Thinking out of the box

Mark Randall, VP for creativity at Adobe.

To bring change to an internal system, you need to find new ways to innovate. Adobe managed to renew itself thanks to the business model offered by Kickbox.

Formerly, innovation at Adobe happened in research laboratories and through collaboration with academics in a top-down approach, and they needed to overhaul everything to implement emergent innovation. Interest in their unusual approach to innovation, the red box they offered their staff, the Kickbox, has now traveled beyond Adobe. To meet external demand, they have even made it available in open source (at

An idea box for innovation

Adobe’s objective? Increase the failure rate of innovation using up to $500,000 so far for testing projects on clients, with real feedback, without any justification, whether upstream or downstream. Because if you increase the number of products being toyed with, even if many fail, the overall cost is less than only funding a few experiments.

Any employee can ask for a Kickbox, whether they work in human resources or maintenance. Adobe offered a two-day training course to learn how to use it, but it was not mandatory. There was no selection among the ideas, all were funded, without anyone judging the process. This is done because « We could be wrong and say that it’s a dumb idea whereas it could be a good idea » Mark Randall explains.


The cost is limited by a prepaid credit card of $1000 to be found in the box, alongside the indispensable candy bars and coffee credits to stimulate creativity.

« If we can’t innovate the future, we’re dead » Mark Randall had explained to the financial department, worried about all the spending.

The box in question has a five level process:

  • inception, i.e. motivation, balance between the passion of the staff and the needs of the clients;
  • ideation: how to have bad ideas;
  • and how to pick the right ideas;
  • exploration, by speaking directly to customers and testing the product on them.

Give every idea a chance

For this last step, Mark Randall implores us « stop playing HIPPO! » (highest paid person’s opinion). Receiving the largest salary does not always make you right, and it is hard to make data and customer feedback lie.

One of the projects born out of a kickbox in Europe was to offer people who did not know how to use Photoshop to upload their photos for modification. Then the project simply implemented a template and used Google Adwords to generate traffic. Thanks to 4000 unique visitors, the team noted that people upload their photos the very first day and also opt to manually change other visitors’ photos. The data gathered were presented to management, leading to a second question: are people willing to pay for this service? And to a further question: would users be willing to provide a service touching up photos for money?

« All new ideas tend to look like bad ideas » warns Mark Randall, who encourages companies to at least let ideas out of the box before judging them: the red box led to a blue box, designed for project implementation. The reason behind the success of the experiment is that the staff see that their company has trust in their judgment: this is a powerful message which shows that the company counts on them.

photo de mark randall usi 2015

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