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Radio Show Interview: Collaborative Innovation at Scale

The area of collaborative innovation is a natural extension of the social business movement. It’s the extension of social into purposeful collaboration, a term Alan Lepofsky uses to describe the evolution of the social business market.

In the innovation-focused radio show, Women Who Innovate, host LeAnna Carey, innovation expert John Lewis and I talk about collaborative innovation at scale. In other words, what are the benefits of, issues with, and techniques for getting hundreds and thousands of people to share ideas and insights, toward a common goal. It’s a different task than getting small teams to collaborate. The recording of the show is below:

This event had a unique twist. It was run in conjunction with the weekly innovation conversation on Twitter, Innochat. In both the radio show on on Twitter, the following topics were covered:

  1. How important is it to get diverse people to contribute to innovation, vs. singular creatives to generate innovations?
    • Doesn’t Steve Jobs point to the primacy of singular genius?
    • What is the model for cognitive diversity to generate innovation outcomes?
  2. What differentiates sharing in large groups vs. small teams?
    • How much does familiarity mean trust?
    • How to handle different personalities that will intersect?
  3. In environments where employee skepticism reigns, how do you change attitudes to open up sharing?
    • What are the ways in which skepticism can creep in?
    • What is the #1 issue that must be addressed?
  4. What are motivations for employees to contribute to an innovation program?
    • How much does “what’s in it for me?” come into play?
    • What are the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations?
  5. What techniques help drive participation in crowdsourced innovation programs?
    • What influence do senior executives have?
    • What influence does peer participation have?
    • How can gamification drive greater participation?

It was a thorough, fast-paced discussion. If you’re considering crowdsourced innovation programs, it’s worth a listen.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

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Talk-n-Tweet | Collaborative Innovation at Scale

Previously, I’ve described Why Crowdsourcing Works. Crowdsourcing is a case where you get many people who don’t one another collaborating toward a defined outcome.Talk-n-Tweet Collaborative Innovation at ScaleTo reiterate the principle points about the value of crowdsourcing:

  • Diverse inputs drive superior solutions
  • Cognitive diversity requires spanning gaps in social networks

Simple enough, yet actually a rich field for work and analysis. To that end, I invite to two events happening simultaneously on Thursday 25 September 2014 (12 noon Eastern):

  • LeAnna Carey’s radio show (link)
  • Twitter Innochat (link)

I’ll be on the radio show talking with Lea Carey, Renee Hopkins and John Lewis. At the same time, the weekly #innochat will follow along with the radio program. It’s a unique chance to blend live conversation with online discussion. The main questions to be tackled will be:

  1. How important is it to get diverse people to contribute to innovation, vs. singular creatives to generate innovations?
    • Doesn’t Steve Jobs point to the primacy of singular genius?
    • What is the model for cognitive diversity to generate innovation outcomes?
  2. What differentiates sharing in large groups vs. small teams?
    • How much does familiarity mean trust?
    • How to handle different personalities that will intersect?
  3. In environments where employee skepticism reigns, how do you change attitudes to open up sharing?
    • What are the ways in which skepticism can creep in?
    • What is the #1 issue that must be addressed?
  4. What are motivations for employees to contribute to an innovation program?
    • How much does “what’s in it for me?” come into play?
    • What are the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations?
  5. What techniques help drive participation in crowdsourced innovation programs?
    • What influence do senior executives have?
    • What influence does peer participation have?
    • How can gamification drive greater participation?

As a reminder, the event time across time zones:

Thursday 25 September 2014
9 am Pacific
12 noon Eastern
6 pm Central European Time

I look forward to hearing your take on this issue.

Sharing economy is still in early adopter phase

Airbnb. Lyft. Kickstarter. Quirky. Kiva. TaskRabbit.

The sharing economy is increasingly in the news. Those six companies are receiving a lot of chatter, as shown by Google News results for September 12, 2014:

Google news results for sharing economy firms 091214

Certainly, the sharing economy is a “thing”. But it’s not yet as mainstream as may come across in the media. For most of us, it’s still sort of a “toy” if you will. Cute that people would offer up their home for a weekend or give someone a ride in that empty passenger seat. But as YCombinator’s Paul Graham says:

Don’t be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that’s a good sign.

The sharing economy is in the early adopter phase. Which means it’s going to need some attributes to make the jump to mainstream adoption:

  • Offering a “whole product” experience, not just satisfying a narrow slide of all needs
  • A feature-quality-price blend that better satisfies existing jobs-to-be-done than do incumbents
  • Evidence of value and satisfaction from others they trust (friends, media)

But the upside is terrific when the sharing economy is adopted. That topic is explored more fully in my new post: Harvesting Abundance in the Sharing Economy. It starts with the premise visualized below, and builds on that:

Changing how we buy goods and services

Interested in how we can dramatically increase supply and long tail options? Check out the sharing economy post.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

 

Bring customers into the idea review process

Say you’ve got some internal ideas at your company. Who takes a look at them? Assesses them to determine next steps for each idea? Figures out the value and difference the ideas can make?

How about your own customers?

I talk a lot about jobs-to-be-done here, and getting a firm grip on those to understand where innovation and product enhancement opportunities lie. But sometimes that’s not realistic. Ideas come from many sources, and more likely than not, fail to reflect hard analysis of jobs-to-be-done. But customer feedback is valuable. Any idea which can touch on customers’ experience – products, services, support, pricing, deliver, knowledge – can benefit from their perspectives.

The concept sounds right, yes? But it’s also something that’s somewhat scary. I know this because I asked innovation executives for a number of large companies what they thought of it. There was hesitancy to the concept of bringing customers into what is generally an internal – and often murky at best – process of evaluating ideas.

In my post, What if customers evaluated your company’s ideas?, five areas are examined to de-scarify this idea:

  • Differentiating from focus groups
  • Profile of right customers to involve
  • Type of ideas
  • Ways to engage customers in the evaluation process
  • What criteria make sense?

Give it a read, and see if this is something you’d consider.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

Enterprise gamification…yes or no? Twitter #innochat Thursday May 22

What do you think about gamification for the enterprise? Smart innovation that helps deliver results? Or horrible idea that treats people as Pavlovian animals? Well, this week’s #innochat will examine that question.

#innochat? What’s that, you ask?

#innochat is a weekly conversation that takes place on Twitter, covering topics related to innovation. It’s open to anyone and is a great chance to add your perspective, learn how others view the topic, engage in a debate, and make connections. The general format:

  • Use the #innochat hashtag in your tweets
  • Follow the moderator, usually Drew Marshall or John Lewis, who will post the questions for the discussion
  • 4 or 5 questions are used to structure the conversation

#innochat runs for one hour every Thursday at the same time:

Innochat clocks

It’s my pleasure to be the guest for this week’s #innochat. For our topic, I’ve chosen: Applying gamification to enhance innovation outcomes. Click that link to read the framing post, and here are the four questions that will structure the discussion.

  1. What is your definition of gamification?
  2. True or false: Gamification is fundamentally about points, badges and leaderboards. Why?
  3. Given a magic wand, how would you use gamification to enhance innovation outcomes?
  4. What are the potential negative outcomes from gamification?

Share what you think about gamification. See you Thursday May 22, 2014.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

 

Positive Deviance vs. Best Practices

Over time, I’ve seen people write disparagingly about the use of best practices in innovation. A recent example of this comes from Paul Martin in Say ‘Best Practice’ again, I dare you. As Paul notes:

For me the term ‘Best Practice’ conjures up images of a race toward uniform mediocrity, led by those who follow the crowd.

I understand his position. It’s a version of fast-following in a way, where people do not take a fresh look at an activity. They just follow what others are doing. You may share his passion for banishing ‘best practices’. Although be careful there. Some things really don’t need innovation if they’re not critical to a company’s differentiation and growth. For instance, if there are best practices for closing the accounting books on a quarterly basis, what issue of mediocrity is there?

The issue with best practices appears to be:

  • It’s done by an organization with which you compete
  • It propagates the status quo rather than break new ground
  • It doesn’t differentiate you, so why would you do just do what everyone else does?

There is a form of “best practices” that doesn’t violate the above. It’s called positive deviance.  Positive deviants are people who deviate from the norm and achieve superior results for an activity. They don’t have access to different resources than others. They just do things differently. A great example comes from Vietnam. The Save the Children organization wanted to address the pervasive malnourishment of children. In conducting field research, they came across families that had very healthy children. What were they doing differently? They fed their children the crabs and shrimp that were around their village. These protein-rich animals were available everywhere, but were disdained as trash, not worthy of consumption. Yet, these same disdainers had children who were malnourished.

Best practices indeed!

The point here is that positive deviance is a form of best practice that is:

  • Emergent
  • Based on experimentation
  • Consistent with internal community norms and context

While best practices may come from consultants and media coverage, positive deviance is more localized. And it’s often hidden. People aren’t openly talking about what they’re doing different. I liken this to William Gibson’s famous observation:

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.

Why not change that? In my post, Beyond Ideation: Four Fresh Ways to Generate Innovation, I talk about running campaigns for four different types of insight:

  1. Challenge orthodoxy
  2. What’s working (i.e. positive deviance)
  3. Problem-sourcing
  4. Trendscouting

These are different ways to use crowdsourcing beyond the normal ideation use case. Including finding your positive deviants.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

 

Consultant-Led Innovation

Finally, remember Innovation won’t come from plans or people outside your company – it will be found in the people you already have inside who understand your company’s strengths and its vulnerabilities.

Steve Blank, Esade Business School Commencement Speech

I think Steve Blank – well-respected thinker on innovation and entrepreneurship – has hit a key point in his speech. A company’s employees are exactly the right people to enlist in innovation efforts. Here are the qualities that make employees uniquely qualified:

  • Deep knowledge about customers
  • Understanding why customers leave
  • Strong interest in the company’s future
  • Internal informal networks to move things forward
  • Vast reservoir of existing ideas and insight about future possibilities

Organizations are starting to take these amazing attributes seriously as they think about innovation. I’ve seen some forward-thinking organizations involving employees in the process of moving forward. But not all, certainly not a majority yet. For many senior executives, consultants are still the preferred means to think about and design the future.

Consulting’s impact on employees

In my history, I’ve seen how consulting has been used in organizations, as an employee, a consultant and an observer. I sort the types of consulting into three levels of a pyramid:

Consulting stack

 

The bottom level is consulting around specific functions.  Towers Watson, for instance, focuses on HR and financial issues. This consulting is helpful in bringing new information to the employees in these functions. Consultants here see a lot of what works, and what doesn’t. With both their expertise and experience, they make people smarter in the core supporting functions of organizations.

The middle level is more about enablement across different groups. This consulting brings new philosophies and frameworks to employees. It enhances people’s ability to think about addressing the key strategic factors that impact the business. My own work consulting on crowdsourced innovation is one such example. Consulting firm Deloitte offers Lean Six Sigma consulting. This level of the consulting pyramid works in concert with what motivates employees and helps them be better in their jobs.

The top level is best characterized as strategy consulting. These firms (e.g. McKinsey) look at a company, its assets and its markets, and design a future path for the organization. This can include new markets to go after, expanding in existing markets, new products to offer and new business models. This is what I call Consultant-Led Innovation. It is actually really valuable, but can also result in demoralizing employees.

Do outsiders really know better?

I’ll relate my own experience here, see if it resonates with you. When I was at Pay By Touch, the CEO decided to bring in a well-known consulting firm. Their mandate was to examine the payments market and determine how Pay By Touch should tackle it. After doing their research and executive interviews, they came up with a strategy for pricing, and new products for a biometric wallet. I remember attending their presentation to a packed room of employees. The room was packed because it felt like the CEO was going to go with their recommendations, and people wanted to know what the consultants were thinking.

After seeing the presentation, the collective employee reaction? Meh. It suffered from two issues. First, it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been part of the discussion internally. Second, it had some fundamental flaws that people who’d been working on the edge of the evolving payment industry would have known. Unsurprisingly, their recommendations went to the shelf without further action.

But that experience always left me with a bad taste. Why didn’t the CEO call on his own people to do this strategic thinking? He’d hired smart people who knew credit cards, ACH, point-of-sale systems, etc. People who joined the company to change the way we pay. But instead of leveraging that, he brought in the consultants.

Outside consultants aren’t going to know your business – customers, markets, competitors, products – better than your employees.

Diverse perspectives and who is motivated most

I’ve written previously about how valuable cognitive diversity is. And the strategy consultants do add to that cognitive diversity. They have smart people who bring strong analytic perspectives to your business. The problem arises when their perspectives, their voices are the dominant basis of thinking for the C-Suite.

It’s an in-your-face dismissal of your “most valuable asset”, your employees.

Dilbert - employees are our most important asset

Via Dilbert.com

As I’ve described previously, the key to successfully engaging employees and having them help lead the company’s innovation is for senior executives to set a course forward and ensure that innovation obstacles don’t stifle progress. Strategy consultants actually can be useful here, in that they can help an executive crystallize thinking about the future. After that, enlightened organizations know their employees have the smarts, knowledge and motivation to work out the future. And better than some strategy inserted from outside, when employees help determine the organization’s future, their enthusiasm and energy will be critical to achieving the outcomes expected.

Don’t rely on consultant-led innovation. Make sure you’re building through the amazing cognitive diversity and energy of your employees.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and yes, I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

 

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