Two years ago, Amdocs spearheaded Shapers, a disruptive leadership program which sought to turn 18 self-nominated employees with big ideas into millions of dollars in revenue.

Amdocs, providing services and software globally to leading media and telecoms companies, wondered how, in a world of exponential change, they could outpace themselves and their environment to stay several steps ahead of consumer demands?

More specifically, how could they anticipate Generation Z’s preferred way to consume and interact with content, not only right now – but in five years?

Across an international spread of 26,000 employees, Amdocs’ CEO and head of HR initiated the Shapers program. The Shapers program was designed in a unique co-creation by HR organizational development team and the innovation team, to enable the organization’s most divergent thinkers and doers to birth million-dollar ideas which would steer the future of screens for an emerging generation of consumers.

The program idea sprung from a flagship initiative run by Google and NASA’s Singularity University: students from around the world would come together to form a series of start-ups over the course of 3 months, to redefine ‘innovation’ and ‘leadership’, with the goal of impacting many lives.

The Shapers program similarly needed to find answers to pressing questions through disruptive thought and direct action.

How could they replicate the initiative’s success, but adapt the process to find pioneering thinkers and fit-for-purpose changemakers among this sea of talent?

And then, how could they make sure that these Shapers and their breakthrough ideas stuck around beyond the 9-month innovation sprint, to fulfill longer-term goals yet to be defined?

Tayla Landau leads the innovation center of excellence at Amdocs. In this deep-dive following Tayla’s talk in Paris on what happened to the Shapers and their ideas, we look at the 9-month process which made the program a success.

Let’s look at the program’s three phases, to see what we can learn about orchestrating enormous transformational journeys of teams, individuals and their ideas.

Phase 1: picking people over their ideas

During the candidate selection process, the core Shapers team didn’t want to get too distracted by shiny ideas, but wanted to take a deeper look for those bright characteristics in the people who gave life to them.

This meant first electing a core multi-functional team of executives, HR leaders and innovation specialists, who would approach Shapers applications from every possible human angle.

Unconventional thinkers focus their attention closely with fresh eyes, step back to gain perspective, imagine unorthodox combinations, experiment quickly and smartly, and then navigate potentially hostile environments outside and within their organizations.

The challenge throughout is to overcome biases, mental models, or team and tech silos that may constrain creativity or doom a great idea. The application process itself began not with generic leadership program outreach, but involved a task-oriented, self-nomination process:

First, write an essay about your idea.

Second, create and send a one-minute video about why you are a Shaper.

Thirdly, the core-team would choose an initial 100 potential shapers. Then narrow the team down to 18 through a series of interviews conducted by the core-team while the senior executives decided on the final nominees for the Shapers program, placing an emphasis on the vastly diverse kinds of people – in culture, role, region and profile – who are needed to shape and bring divergent ideas to life.

Choosing a mixture of thinkers both within the core-team and in the 18 selected Shapers set up a diverse ecosystem from which their ideas could flourish.

Phase 2: a rollercoaster of ideation, disorientation, and hothousing

Over the next 9 months, the 18 Shapers would research and collaborate with internal Amdocs experts and outside specialists to grow their ideas into tangible outcomes. They would present to a committee of senior management and external mentors, then validate their assumptions with end-users and customers.

Over the 9 month program, the Shapers met 3 times face-to-face, for week-long workshops, boot camps, and idea-refining initiatives.

Surprise ideation

The first meetup was all about ideation, but the program content itself was to be kept a complete secret from the Shapers in the lead-up to the boot camp.

In an attempt to crack the elusiveness of most breakthrough innovations, Amdocs wanted to offer concrete frameworks for delivery as well as creating a buzz of inspiration by democratizing top-of-mind trends.

So the first two days consisted of doing just that; bringing top-notch industry leaders to the table and opening minds on the potential uses of Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Robotics and other trends.

With their minds full of the potential offered by these tools of the moment, on days 3 and 4 they jumped into the ideation process: 18 strangers, their identities deliberately concealed from one another prior to the process, needed to scrap the ideas they had arrived with and start afresh.

Their boot camp goal was to move from many new ideas generated, to five favorites, using a combination of design thinking techniques, lean startup methodology, and experimentation to imagine and explore different pathways to success.

And then, after a week of boot camp and bursting with the promise of 5 ideas on the cusp of creation, the 18 went back to their day jobs.

Concentrated creativity through hothousing

The next session saw the Shapers rebounding and refining their ideas using the hothousing methodology. This was an approach picked up from British Telecom, whereby a large group of people gets cooped up in a room to work intensely together on a project for a longer period.

The extended group comprised a mixture of experts in disciplines such as marketing, finance, strategy, UI, and external devil’s advocates (dressed appropriately in red), who were brought in to question any ideas which seemed superficial, narrow or skewed.

The general intention was to shake things up, testing and disorienting the Shapers to see whether their ideas really had legs, or would fall at the last hurdle.

Whilst the previous ideation process was deliberately turned on its head to break away from any linear thinking or unrealistic modeling, the Shapers also had the opportunity to choose experts and start-ups they specifically needed as their counsel; not only to deconstruct but to rebuild and improve their ideas.

At the end of week 2, the group re-assembled into 5 teams, each with an idea to pitch to 5 potential executive sponsors.

Again, back to the day jobs – this time with much research to be done for the next phase, from competitor analyses to assessing product-market-fit.

Validation with VC mentoring

The journey from hothousing to validation brought external expertise to the table in the form of highly senior Venture Capitalist mentors, to meet every couple of weeks. These mentors helped the Shapers not only to refine their ideas but to make sure they were not incomplete; lacking any necessary detail which would bring them quickly back down to earth.

Aside from offering an outside-in approach, the mentors would guide the Shapers away from lapsing into standard ways of thinking as they approached the final – and oft-overlooked – delivery phase; particularly after months of being stretched mentally to break paradigms and shift mindsets.

This validation process would culminate in a presentation to the CEO, a tough finale where four winning ideas would be selected to implement, and one would be parked.

Phase 3: pressing pause for reflection

So what happened to the Shapers two years on, after the rollercoaster slowed? Let’s ruminate on the fact that the Amdocs innovation sprint program really stretched the participants to their limits in terms of pace, but it also made way for a life-long psychological change which imprinted on the participants the importance of taking pause and thinking more deeply.

The Shapers team was up at 5 am sharp to do Thai Chi daily. They were asked without warning to climb a mountain to catch the sunrise. They soaked up inspirational speeches from founders of the Singularity University among other game-changing executives, doers, and thinkers from outside of their corporate setup.

Their egos along with their ideas were broken apart, shaped, and remolded again to fully embrace their purpose in a productive way – but also in embracing the messiness inherent in developing a truly breakthrough solution.

What happened to the Shapers, and their ideas?

  • One of the ideas was adopted and added to the Amdocs product roadmap
  • Another influenced management to make a company acquisition
  • The third is being explored at Israel’s leading technical institute
  • And the final idea is being built on further before take-off

The Shapers are now the cool guys at Amdocs, delivering company-wide lectures and serving as mentors for the next generation of Shapers 2.0 which just kicked of in April 2019.

More often today, we are seeing patterns in the way that programs like Amdocs’ ‘Shapers’ work, and what success can look like if you get the framework right. This means that, excitingly, innovation management is becoming a science – as opposed to a constant stick-and-see voyage of discovery.

Of course, this goes against the very nature of what innovation seeks to achieve in breakthrough, by rooting disruption in process… but where we as innovators are great at magicking up abundant, divergent and unconventional approaches, we are perhaps less-apt at following through and staying interested enough to scale them.

For this reason, the familiarity we find in learnings from programs like Shapers is a breakthrough in itself.


  1. Multidisciplinary makes the difference: co-creation by a core team split between HR and innovation, with both internal and external parties, meant that the best of everyone was brought to the surface
  2. People-first, ideas second: the Shapers were selected based on their merit as people, not only on the breakthrough potential of their idea. Would they be able to have a sustainable impact outside of the program environment?
  3. Pressure cooker sprints to shape action: over 9 months, the Shapers came together 3 times alongside their day jobs and partook in a series of intense hothouse workshops and hands-on validation sessions