shot_3-4dKickbox is a new innovation process that Adobe developed for its own use and then open-sourced so everyone can use it. It’s both a process for individuals and a system for deploying that process across an organization at scale. It’s designed to increase innovator effectiveness, accelerate innovation velocity, and measurably improve innovation outcomes. It can also optimize innovation investments by reducing costs compared to traditional approaches.


Who is Kickbox for?

Kickbox was designed to help organizations develop innovators and innovation across the enterprise. We can help you to evaluate and deploy the program in your company.

What does Kickbox do?

Adobe Kickbox delivers an actionable process for discovering new opportunities, validating customer engagement, and evaluating new business potential. It includes tools that help innovators define, refine, validate, and evolve their idea.

Kickbox helps innovators

  • Be more effective and have more impact
  • Build valuable life skills and experience (for example, ideation, divergent thinking, and business creation)
  • Increase job satisfaction and engagement (as demonstrated by participant evaluation scores)
  • Discover (or rediscover) their passion for delighting customers

Kickbox helps organizations

  • Increase innovation quantity, quality, and speed across the organization
  • Empower existing innovators to be more effective and more engaged
  • Identify and activate latent innovators (who may not know they’re innovators)
  • Foster an innovation culture and attract innovators to the organization

“Between my consulting, teaching and writing, I’ve worked with around three dozen companies on their innovation programs, but this is the most open, yet comprehensive mobilization of employee innovation talent I’ve ever come across.”
Jeremy Dann, Adjunct Professor, USC Marshall School of Business

This four-minute overview video will give you a closer look at Kickbox:


What does Kickbox cost?

The cost of deploying Kickbox is comparable to most training programs. At the same time, it is much more economical than traditional product development.  There is no cost for content licensing, and you only pay for facilitation, coaching, and the kit materials. Actual costs will vary by the number of program participants and are provided on request.

Alternatively, you can download and use Kickbox materials on your own, for free, because Adobe has made Kickbox distributable under a creative commons, share-alike, attribution license (license in the package download).

What’s the story behind Kickbox?

Kickbox was developed at Adobe by building on 30 years of experience successfully innovating. They wanted to empower individual employees to follow their instincts about emerging opportunities so they created an “innovation-in-a-box” kit. Each red box contains everything we think an enterprise innovator needs, including:

  • Money. Each red box contains a pre-paid credit card in the amount of US$1,000. Innovators use these funds to validate their idea.
  • Instructions. Kickbox includes quick reference cards outlining the six levels in the red box. Each card includes a checklist of actions innovators must complete to advance to the next level.
  • Other innovation tools. These include scorecards, frameworks, exercises, and other materials you’ll use to develop ideas.
  • Caffeine and sugar. Each red box includes a Starbucks gift card and a candy bar, since we all know that two of the four major food groups of innovators are caffeine and sugar!

By early 2015, Adobe had distributed over 1,000 red boxes to employees.
If you’d like to try, Kickbox and Humanisteq may be able to help.


How to launch a Kickbox innovation program in your organization.  

Kickbox, as delivered by Humanisteq, consists of 4 main elements:
  1. 2 Day Workshop  Participants learn how to use the innovation process and tools, and they begin to work through their first idea. Our facilitators will deliver the workshop at your location to groups of 20-60 at a time.
  2. Kickbox Kits Complete red box kits contain the program workbook/manual, materials for the exercises, along with chocolate, a Starbucks gift card, and a $1,000 prepaid credit card.  Kits can be supplied finished or we can give you a recipe and files for our modified kit and manual. 
  3. 6 Months Coaching After the workshop is complete, your new “boxers” will need coaching and mentoring to complete the innovation process and graduate to the blue box. We provide a webinar styled coaching sessions every 2 weeks, for groups of 5-6. In the coaching sessions we review progress, brainstorm solutions, and then review the methods and tools of the program.
  4. Tracking Website Participant progress and statistics are tracked on a private collaboration website. You’ll have full visibility on how things are going at all times.

Who should you put in the program?

When people ask about Kickbox, many of them assume Kickbox is targeted at “likely innovators”, such as engineers, product managers and research scientists. That’s not how it was designed. One of the key objectives is to dramatically increase the diversity of inputs at the top of the innovation funnel. Kickbox is open to any employee spunky enough to show up and try it. That should include marketing, finance, sales, operations, facilities, support, IT and HR organizations.

One might ask “But aren’t you worried about wasting money on the fanciful pipe dreams of unqualified innovators?” That concern would be valid if we were talking about more traditional approaches to innovation. Those programs invest substantially more resources in far fewer ideas. At Adobe they still fund innovation programs that devote hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to exploring a handful of carefully vetted, highly strategic ideas. That approach isn’t wrong, it’s just not Kickbox. Traditional innovation continues to work, which is why you should keep doing it. Kickbox is in addition to, not in place of, traditional approaches. Compared to those investments, Kickbox is a smaller, higher risk bet that can deliver outsized results.

If you’re struggling with this, remember the incremental investment in initial exploration of each idea is just a $1,000 cash outlay, plus the workshop and coaching costs. Kickbox is playing the law of large numbers, where things can quickly become counter-intuitive. It doesn’t seem to add up until you consider Kickbox only needs 1 out of 1,000 ideas to work to be very successful.

Finally, Kickbox fosters the psychological ownership and deep engagement that helps employees bring their smartest selves to work every day. By teaching innovation skills broadly, Kickbox sparks the kind of day-to-day continuous innovation in existing products, services, and processes that modern organizations need to thrive. Spread these seeds far and wide and watch how small and large innovations can bloom throughout your organization.

“We can’t just fund every idea without even hearing them”

Yes you can. In fact, it works really well. We’ve heard from some people who like the Kickbox idea, “We’d like to do Kickbox in our organization but we’d have to apply some filter to eliminate the most obviously unworkable ideas.” No, you don’t. There’s a subtly dangerous assumption in the belief any such filter can reduce false positives, meaning obviously bad ideas, without also introducing false negatives, meaning eliminating an idea that might look bad but could have pivoted becoming a huge success.

Kickbox works because it is a rigorous system for investing a small amount of time and money in a large group of divergent ideas. We expect most of them will fail. However, some gems will emerge that a more traditionally managed innovation process would never have discovered. The high failure rate is by design. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

In addition to innovative concepts with early customer validation, Kickbox delivers other benefits:

  • Teams now know how to come up with ideas, identify one with potential, express it concisely, evaluate it objectively, evolve it with feedback from peers, engage quickly with potential customers to test it, assess that validation data, build a business case and pitch the idea. That’s a pretty valuable set of skills.
  • Teams can recognize when an idea isn’t working and can decide to drop or pivot it quickly.
  • New innovators who are building their skills and confidence. A good number of the Kickbox projects that advanced to the blue box were innovators working on their second red box, meaning their first project failed and then later they pursued a different idea that did successfully validate.

If you want to increase innovation over time and at scale, focus on nurturing a culture of innovation and a population of skilled, experienced innovators.

Should we really put $1000 in the box?

This was the most common question early in Kickbox planning. Putting money in the box risks employees misspending it. And after all, couldn’t they just expense their investigation through normal reimbursement channels? Why take the risk?

The $1,000 was important for three reasons:

  1. Expense processes can be slow and frustrating compared to simply using a credit card. We want to remove as much friction as possible so innovators could move quickly and strike when the idea was hot.
  2. Putting the card in the box concretely demonstrates that the organization trusts the innovator to use their best judgement and spend it wisely. In turn, this trust fosters deep engagement and makes it clear the organization is seriously committed to innovation.
  3. A fixed sum of money in each box acts as a forcing function. When the credit card runs dry it prompts innovators to move to stage 6 and pitch the idea back into the organization.

In Adobe’s experience, participants used their Kickbox funds only after great consideration and went to huge efforts to spend wisely, fiercely guarding the trust placed in them.

The Kickbox Workshop

At Adobe, anyone can get a red box but they pick it up by attending a two-day workshop in person. That’s where future innovators (or boxers, as we call them) learn how to use the Kickbox tools. More importantly, it’s where they get comfortable with the idea of doing innovation in this new way. The purpose of the workshop is to build confidence. They enter wondering, “What is this all about?” but emerge thinking “I can do this!”

eo penang Mar 14 1Day 1

Introduction What is Kickbox? What are our objectives?

Level 1: Inception & Motivation: Why it can make all the difference.

Level 2: Ideate Divergent thinking, ideation, brainstorming

Level 3: Improve Elevator pitches, Zen statements, Scorecard, and Canvas

Day 2

Level 4: Investigate Qualitative and quantitative validation, how to talk with customers, validation websites, and ads

Meet a Blue Boxer: A former red boxer who has reached the blue box phase

Level 5: Iterate How to advance your hypothesis, What data is the most compelling

Level 6: Infiltrate How to pitch your idea and package your data.

Wrap-Up Post-workshop coaching, mentoring, collaboration, and The Blue Box


What’s in the mysterious blue box?

Here is the text found on the front of the blue box start card:

A red box lies behind you on the ground, crushed and defeated. You stand quietly, reflecting on the journey that has brought you this far, then walk boldly toward the cool light that glows ahead. Welcome to the blue box. You have reached a plateau few will ever see yet instead of pride, your face holds only grim determination. The narrow path ahead is far steeper than the road behind. Those who challenge the blue box do so not to test the box. They come to test themselves.”

After that introductory paragraph, every blue box is different because every project is different and every innovator is different. The purpose of the blue box is to help the innovator take their project from initial support to execution. The blue box contains more resources but those resources are different for each project. Sometimes it can be engineering help, other times it might include design or marketing help. Each is tuned to fill the gaps of what the project needs to move ahead.

To complete Level 1 of the blue box, innovators must assemble an advisory board. These are supporters who have either invested in the project or who have specific domain expertise valuable to the project.

To complete Level 2 of the blue box, innovators must get their advisory board to agree on the most significant risk or unknown standing between the project and full funding to roll out.

To complete Level 3 innovators devise an experiment to test this unknown. The advisory board must agree on what experimental outcome or metric would demonstrate the project is ready for development. Unlike the red box, this experiment may involve significant development or engineering resources. It may also involve significant iteration and even pivoting of the project concept. This is why every blue box is different and the resources provided may evolve and scale over time. Level 3 is completed when the project achieves funding for full development.

Level 4, the final level in the blue box is completed when the project reaches release or functional beta version to end users.

Have more questions? Please contact us by email or call us on +1-510-295-4422 

Credits: Kickbox was created by Mark Randall at Adobe. The Kickbox team at Adobe is Sarah Angeli and previously included Barb Spencer. Kickbox mentors past and present: Hart Shafer, Brian Nemhauser, Bogdan Ripa and Randy Swineford. The Kickbox cards were designed by Ryan Hicks. The Kickbox box label was created by Kush Amerasinghe. Special thanks to: David Wadhwani, Tom Malloy, Peter Green, Todd Heckel, JoAnn Barragan and Donna Kolnes.