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    Stephanie Pace Marshall describes the type of environment needed to nurture innovation as “messy, non-linear, non-predictive,” which seemingly goes against the grain of traditional top-down corporate and leadership models. So is there a way for organizations and leaders to unleash the creative talent and energy of their people in a way that provides – as someone recently put it – “freedom within a framework”?

    A great example is what happened when IBM, one of the arguably more traditional companies, went through a major transformation to reinvent itself that continues today.

    Creating an environment of “collaborative innovation” has been a critical component of IBM’s remarkable transformation over the past few years. One of the successful approaches they’ve used to engage employees in IBM’s transformation journey is global “jams.” These online brainstorming events harness the collective gifts and abilities of IBM employees in ideation and problem-solving on real business and organizational issues.

    In 2003, a three-day Values Jam engaged the entire company around redefining IBM’s core values for the first time in nearly a century. The values they co-created set in motion a change movement at IBM that was the foundation of their efforts to reinvent the company.

    The IBM jams have not only helped spark employee creativity and collaboration but have also hatched new businesses. The company’s largest online brainstorming – Innovation Jam in 2006 – brought together more than 150,000 employees. Out of that session, 10 new IBM businesses were launched with a total investment of $100 million.

    Liam Cleaver, the IBM Jam program director, says that what makes jams work for both the company and employees is that they are designed as focused group discussions around a set topic with practical outcomes. The jams have proven so effective that IBM now offers them to other companies as well as institutions and governments who are looking for new approaches to solving a range of business, economic and social issues.

    What are other great ways that companies can tap the abundant potential of their employees, inspire their creativity and provide new forums for collaboration and problem-solving? What methods have you tried at your organization?

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