I have had the privilege of being a judge for several innovation competitions. But the one I attended this week was, well, a little different.
When we think of the people who drive innovation within companies, we usually think of new product development teams, research, marketing; the usual suspects. But what about the legal department?
The folks at GE’s Capital Solutions group are embracing innovation because, well, lawyers can be innovative, too. And why not?
Take the Legal Challenge
Barbara Daniele, SVP & General Counsel for GE Capital Solutions decided that the best way to ignite further progress around her organization’s objectives for the year was to launch a year-long Competition Challenge for her group. The Challenge, embraced by her team of over 100 people across a dozen international markets, works like this: each P&L within her group was to come up with a team project to drive new revenue and/or eliminate inefficiencies around how they do business. People could self-select their teams, and their projects; the only guidelines were:
- They had to be Big Ideas (that’s a GE phrase, actually). The idea could dramatically grow, or simplify, something that they do.
- They had to provide a PPT overview with a brief business description of their idea.
- Each team would have 15 minutes to present.
- As for the presentations, anything (!) goes.
Modeled on a certain favorite reality TV show, at the end of the First Round presentations, one team would be voted “off the island.” The remaining teams will go on to build out their concepts further, presenting more on their ideas each month until one team remains. The winning team will win a small fund to fuel their idea and get it to market. And by the way: even if your team was eliminated during the Challenge, you were expected to still pursue the solid parts of your idea if it could contribute to GE’s growth goals (hey, you don’t’ have to be the best idea to make a difference).
So, what happened?
Ten teams on April 15th presented to an esteemed panel of judges (ahem! that included me). The presentations, both the live versions and the PPTs, were nothing short of amazing. I mean, who knew that lawyers could give many of my creative colleagues such a run for their money? There were full-length videos of mock news casts, toolboxes filled with innovative tools, and even hula skirts. ALL the presentations had something in common – they took their project ideas very seriously and included real, innovative ways to drive growth, build business, or streamline current operations. Many of the ideas were so good people started brainstorming other groups for teams to talk to in order to get their idea in motion NOW.
Well, one team got voted off, but nine teams remain. And in May, another one will leave the GE Island. In the meantime, all of them are preparing their next rounds of project detail and putting together what are sure to be some impactful presentations. And perhaps a new hula skirt or two.
If anyone ever asks me if internal teams – or even lawyers – can contribute to innovation in meaningful ways, I’ll just point to this anecdote and rest my case.