Featured case:
“Kickboxing” at Adobe Systems

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The case

Who – the protagonist

Mark Randall, Chief Strategist and Vice President for Creativity of Adobe’s Digital Media Business Unit and creator of the ‘Kickbox’ programme at Adobe Systems. Described by David Wadhwani, Head of Adobe’s Digital Media Business Unit, as ‘a creative agitator with lots of wacky ideas. We don’t know if any of them are any good, but there are lots of them.’

What

‘Kickbox’ (derived from ‘kick start’ and ‘box’) is the pioneering innovation and entrepreneurship programme created by Mark Randall at Adobe Adobe KickboxSystems. Kickbox is a grassroots system for generating new and exciting business ideas among employees across the company. Participants are given a red box filled with the instructions they need to pursue their ideas, plus $1,000 to fund their activities. The box even includes a Starbucks gift card and chocolate bar. Says Mark: ‘Sugar and caffeine are, to my experience, two of the four major food groups for innovators.’

Why

David Wadhwani, the executive sponsor of the Kickbox project, had been looking for a way to establish a more rapid, experimentation-oriented business-building capacity. He realised Mark’s groundbreaking approach offered the makings of a whole new platform for innovation and intrapreneurship at Adobe.

Where

The Kickbox programme was initially launched at Adobe’s San Jose HQ and has since been rolled out to offices worldwide.

When

Kickbox was introduced in 2012. By autumn 2014, hundreds of company employees had taken part in the programme and 22 individuals and teams had reached the ‘blue box stage’ – where further access to funding and venture development coaching is provided.

Key quote

‘If I’m teaching someone to swim, I’m going to do it in a swimming pool, not a classroom.’ – Mark Randall

What next?

What’s the future for Kickbox? How can the momentum be sustained among employees? Should it remain a voluntary programme? Should Kickbox success stories be kept in-house, or set up as separate ventures? And should the Kickbox concept be made available to other companies? 

 
The protagonist

Mark RandallAn insider’s view: Mark Randall, Chief Strategist and Vice President for Creativity for Adobe Digital Media, Adobe Systems

Innovation expert

It was valuable to get an outside perspective from an innovation expert like Jeremy on our internal programme. As Jeremy dove deep into the both the structure and history of Kickbox, it helped me realise some things about the nature and significance of what we’ve been doing that are hard to see from a day-to-day execution perspective.

Fresh insights

Through the case study process we realised, that unlike most other enterprise innovation programmes, Kickbox has evolved to be more about building innovators than innovations. I’m not sure I could have expressed that concept in a sentence if we’d not had the opportunity to stop and look back introspectively at what Kickbox has become and how it’s paid long-term dividends to Adobe. This significant value of Kickbox emerged slowly over time and Jeremy’s probing questions brought it into crystal clear focus.

Outside perspective

I was able to see Jeremy teaching the case just as we were about to head into next year’s planning cycle and some of the student suggestions figured into new directions we’re considering for Kickbox. It was fascinating to see how students analysed what we’ve been doing from an outside perspective.

Terrific opportunity

You can get a lot out of the case development process if you’re willing to actively participate. It provides a terrific opportunity for increasing understanding and extracting lessons learned. It also drove some valuable dialogue at the executive level which helped build alignment around our future direction.

e mrandall@adobe.com
tw @markran

The author

Jeremy DannJeremy B. Dann

Jeremy discusses his lucky break and why the Kickboxing initiative was so exciting to write about.

‘We have to develop this case’

I’m always on the lookout for case concepts – and this was just a lucky break. As part of his presentation at a seminar I attended, Mark Randall discussed Kickbox, the grassroots innovation programme he started and has been leading within Adobe for the last two years. I’ve worked with around three dozen companies on their innovation programmes, but this was probably the most open, yet comprehensive mobilization of employee innovation talent I had ever come across. Right at the end of the talk I leapt down to the teaching pit like a first-year MBA student and told him, ‘we have to develop this into a case’.

Enlightening discussions

Mark spent a lot of time with me in person and on the phone. Adobe wants to get the word out about this innovation programme so others can use it and potentially build on it, so he was very vested in the process. It was really enlightening to talk with him since he has a great deal of experience in start-ups and corporate entrepreneurship.

Everyone’s job and no one’s job

You would not believe how many companies I’ve come across who put the same people with the same training in the same conference room with the Innovationsame marketing reports and the same financial goals and tell them to ‘think outside the box’. This is a hollow command and managers shouldn’t be surprised when their teams innovate only at the margins – if at all.

Other leaders declare, ‘innovation is everyone’s job at our company’. Well, innovation is no one’s job when it’s ‘everyone’s job’ – unless you give real resources, time and support to the people who take on this challenge.

‘Rubber to the road’ programme

What we see in this case are the details of a ‘rubber to the road’ programme that is both an enabler and a forcing action for innovation. The case shows how mature organisations can borrow elements from the Lean Startup methodology to experiment and gain real data about nascent markets.

Students can think about this kind of innovation programme not just from the grassroots level, but also from the perspective of higher level execs who need to make sure this exciting new methodology is actually producing some results. Please feel free to reach out to me if you want to introduce this or another case from our new collection into your programme.

Case writing advice

Although I felt immediately when I met Mark that we had a case, I probably talked with him for an hour in a pre-interview to make sure it would work and that the company culture would embrace the process. You have to make sure it’s a fit from both the content and the culture perspective. I probably have to talk to between eight and ten companies in some depth to find a lead I will pursue.

The author

Jeremy B. Dann, Adjunct Professor, USC Marshall School of Business, Los Angeles, US
e jdann@marshall.usc.edu

 
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“Kickboxing” at Adobe Systems
Ref SCG-510

Teaching note
Ref SCG-810

Cases from The Grief Center

This case is part of The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Case Collection. The Greif Center’s case collection focuses primarily on entrepreneurial ventures and corporations pursuing game-changing innovations. The collection emphasises industries in which Southern California is a leading global player: media, entertainment, consumer internet, fashion, health care, tourism, aerospace, cleantech and other sectors.

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