The Toronto Star’s Idea Factory is an internal process for stimulating, collecting, and evaluating new product ideas and cost improvements. 

The Star encapsulated its mission in the form of a logo that simply and dynamically expresses the immediacy, curiosity, and “what if” potential of its quest. The Star created a Web tool for ideas submissions, with significant encouragement on stimulating ideas. Responses are discussed, over coffee, in an Idea Factory Café. 

Employee ideas are often discussed at the company cafe.
Employee ideas are often discussed at the company cafe.

Participants only need to submit their thoughts around a few simple questions, then a review committee screens the ideas to determine which ones require additional investigation. 

What sets this apart from other “employee suggestion box” concepts is that more effort is spent on stimulating ideas. Each month, the company issues a new, fun, and engaging challenge to the entire consumer marketing division, allowing everyone to participate in some way. 

Some examples include “submit an old idea that you were told will never work,” or “cash confessions — tell us how you would treat yourself if you suddenly had extra cash in your pocket.”

People post their responses in the Idea Factory Café where the newspaper gathers to celebrate and discuss the ideas (and have a coffee!). Before the Idea Factory, people never knew what happened with their idea. A brief feedback mechanism in Idea Factory informs the idea submitter of the status of their idea. 

The result is that the Idea Factory stimulates new product ideas — both for the participants from the department and for the product development team, which takes the submissions and looks for trends and/or product concepts to build on. Since the launch in March 2013, the Toronto Star has received more than 1,000 challenge responses, 157 ideas to the Idea Factory, six products, and C$2 million in incremental revenue.

“We live by the mantra that there are no bad ideas — because even the not-so-great ones can stimulate great discussion and more ideas,” says Lauralei Heggie, director/consumer products at Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. 

Editor’s note: This is one of 17 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “How Media Companies Embrace the Process of Innovation.”