Do you know the story of the five monkeys and the ladder? It’s one of my all-time favorite social experiments because it brilliantly highlights what I call ‘The Innovation Challenge’.

As human beings we tend to favor the familiar. Over time we get set in our ways. The more we do something, the more difficult it becomes to change. Symptoms include uncontrollable and irrational bouts of, “But this is the way we’ve always done it!”

As the Manager of Liberty Global’s innovation program called ‘Spark’, it is my mission to help colleagues look beyond the status quo, to challenge convention and stimulate fresh thinking.

I am in good company. At Liberty Global, we believe that innovation is the unstoppable force which drives us forward. It propels the improvement of our products and services, and brings immeasurable benefits to our customers.

Ask anyone in our business, from C-suite executive to product owner and technician, and almost all will tell you that innovation is crucial to our success. But while this is encouraging, few will agree on what innovation actually looks like, or how best to go about it.

Defining innovation can be a challenge because, ultimately, it means different things to different people. Their field of expertise, their experience and, to a degree, their personality can all influence their attitude and approach to innovation.

Spark helps Liberty Global embrace this diversity of thought by tapping into the collective creativity of our most valuable asset: our network of highly skilled, knowledgeable and talented people.

We truly believe that every single employee, regardless of their title or seniority, has the power to change the way we do business; to make an impact; to think and act beyond their day-to-day role and bring about the changes that will make a positive difference.

Spark provides the voice and the platform where any colleague, from any market, can share ideas and stimulate others. By crowd-sourcing ideas in what we call ‘campaigns’ and ‘channels’, the Spark team gathers ideas that will bring best value to the business.

One of our most successful, most engaging campaigns to date has also yielded one of our most positive outcomes for customers. In 2016, and with the sponsorship of senior management, we called for ideas to help us work more efficiently, more cost effectively.

The ‘Keep It Smart and Simple’ (KISS) campaign attracted 164 ideas and over 1,700 comments. One of the ideas which made it through to the conceptualization and implementation phases came from a group of colleagues from Switzerland: an automated tool to detect and resolve network issues.
Analysis revealed that, when scaling the idea on a global level, the tool could reduce service disruptions, cut the need for customer support calls by up to 50 percent and deliver millions of Euros in savings! The solution is now being rolled out across the company.

Some of the best insights have come from our call center agents and field engineers. These customer-facing colleagues know better than anyone what our customers’ pain points are, and how to transform their ‘ouch’ moments into ‘wow’ moments.

Through Spark they share frequently faced challenges, before developing and scaling their ideas for global solutions. More often than not, an idea developed in Poland works equally well in the UK or Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter.

In Spark’s ‘License to Thrill’ campaign (a fun play on the popular Bond movie), a colleague proposed a solution to make time management more efficient. The simple, scalable plug-in was both welcomed and appreciated by colleagues across the region–from the Netherlands to the UK and Germany—because it helped them increase productivity.

In 2018 Spark celebrates its fifth anniversary. As one of the more mature and long-lasting innovation programs I am sometimes asked about the secrets to our success.

Beyond the incredible support, sponsorship and promotion from senior management, I believe it is our culture, which naturally embraces innovation, which is key. Spark reflects a mindset held by colleagues at every level of our company.

Everyone has important deadlines to meet. And yet, in my experience, most recognize that investing the time in sharing an idea through Spark has the potential to deliver huge benefits. Put simply, it is well worth their effort.

Effective marketing, communication and awareness-building is essential. The Spark team (lovingly!) spends many hours devising creative promotions which grab the attention of our colleagues. Humor, word-play and cultural references all help cut through the corporate chatter for maximum ROI. Standing out from the crowd helps you stay top of mind.

Recognizing and rewarding colleagues for their contributions also goes a long way to stimulate engagement. Beyond prizes for each campaign, annually we celebrate our participants with our Spark Awards ceremony. It’s a fun way to give colleagues a well-deserved pat on the back and to say thank you.

As our one-and-only global network dedicated to promoting innovation, I could not feel more proud of Spark for helping bring about some incredible and important changes. Here’s to an exciting, even more innovative five years ahead!