What does a person, who works for a supermarket, do when he or she has an idea?

At an interesting event a few weeks ago about the future of retail, I learned about some of the effects that digitization has on, for example, supermarkets. I was somewhat surprised to hear that when a person, who works for a Migros supermarket, has an idea, he or she goes to the store manager and communicates the idea to him or her. The store manager then decides what is going to happen with that idea. Being curious about how such an  innovation process works at COOP, I asked a person, who works for a COOP retail store. I was told that this particular innovation process works more or less in a similar way. When a person, who works for a certain COOP supermarket, has an idea, he or he communicates the idea to the store manager. The store manager then decides what is going to happen with that idea.

Reflecting on what I learned during the events mentioned above and reflecting on aspects related to retail innovation. two strategic dilemmas come into my mind: The strategic dilemma efficiency vs. creativity and the strategic dilemma planning vs. testing / trying ideas out.

Regarding the strategic dilemma efficiency vs. creativity, I understood that supermarket chains have a relatively strong focus on efficiency. For example, I learned that people, who work for a COOP supermarket on a certain day, meet for 5 minutes in the morning to bring up whatever they have on their mind, for example ideas to improve things. I understood that, for various reasons such as the focus being a lot more on eficiency than on creativity, few ideas are brought forward.  At this event I learned that at Migros things work somewhat similarly. Although anyone can communicate ideas through Migipedia and/or other social media, I understood that, traditionally, people often follow the hierarchical way when they have a wish to change things. And as the focus is a lot more on efficiency than on creativity, few ideas are brought forward.

When it comes to the strategic dilemma planning vs. testing / trying ideas out, I learned that supermarket chains have a relatively strong focus on planning. Also, I learned that most planning is mostly done centrally. And people, who work for a certain supermarket, hardly test / try out ideas they have, for example ideas that they think could improve the experience for people who use that particular retail store. Instead, they follow plans developed centrally.


Learning about digital democracy

Earlier this year, I participated – along with many other people from across the world – in the very interesting and highly interactive learning initiative The active citizen in a digital age. Finding the topic strongly relevant for increasing the quality of our lives, I searched for possibilities to learn more about how digitization changes democracies.

Participating at this event, for example, I learned more about the growth of open organizations. As I understood it, the growth of open organizations is being fueled by several exciting technologies – including social media and other platforms on which people can learn from each other. At this event, I discovered that there is a large potential to involve more people to develop and communicate ideas on all kinds of topics as well as vote for / select which ideas to test / try out. In this regard, I learned by participating at this event that Internet voting has a high approval rate among people, and that pilot tests are being done.

Reflecting on the events / learning challenges mentioned above, there are more initiatives which I find very useful. For example, I experience it as a value adding initiative that learning events are open for everyone – meaning that external people have the possibility to participate / get involved / contribute. Also, I find it helpful that social media are being put into service, for example by using hashtags such as this one. I experience that using hashtags can help people to learn from / with each other.

Thinking about other initiatives that could be beneficial for involving people more before, during and/or after a learning event – and thereby strengthen the learning experience – I came to think of these three ideas:

Idea # 1
What about making Internet access open to everyone? In several spaces, I experience it is uncomplicated for people to access the Internet. At facilities of the Zürich University of Teacher Education, for example, I experienced that to get access to the Internet, you simply enter your mobile phone number on the start page and then enter the code you receive via sms. And at train stations across Switzerland, I experienced that getting access to the Internet is even more uncomplicated. Once you connect to the relevant wi-fi network under settings / connections / wi-fi on your mobile electronic device, you are online.

Idea # 2
What about using the poll functionality on Twitter to ask event participants to vote on various topics related to the particular learning event?

Idea # 3 
During a learning event, what if the moderator facilitates / moderates one or more exercises among event participants? Here is an example of a short 2-person exercise example that the moderator could initiate when an invited expert has spoken for about 20 minutes: “Please turn to the person sitting next to you. During the next 3 minutes, please share with each other what is important to each of you in what has just been presented.” After this 3 minute chat exercise in 2-person groups, the expert continues her / his presentation.

Additional event exercises: