The Organizational Strategist

February 3, 2010

Harnessing your Organization’s Innovation Potential via JAM Sessions


Generating ideas, making the most of the energy, intelligence and wisdom of an organization is often a topic that executives and leaders ponder. Who wouldn’t desire to get the most productivity out of their employee’s time? There are many activities that can help to achieve this, but they are often costly and/or take a lot of time away from the everyday demands of working life. What you may want to consider is holding what IBM has called a JAM session, which is also known as a flash forum. JAM sessions are also known as fly-ins or flash forums. I’ll use the terms interchangeably because they generally refer to the same type of action.

-Defining Fly-ins-

JAM sessions are high impact, short term, and intensive mass collaboration efforts done via virtual forums. Within these interactions members access the online forums wherever they may be to contribute ideas, add to the discussion of other ideas, and evaluate the quality of the created ideas. The participants can contribute at their own leisure during the day since forums allow for asynchronous updates. Usually these events last only a few days, but they are accessible 24 hours each day. That allows for global involvement and allows for contributions to be made at the participant’s convenience.

-Flash Forum Benefits-

The results of these events give energy, ideas, and increase networking in an organization at a fraction of the cost when comparing to the traditional in-person multi-day events. Such events are an opportunity for open innovation. For instance, it might play out that Susan in accounting introduces her new product idea in a forum that Claire in engineering helps imagine and then designs. With peer involvement and social navigation ratings (think or vendor reviews at Amazon), it becomes clear where the energy in an organization lies and how feasible an idea could be for implementation. These events conclude with loads of ideas, a more refreshed workforce from having done something different, and idea champions that could become future leaders in the organization.

-Making a JAM Session Successful-

There are many factors to making a large scale event possible and effective over time. I’ve listed suggestions that should help aid the planning, application, and follow through of the event.

Setting up the activity:

  • Direct the outputs to achieve particular aims that align with the organizational strategy
  • Bring in diverse stakeholder input to ensure representation and perspective sharing
  • Have a solid technological forum infrastructure to support the event needs such as:
    • high volume load capacity to allow for maximum involvement
    • ease of use (particularly in the readability areas of idea conversations)
    • information security (if needed)
    • objective peer rating and overall ranking

Implementing the activity:

  • Share and champion each other’s ideas
  • Create real dialogue to imagine implementation, predict ROI, and understand what resources or capabilities need to be aligned
  • Utilize respectful, professional behavior while contributing
  • Encourage and allocate time to allow employee contribution while the event is live

Following through the activity:

  • Recognize, celebrate and reward the good ideas, involvement, and contribution
  • Provide support from key decision makers to give sponsorship funding, empower the idea champions, and clear obstacles or hindrances to the projects
  • Make efforts to sustain the momentum, networking, and progress made from idea champions


The potential benefits from putting on a flash forum are tremendous. Employees get a chance to try out their ideas, exhibit their energy and organizational wisdom, and realize leadership potential through the championship of ideas. The management and executives can cultivate wide scale innovation, networking, and collaboration easily, effectively and at a significantly lower cost than traditional alternatives. The setup and execution of such events will only get easier and cheaper over time too! I hope that flash forums accomplish much for anyone who implements one.



  1. Hi Whit,
    Saw your post by chance and wanted to connect to say I too am a champion believer in JAMS.

    Our Global Dialogue Center actually were involved in one of the early ones — Habitat JAM — done in partnership with Gov. of Canada, UN-Habitat, and IBM. Our company created a commemorative exhibit of this “great first.” I also wrote about it in my book, Putting Our Differences to Work,as the first proof point for my book’s subtitle: The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership and High Performance. I later participated in the Innovation JAM also and we do dialogue often at our Global Dialogue Center ONLINE Conference Center.

    Here is a link to our KNOWLEDGE GALLERY to see the exhibit about the Habitat JAM
    There is a visual self-learning exhibit at the top and also a great IBM produced video below.

    Enjoyed your article! Note that we walk on common ground.


    Debbe Kennedy
    author and founder, President and CEO, Global Dialogue Center
    and Leadership Solutions Companies |
    former IBMer

    Comment by Debbe Kennedy — February 5, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    • Hi Debbe,

      Thanks for commenting and sharing! From looking through your site and the Habitat JAM slides, it seemed like it was extraordinary and exciting. That’s one more point saying that JAMs are really cool.

      Thanks again and I look forward to future interactions,

      Comment by Whit — February 7, 2010 @ 1:36 am

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