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Innovation and Product Development

The Innovation Wildcard – Surprise Yourself!

Picture of a Chihuahua dog wearing pink aviator glasses, looking like a wildcard.

An innovation wildcard is a team member who is there to add a unique perspective that the rest of the team may not have. This person can be within the organization or pulled from outside. They may have deep expertise in other areas, or they may be new and more likely to question everything.

Innovation demands new ideas and ways of thinking. Adding a wildcard player to the team will help the creativity process. A wildcard can break free of concerns about groupthink and echo chambers – where experts may overlook solutions outside of their specialty.

Diversity in thought is what we’re after.

Who Can Be an Innovation Wildcard?

Anyone can be a wildcard… It can be a senior leader in the company who is not familiar with the problem at hand, or it could be a brand-new hire fresh out of school and this is their first job. It could be your spouse, your kids, your neighbor – it doesn’t matter. Ideally, it should be someone who can be a regular part of the team.

What Makes a Good Innovation Wildcard?

What makes a good wildcard? You want a critical thinker who asks pointed questions, is not afraid to speak up, and understands that the creative process can be messy.

How do Wildcards Fit within the Creative Process?

If you check out my post on how to Get Unstuck, I suggest using lateral thinking and how randomness can help spark the creative spirit.

It is a harmful innovation myth that you must be an expert in a subject in order to push boundaries. You don’t want the team to fall for innovation blockers, so use a wildcard who can see the problem from a different perspective.

How do You Manage a Team with a Wildcard?

You’ll need to lay out a plan early. Help the team understand this role. Help the wildcard player feel comfortable. Make sure that everyone knows this isn’t a silver bullet, but instead it is a bet to hedge the odds of considering all angles. All team members will need to include the wildcard throughout the process.

Make sure to check in one-on-one with the wildcard regularly. They may not be completely comfortable at first bringing up something that would potentially upset or disappoint the rest of the team. The wildcard cannot just go along for the ride thinking the others are more familiar with the issue at hand.

Real World Innovation Wildcards

Companies do this more than you know, and there are many success stories.

An Innovation Wildcard Using an Outside Expert

Apple is continually pushing efforts for its products and software to be accessible. Apple found someone outside the tech sector to help lead their efforts. They hired disability rights lawyer, Haben Girma. Haben has been influential in the efforts not just within Apple, but throughout the technology space, and asks creators to, “design it with access in mind.” Haben being born deaf and blind herself, understands the importance of this work for so many others.

An Innovation Wildcard from Another Department

3M has long been known for their innovative products. So it should come as no surprise that they have examples of pulling ideas from other areas of their business. A couple examples have become legendary. 3M’s Post-It Notes for example, originated from an adhesive specialist but its true value was not recognized until it was shared with others in the company who conceived how to market it. Another is the accidental beginnings of their Scotchgard product. While attempting to create a new kind of rubber for use in aircraft fuel lines, a spilled beaker lead the team to realize it could be used on fabrics, finding its true market fit as a stain protector for household consumers.

An Innovation Wildcard Using a Customer or Beneficiary

Nike did not miss an opportunity when they received a recommendation from Matthew Walzer, a teen with cerebral palsy. Matthew wrote the company expressing a need for athletic shoes for people with disabilities. Nike then collaborated with Matthew on the adaptive Nike FlyEase shoe. This innovation has now helped countless people by providing a no-lace footwear solution.

Crowdsourcing as an Innovation Wildcard

Even recently, you’ve probably heard a lot about companies crowd-sourcing ideas. Here, the idea remains the same where the companies believe that someone outside and perhaps less conventionally skilled might have a breakthrough idea.

An example of crowdsourcing product ideation is LEGO IDEAS. Where anyone can submit ideas or participate in themed challenges. Not only can this generate ideas for products, but it builds a community, affinity with their “master builder” customers, and allows the company to stay in touch with life-long fans of the brand.


The creative process is not easy to predict. Ideas can be ugly when first being formulated. A problem can exist with no clear answer in mind. The dream stage is much different than the solutioning and execution stages.

You can increase your odds by showing up every day, keeping your head down, and churning out many ideas until one hits. But you can equally improve likelihood by introducing randomness to help your team connect less obvious dots and benefiting from outside knowledge.

An innovation wildcard is a little of both! They introduce randomness, but they are also part of the team showing up every day to participate and churn through iterations.


If you are looking for innovators with expertise in various areas, or wildcards to introduce some randomness, reach out to your Perficient account manager or use our contact form to begin a conversation.

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Brandon Luhring

Brandon is a consumer experience engagement manager at Perficient. His career has included running digital and marketing projects both in-house and as a consultant. He enjoys topics around creativity, innovation, design, technology, and leadership.

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