Identify Priority Innovation Areas

Point: Define priority innovation areas to harness employee energy

Story: When it comes to innovation, Harrah’s Entertainment doesn’t play games. The operator of a global chain of 50 casinos is pursuing a theme-focused innovation strategy similar to technology giant Hewlett-Packard and venture capital firm The Foundry Group. The company identified six areas of interest (akin to HP’s 8 themes and Foundry’s 5 themes – see Innovation Investment Strategy). Harrah’s target areas are: enabling technologies (such as wireless and radio frequency identification); enabling platforms (cloud computing, service-oriented architecture, anything-as-a-service); “smart” service (self-service kiosks); interactive CRM; next-generation gaming; and expanded channels to reach customers.

An innovation team of about 10 people from IT, marketing, customer service and gaming evaluate idea submissions from employees. Harrah’s also taps the innovations of vendors and is considering enlisting the public in seeking new innovations in gaming and entertainment. To gather even more feedback, Harrah’s created an “Innovation Portal” where employees can vote for their favorite innovation. Top management (CEO Gary Loveman and VP of Innovation Chris Chang) then decides which ideas ultimately get funded.


  • Identify the areas of top priority to your firm, to help steer energy & momentum in the areas that will provide most value to your firm.
  • Use themes to look for the deeper, long-term enablers and platforms rather than shallow short-term gadgets and projects.
  • Ask employees for suggestions, feedback or votes on ideas within these areas
  • Consider involving vendors, customers and the public as well, to expand the pool of ideas. (This strategy will require thinking through the IP issues.)

For more information on Harrah’s: Network Computing article

8 Comments »Case study, Customers, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Strategy

8 Responses to “Identify Priority Innovation Areas”

  1. Steve Todd Apr 15th 2009 at 10:15 am 1

    At EMC we are in our third year of using “innovation-by-contest”, where global employees can participate in a portal to submit ideas, which are judged by corporate executives and top technologists. Interestingly enough, the main thrust is NOT theme-based at the moment! It is wide open. I personally think it’s a great idea to involve vendors/customers and am interested in hearing more information about different ways to pull this off.
    P.S. More detail on EMC’s contest:

  2. Andrea Meyer Apr 15th 2009 at 02:02 pm 2

    Thanks very much for your comment, Steve, and for your link to more information about EMC’s Innovation-by-Contest approach. It was also interesting to see EMC’s Innovation Network Lecture Series. Are these two efforts explicitly linked? If they are, then the lecture series could be a way to help EMC employees submit even better ideas by providing training, especially in gap areas (such as helping an engineer with deep technical knowledge understand the business or customer side of the proposed idea).

    It’s also interesting that EMC does not use the theme-based approach. HP made the decision to go from a wide-open approach to a theme-based one fairly recently, under the new HP Labs director Prith Banerjee.

    And to address your other point: I’ll be writing future posts about how to involve customers/vendors in the innovation process. Thanks for letting me know your interest in this area.

  3. Steve Todd Apr 16th 2009 at 07:47 am 3

    The ideas that surface during the contest (the contest is currently internal) can end up appearing in the Innovation Network Lecture Series (which is external). Also, while EMC’s current world-wide contest is not limited to a given set of themes, we do have theme-based innovation gatherings at various summits during the year. These summits are followed up the use of EMC’s internal social media collaboration tools (which are global as well).

    Looking forward to your future posts, and see you next month in NYC!

  4. Andrea Meyer Apr 16th 2009 at 08:03 am 4

    Thank you for your additional information about EMC’s innovation activities — I’m looking forward to talking with you more about all of this in NYC next month!

  5. Polly Pearson Apr 17th 2009 at 02:56 pm 5

    Hi Andrea,

    Great work! I loved your calling out of the employee vote for their favorite innovation. Anything that fosters engagement and empowerment of people is a key opportunity to invite further passion for innovation from a workforce (especially useful during an economic downturn.)

    Like commenter Steve Todd, I work at EMC. (In fact, we “met” via our employee social network.) Engagement via social media and 2.0 behavior models is a major theme at EMC, and we’re experiencing great benefits as a result.

    We now use our employee social network, and its global membership, to help design the content and logistics of our annual Innovation Conference and Idea Contest — as well as to have discussions on the idea submissions. (Imagine developers and other interested minds discussing such ideas free of usual silo or geographical restraints. Imagine the other net new ideas that are generated from these discussions.) The conference itself is broadcast via a live feed so that everyone engaged throughout the year can participate — we’re able to toggle from Russia, to India, to Ireland, and other facilities, live for rotating discussions led from those regions. The conference culminates in a “Peer Choice Award” vote, held on our social network, and announced in real-time at the conference. The physical “award” itself is similar to the Stanley Cup — it travels each year to the country of origin with the best idea … adding a little positively-charged competition!

    The take away here, I’ve seen, is of inclusion and empowerment in the innovation process. While the idea “stone” that is tossed in the company water is powerful, I suspect that the connections that come from the global inclusion and collaboration among interested minds that otherwise might never have known one another is at least as powerful.

    Warmest regards,

    Polly Pearson
    VP Employment Brand and Strategy Engagement, EMC Corp

  6. lawrence berezin Apr 18th 2009 at 06:21 pm 6


    Love your case studies. Incredibly informative and challenging. I think Harrah’s innovation strategy is wonderful. Very democratic and empowering to involve employees, vendors, customers, etc.

    Is the decision making process just as democratic; or do the CEO and VP of innovation simply make the call. How is the innovation decision communicated to all that participated? Does the employee votes count for anything except a count?

    How do you involve your vendors and customers in the process? What’s in it for them? How does Harrah’s reciprocate; do their participating vendors and customers ask for Harrah’s participation in their innovation process in return?

    Sorry for so many questions. If you find a moment, maybe you can pick two.

    Great job!

  7. Andrea Meyer Apr 20th 2009 at 08:32 am 7

    Thanks for your great comments & additions, Polly and Larry. Polly, it’s exciting to hear about EMC’s Peer Choice Award – what a great accolade that employees can give, and it’s exactly the kind of democratic award Larry was asking about. Most of the decision-making I’ve seen for the ideas submitted delves into market research, fit with the company’s objectives, etc., so it’s nice EMC also created an award that lets peers honor each other as well. Larry, your other questions look to me like topics for future blog posts to do them justice! I’m looking forward to learning more about EMC’s approach, because using the social network sounds like a great way to discuss the idea submissions.

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