How @KaiNexus is Different Than “Collaborative Ideation” Software


There are many articles written about collaborative “ideation” systems (sometimes referred as “crowdsourcing”) – web and software systems that allow ideas to bubble up from a large population of employees. I'd call these “suggestions,” per Norman Bodek's definition that ideas are things I can do, suggestions are things somebody else needs to do.

There's a time and a place for ideation systems… but it's a different (and likely complementary) model than KaiNexus, the startup I am a part of.

From a recent FORTUNE magazine story on AT&T:

Q: The competition among wireless carriers to introduce new services is relentless. How do you keep up?

A: We have what we think is one of the largest crowd-sourcing ideation programs. We have 250,000 employees. All of them can submit an idea, and it's crowd-sourced, so people say, “But what about this?” or “What about that?” We bring some of those ideas into commercial use. For example, a young father was using two devices at work, one for work and one for home, trying to keep up with his job and his family. He came up with the idea of having a single device with multiple personas. He submitted that idea. We worked it through our Foundry outside Dallas, one of our three innovation centers around the world. And it became a commercial product we launched last fall called AT&T Toggle.

These ideation systems do something that local kaizen-based improvement systems can't do. They can bring a big technical or new-product idea into existence, since it's something that likely can't be done by a single person in a single department.

I think these systems are great when they incorporate customer ideas and feedback, since customers can't directly make the ideas happen. Starbucks and Dell are two examples of companies that have these systems. If a customer wants to propose a cherry-lavender latte, other customers can vote yay or nay. There's a big social and voting aspect to these systems, as they try to draw on the “wisdom of the crowd.”

Ideation systems are looking for big home-run ideas. They bring a SMALL number of ideas into reality (because the cherry-lavender latte might be a horrible idea). They, in a sense, automate the traditional suggestion box (and they democratize it, in some ways, taking control away from a central suggestion committee).

KaiNexus is built on proven “kaizen” principles for improvement. Our web-based system (with a companion iOS app) is set up to:

  • Let people identify problems or opportunities for improvement that THEY can address locally
  • Allows people to participate in their own improvement efforts, with their manager and colleagues
  • Get input from others – in your department or other departments that would be impacted by your idea
  • Allows those big ideas that can't be addressed locally to bubble up to be moved laterally to the level of leadership (or department) that CAN address it
  • Keeps everybody in the loop – transparency is a core principle

With KaiNexus, we see organizations making changes 60 to 90% of time when an opportunity for improvement is initiated. If KaiNexus were used at Starbucks, we wouldn't want the ideation system turned off. KaiNexus would be used by baristas and managers to implement ideas that allowed them to make a cherry-lavender latte more efficiently. The decision to offer (or not offer) such a product would be the result of the ideation software.

KaiNexus is about LOTS of ideas, implementing the vast majority locally — not about a SMALL number of big ideas. You can watch some short videos of one of our early adopters, Dr. Julie Lewis, talking about how they use KaiNexus in her health system – for ideas both large and small. These opportunities for improvement didn't have to bubble up to the CEO or get voted on throughout the hospital.

It's not necessarily a choice – KaiNexus and ideation systems can co-exist and complement each other, I'd propose. If people are more engaged in kaizen-style improvement, they are probably more likely to put ideas into the ideation system.

I'm interested in your feedback — is that description and comparison clear, between collaborative ideation and KaiNexus?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Hi Mark

    As you say, Kainexus is the foundation for enabling ideas to be accessable across the department or system, ideas that provide the opportunities which, if of enough merit, can then be elevated upstairs for further development through the ideation system. I don’t know how these other companies manage this initial input now.

    But Kainexus also would enable them to track and manage the progress of the idea or suggestion’s development, too. Kainexus, it seems, fulfills the infrastructure needs to make the idea/suggestion/ideation system work.


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