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The Business of Innovation Quickly Becoming a Game

As the world plunged into despair during the financial crisis of 2008, James Gardner was using an idea-sharing game to help his bank save millions of dollars in less than a year. Similar systems built on the same software have since changed how businesses and cities from Wal-Mart to New York now play the innovation game.

The innovation market game gave all bank employees — including the tellers — a chance to come up with new ideas, share them with fellow employees, and invest virtual money in stocks representing the ideas. Such game techniques, including leader board rankings to show top earners, transformed uninterested employees into eager players of what amounted to a fun suggestion box.

But it still looked like a gamble back in 2008. At that time, Gardner only knew that his innovation program at the Lloyds Banking Group in London faced cancellation.

"In desperation, having decided the team and I would not be able to create the next big breakthrough that would change the world, I turned to the crowd," Gardner said.

To make his innovation market game, Gardner turned to a digital platform designed by a California-based startup called Spigit. He spoke about his experience at the Gamification Summit — a conference about the use of gamelike challenges and rewards to provoke deeper engagement and more dedication in otherwise less interesting activities — held in New York City on Sept. 15 and 16.

In one case, bank tellers realized that customers sometimes ignored a check box for terms and conditions at the end of bank loan applications. By suggesting that the bank move the check box from the left side to the right side, they helped get new loan customers valued at millions of dollars per month.

Many of those small changes added up to huge savings for Lloyds over time. When the British government nationalized the bank during the financial crisis, it, too, began adopting the innovation market system for civil servants. The first department using the system saved about $40 million (26 million pounds) over nine months.

But Gardner cautioned that Spigit remains just one weapon in the innovation arsenal. Governments and companies still need to work hard to build up a crowd of users, and to have a system for translating the ideas into practice.

"I made a key mistake when I deployed Spigit; I imagined it'd be enough to have a cool tool so that people would flock in and, magically, I'd have innovation," Gardner told InnovationNewsDaily. "It's actually hard work to build a crowd and then steer them in the right direction."

Spigit may eventually not only tap the eyes and ears of users, but also "give the crowd hands" to make ideas into innovation, Gardner said. He now serves as international managing director for Spigit, which has licensed its innovation management software to corporations ranging from JC Penny to Overstock.com.

Gardner discusses more lessons learned about innovation in an upcoming book called "Sidestep & Twist" (Marshall Cavendish Trade, 2011).

"When you go to a crowd, the implication is that you can do a large number of things at once, and they don't have to be grand projects," Gardner said. "Take the check box example and imagine doing a thousand of those."

This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. You can follow InnovationNewsDaily Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu on Twitter @ScienceHsu. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.