM Research division if you RTFA. IBM Research puts out some amazing work, but they represent a very small percentage of the total company size. In the example given, it was pilot group of 500 users at the Watson Research site ... 500 / 434,246 employees = 0.115% of the total IBM workforce.

Take the whole IBM utilizing Kickstarter for internal projects with a grain of salt, its definitely limited.

Innovation(?) (1)

sts2nihon (2397022) | about a year ago | (#44779265)

Ah, because the old business model of 'suck the lives out of your employees and then fire them indiscriminately' needed tweaking, then? Interesting.
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