Like many other large companies, Shell has an online resource where people can submit innovative ideas.
It’s called GameChanger, and its introductory Web page can be found here.
But, unlike other companies, Shell accepts ideas from anyone and uses a venture capital-like approach for development.
“GameChanger is not a suggestion system. It’s a place where people can come with ideas seeking the resources to develop them,” said Russ Conser, manager-GameChanger for Shell International Exploration and Production Co. in Houston.
An innovation submitted to GameChanger is screened and – if accepted – gets support for a proof-of-concept process, according to Conser.
If the idea proves viable it then goes through another screening process, where approval wins it funding for development.
A key requirement is that any externally submitted idea has to have an internal Shell person involved as a “champion” for that innovation.
“Their interest has to rise to a level where they want to work with this person outside the company,” Conser said.
“One of the ways you can tell good ideas is that people want to work with them,” he said, “and you can tell bad ideas if people run away from them.”
The basic idea for GameChanger was developed in 1996-97 by Tim Warren, then Shell’s R&D chief, and business professor Gary Hamel. At that time funding for outside research was drying up and Shell’s own research had to become more focused, Conser said.
Hamel is a consultant and author who’s known for co-originating the concept of “core competencies.”
“They designed the process we still use today,” Conser said.
Shell employees also can submit ideas for GameChanger, but at any one time about 70 percent of the project portfolio involves material collaboration with people outside Shell, Conser noted. More than half of those people are typically in universities.
“It was originally created with the model that it was a place where Shell people could send in ideas,” Conser said. “About five years after it started the light went on: ‘Why do we care whose idea it is?’”
The fruition time for developing an innovation averages about 24 months from start to finish, but can run anywhere from six months to three years, he said.
Shell has a team of 11 GameChangers, managed by Conser, who draw on expertise from other places inside the company to assess and help develop submitted ideas.
Conser considers himself lucky to be on innovation’s front edge.
“I get to hear the most interesting ideas from the most interesting people,” he said. “I feel really fortunate.”