Greetings.  Comedian Paula Poundstone once offered the following insight:

"Adults are always asking children what they want to be when they grow up–it's because they are looking for ideas."

It's an amusing notion that might even have a bit of truth to it in these challenging economic times when many people will have the "opportunity" to consider second and even third careers.  And it's also an interesting notion in terms of innovation and business success.  The idea that we might ask others, including strangers, for their thoughts on the right products, services and solutions for us to offer, or the best practices and experiences that might accompany them.  And I'm guessing that many of you are doing this already.  Asking colleagues, vendors, customers, friends, neighbors, former classmates and others for their suggestions on ways to improve your businesses.

In this light, Walmart's recent "Get on the Shelf" initiative was a clever test of the value of asking customers for product ideas and the power of crowdsourcing to determine their likely popularity.  It was also a great way to generate a lot of social media attention.  And in the end, after receiving more than 4,000 ideas from its customers–ideas ranging from the crazy to the purposeful–the company chose three winners with real crowd appeal.  But before we get to the winners, you might enjoy a note about some entries that did not quite seize the day.  Entries like "Pelo Nuevo"–a vinegar-based salad dressing designed to cure baldness.  Or "Showels" –shorts made from beach towels that might have become this summer's pool and beach sensation (accept for the fact that they left the judges a bit dry).  Or "Scrats" –scarves that remarkably turn into hats.

Okay, so you're not overwhelmed by a desire to buy.  Well maybe the winners will inspire you.

The Grand Prize clearly touched the collective conscience of Walmart's customers. It's called Humankind Water, a new brand of spring water that contributes 100% of its profits toward providing wells and filtration systems for places in the world where children are dying due to a lack of clean drinking water.  One of the other winners is also linked to a challenging societal issue.  The "SnapIt Eyeglass Repair Kit" provides a simple screw that can be used to fix most eyeglasses in only 30 seconds and donates all of its proceeds to Jaylen's Challenge–an anti-bullying program started by an 11-year-old.  And the other winner is "PlateTopper" a handy invention that turns plates into airtight food storage containers.

Time will tell how popular these three new offerings are, but Walmart's idea might just spark your thinking about how to best leverage the ideas of customers in your company or organization.


We win in business and in life when we ask others for their ideas.  And when we commit to giving everyone a chance to own a bit of shelf space.