Harvesting Business Ideasfrom Inside and Out
Medtronic taps social networking andcrowdsourcing to find innovation in unexpectedplaces.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011 By Emily Singer
Medtronic, the world's largest medical-devicemaker, has created devices to stimulate the brainand the heart, pump drugs, monitor blood sugar,repair valves, and stabilize the spine. Thecompany needs a constant influx of new ideas toimprove its products, and these ideas traditionally come from physicians.To hone these ideas, Medtronic increasingly employs social-networkingtechnologies within the company and also solicits solutions from inventors aroundthe world. "We are now trying to use new technologies to tap sources of ideasoutside of the regular landscape," says Mike Hess, the company's vice president of innovative excellence.The underpinning for Medtronic's internal social-networking platform isMicrosoft's SharePoint software, a tool that helps users set up websites and managedocuments. "But we've made it more usable and social," says Hess.Materials scientists and engineers working in different states and countries²thecompany employs about 5,000 scientists and engineers in R&D across the globe² pose questions to one another and find out if another group has already grappledwith a particular problem, he says.The company has developed community pages centered on specific topics, similar to fan pages on Facebook. "When new people come into the organization or aproject area, they have some knowledge to tap into," he says. "For example, we uselots of materials in different medical products that have different characteristics.