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Business Innovation Factory

Innovation Story Studio

Jim Lavoie

CEO, RITE Solutions

Jim Lavoie

It's not often that a small Rhode Island company finds itself featured on the Business pages of the Sunday New York Times. But several months after BIF-1 storyteller Jim Lavoie shared his Mutual Fun employee idea engine with a room full of inquisitive innovators, that's exactly what happened.

Lavoie brought down the house with his story last year. It was so well-received, we just had to invite him back for part 2. "Last year I was blessed to tell a story at BIF's inaugural Collaborative Innovation Summit," says Lavoie. "We are a small company that until then had managed to stay off the radar screen in Rhode Island (and everywhere else for that matter)."

During BIF-1, Lavoie was riveted by the diversity in storytellers. "Many people approached me and promised to get together after the summit," he said. "I had heard it all before—‘I'll have my machine call your machine and we'll e-chat or perhaps break e-bread.'—I wasn't holding my breath. I just felt fortunate to have been able to tell our story and make fun of my business partner at the same time."

To Lavoie's delight and surprise, people were in fact interested.

His concept, Innovating Everyday, began in the year 2000 after Lavoie and his business partner, Joe Marino, sold a large public company. The duo's quest was to "do it again, only mo' betta". They co-founded Rite-Solutions and decided that Friends Enjoying Work would be on everyone's business card and that they would innovate everyday.

"Quiet genius" is what Lavoie calls the creativity that goes untapped inside most organizations. As CEO, he utilizes a mock stock market game called ‘Mutual Fun' in which employees of the information technology firm are given $10,000 in fantasy money to invest in various ‘stocks'—in reality, technologies, products and cost-saving measures they think Rite-Solutions should be focusing on.

Employees can divide their play money among three indices—the ‘Spazdaq,' which contains emerging technologies Rite-Solutions could pursue; the ‘Bow Jones,' which contains products and services in-line with their current offerings which may utilize those technologies; and ‘Savings Bonds,' cost-saving initiatives the company could enact.

The game is intended to "provoke thought." The stock prices rise based on impression, interest, investment, and Intellectual capital expended. Results can be shown graphically and represent "innovation earnings" over a period of time.

"We believe the next brilliant idea is going to come from somebody other than senior management, and unless you're trying to harvest those ideas, you're not going to get them," Lavoie explains. "That's why we give everybody an equal voice, and a game to provoke their intellectual curiosity. The informal "interest networks" that form around an idea can move it forward toward realization faster than an assigned project team."

"From Day One, every new employee can see what we collectively believe the future technologies will be and where they'll be applied by us, so they can chart their own career path within the company," Lavoie says. And, he notes, "there's no real management ‘disapproval' loop, which often is the gauntlet employees feel they have to run if they want to propose new ideas—that time in most organizations when the inventor meets the preventor."

Lavoie likens Mutual Fun to a living game that can move any company forward. "We could strip out our stocks and a chemical company, another technology company or an advertising company could use the model tomorrow —these are logical indexes for any company," he says.

Since BIF-1, Lavoie has been contacted, met and dialoged with many local and remote new friends about his story. Bill Taylor of Fast Company and co-author of Mavericks at Work visited and asked to "play for a day." Stanford and Harvard professors have visited and are now writing case studies on the company and the game.

Lavoie and his company still remain under the radar screen (no marketing or sales staff), but thanks to Don Stanford (chairman of BIF's board of directors), the firm was nominated to receive the State's first Excellence in Technology Application Award for an innovative product that improves productivity and collaboration within a company. "We won the award; life is good," says Lavoie. "My thanks to the Business Innovation Factory for the chance to tell the story of our sequel."