Aaron Eden isn't only an Intuit Innovation Catalyst, he's also an entrepreneur in his own right. Now he's part of a group helping Intuit bring the ideas of lean entrepreneurship inside an 8000 person company with an audacious goal: 100 Startups in 100 Days.

Aaron has watched Intuit grow over the years. He spent eight years at Intuit before leaving to work on his own startup. Though his new business was successful, he was drawn back to Intuit for another three.

Intuit has become a different company company in the time Aaron was away and he resonates with the design thinking and Design for Delight he found on his return.

While working on his own business, Aaron had been listening to podcasts on innovation and creativity. The work of former HP CTO Phil McKinney on Killer Innovation (now author of Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation) and that of The Lean Startup Machine (inspired by Eric Ries' book, The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses), were foundations for him in his own business and as he came back to Intuit.

Aaron had the chance to think about how these ideas might support the company given Intuit's 10 percent unstructured time policy. After one data focused innovation project, combining random datasets and storyboarding with what the team might be able to create with them, the data and analytics team manager Aaron had worked with remarked that Aaron should use his skills as one of Intuit's formal Innovation Catalysts.

He went through Innovation Catalyst training in February of 2010.

Innovation Catalysts

Innovation catalysts help people throughout the organization work on innovation. The number of innovation catalysts has grown from 10 in the beginning (fiscal year 2009) to over 150 now. The idea for the role of innovation catalysts came from Intuit’s director of design who was challenged by Intuit's founder, Scott Cook, to find a way to support a broader perspective: Design for Delight where the focus is on solving customer pain through products and services developed through direct field research and speedy/iterative prototyping.

The innovation catalysts typically perform their role as part of their own unstructured time contributions. The number of catalysts, their actions, and how they are selected and trained has all followed the same design for delight interactions as regular service and product innovations do at the company. The next story is no different.

Lean StartIN

Aaron participates in "startup weekends" outside of Intuit, hosted by The Lean Startup Machine and the Kaufman Foundation. He realized that a similar approach of testing assumptions (i.e, rapid and iterative prototyping) while developing products and services might also work well inside of Intuit.

Aaron and Ben Blank (another Innovation Catalyst) piloted a customized event including five teams and several coaches. The success of the initial program led to a cheer of, "lets do a second event." They upped the participation to 15 teams. Their goal wasn't to replace the Design for Delight ideas that have become key to Intuit's values, but rather to give those values another stage on which to perform.

The second experience was such a success they they took on an even greater task: 100 Startups in 100 Days across 10 different Intuit sites. Intuit's Chief Technology Officer supplied the support for the ten events.

During our first conversation (about midway into the 100 Startups in 100 Days programs), Aaron offered me the chance to attend the the final presentations of one of the two day workshops. Of course I said yes.

Mountain View Lean StartIN: 100 Startups in 100 Days

For two hours I saw the most vibrant engagement I’ve seen all year. Teams started with ideas, ran a variety of experiments using a combination of face-to-face interviews on a local shopping street, Google AdWords campaigns, and the like… anything that would let them quickly test assumptions of what would delight their intended customers. Pivot after pivot these teams found ways to improve their options — all in just two days.

I've told my students that I've raised my expectations. Given the results these Intuit teams had in two days, imagine what I expect out of their 10 week projects.

Aaron and I are in complete agreement. This process is yet another example of how Intuit makes the most of their people, their technologies, and their organizational practices. They support this important mixing at all levels of the organization. The Lean StartIN participants come from all sections of the organization. As they take the show on the road in search of 100 startups in 100 days, they ensure the tools and values are available across the organization.

This is  also a beautiful example of what I'm calling 2020 Engagement

I'm working on a related book proposal and I'm starting it out with a longer version of this story. My idea is that 2020 Engagement takes us into "new work" where transparency is demanded of organizations, responsibility of individuals, and personal professional development is the norm.

Intuit and the now 250+ Lean StartIN participants are early entrants into the 2020 Engagement model. From them I'm learning the basic tactics and how to track and pivot around lean, minimum viable test results. In my recent book, The Plugged-In Manager, I describe this kind of activity as effective use of stop-look-listen; mixing across people, technology, and organizational process; and then sharing to bring more people on board. Where being "plugged-in" is a life skill (similar to swimming), 2020 Engagement is participating in an Olympic relay race using a variety of strokes. 

I thank Intuit and Aaron for sharing so much with me. I expect we will all continue to learn from their experiences. I hope you too will share your thoughts and experiences. 2020 isn't very far away and we all need a moving start.

A shorter version of this post appeared on Technorati.