Young people in the My.Future program work together on a project at a BGCA clubhouse in Chicago.
Nathan Kalish (left) gets ready to present his proposal during the finals of The Idea competition.

A National Account Coordinator for Comcast Spotlight in San Francisco, Nathan figures there are a thousand ways to get to the end result. "You constantly innovate to figure out the quickest, simplest, most beneficial way for all parties to get there," he says. "My daily work is typically one little puzzle after another. I’m always looking for a better way to get something done."

Nathan used that same approach to win The Idea, our employee engagement program launched in 2014. Modeled after The Voice, NBC’s hit television show, The Idea challenged our more than 139,000 employees around the world to come up with the next big idea to make our company better.

"We have so many talented and engaged employees with really good ideas — they just haven’t always known how to share them more broadly," says Maggie Suniewick, Senior Vice President of Strategic Integration for Comcast NBCUniversal and chief organizer of the competition. "What better way to innovate than to tap into the power of our employee base? That’s what really struck a nerve."

More than 200 submissions came within two hours of announcing the program. Ultimately, we received nearly 3,000 ideas — big and small — for enhancing the customer experience or driving innovation and new business opportunities. The review process was blind; judges could see only the idea and an employee ID number. After choosing the top 25 submissions, program organizers matched each idea with the employee responsible — and discovered something interesting.

Those 25 semifinalists reflected virtually every demographic, job level, business, and location across the company. And many of the ideas had nothing in common with what these employees do day-to-day.

Big Idea Judges
Maggie Suniewick (second from right), chief organizer of The Idea, and her fellow judges listen to a presentation in the semifinals.

Nathan’s inspiration stemmed from the simplest of sources: a Post-it® note his parents keep by their television to remind them of shows and movies they want to watch. Puzzle solver that he is, Nathan figured there had to be an easier way to create, track, and share a list of entertainment content.

He dubbed his idea Watch.It, a personalized and customizable content management tool. Available as a mobile or desktop app, it would allow users to integrate their tastes and interests into their viewing experience, on their schedule. With one idea, Nathan seamlessly blended Comcast NBCUniversal’s technology platforms, services, programming, and entertainment.

Nathan joined the other semifinalists in New York, where each worked with a coach to help hone and polish a two-minute pitch. From inside Studio 8G — home of Late Night with Seth Meyers — employees presented their ideas to a panel of our executives.

Based on these pitches, the top 10 finalists returned the next day to pitch to just two judges: NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke and Comcast Cable President and CEO Neil Smit, who jointly selected the top three ideas. Those employees then had a chance to define and defend their ideas in a spirited back-and-forth with both CEOs.

That can be a lot of pressure for someone not used to dealing with the C-suite on a regular basis. "It was definitely intimidating at first — the studio, cameras, lights, all the senior executives," says Nathan. "But looking around, I realized I wasn’t the only nervous person there. And I was being treated as a peer, so that helped calm my nerves."

Since winning the inaugural competition, Nathan has served as informal advisor to the Comcast product team working to realize his idea. Meanwhile, organizers of The Idea continue to review all of last year’s submissions and present them to our various business leaders for possible future development.

A cross-company working group is in the process of launching an intranet site where employees can submit ideas year-round. "We want to provide even more opportunities — a living, ongoing platform of new business ideas," Maggie says.

"What better way to innovate than to tap into the power of our employee base? That’s what really struck a nerve."

— Maggie Suniewick
Senior Vice President, Strategic Integration
Comcast NBCUniversal

Nathan recognizes how critical it is for a company our size to look beyond the usual places for solutions. "Technology changes too quickly to assume we have all the answers. We have to look to employees and consumers to identify needs and challenges," he says. "And if we want to adapt and grow, we need to respond."

As for his experience with The Idea? Nathan wouldn’t change a thing.

"The Idea wasn’t just a fun employee contest. It was a legitimate channel to encourage talent and develop ideas," he says. "They listened, and they took it seriously."

Maybe by this time next year, Nathan’s folks can get rid of that sticky note.