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The Journey of an Idea

I’d bet most of us understand an the initially proposed idea and its ultimate implementation are going to differ. Ideas are cheap, as they say. It’s what happens after the idea is proposed where success or failure is determined. Typically, the “after proposal”  focus is on the execution of the idea. But there’s a phase between the idea proposal and the execution of it. It’s a phase where the idea is molded and sharpened.

An idea essentially goes through a journey prior to its implementation:

The probability of an idea becoming reality is affected by different types of participation. Four different personalities act of the idea during its journey:

  1. Creator
  2. Inquisitor
  3. Helper
  4. Doer

On the HYPE Innovation blog, I’ve written about them in: Four personalities that determine innovation success or failure.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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Three Models for Applying Customer Feedback to Innovation

Customers have always been core to companies’ existence. An obvious statement for sure. Customers are the source of cash flow, and have historically been thought of in marketing and transactional contexts.

But in recent years, we’ve seen the rise of a new way to consider customers. As vital influencers of company activities and strategies. Two popular ways this is taking form are the social CRM movement, and the emergence of open innovation.

If you follow discussions in these developing strategies, you see that there are differing views as to the value of customer feedback. Understanding the different use cases of customer feedback helps organizations to set objectives and expectations appropriately, and to create effective frameworks for engaging customers.

Let’s look at three models for applying customer feedback to innovation.

Customer Feedback and Innovation Objectives

The graph below highlights the three models:

The three objectives on the graph are:

  • Features – product or service requests
  • Product’s “job” – understand the deeper purpose your product fulfills
  • Proposal – putting a new concept in front of customers to understand its key value drivers

The X-axis measures the difficulty of getting feedback relevant to a particular objective. The Y-axis measures the impact on company results for the different objectives.

Some notes on the three models follow. For context, I’m including some ideas proposed by Starbucks customers on the My Starbucks Idea site.

Features

Customers – hundreds, thousands, millions of them – are constantly using your products and services. This makes them well-positioned to suggest future product features and service enhancements. As a customer, you become intimately familiar with a product’s utility, and what else you want to see.

You can see this on the My Starbucks Idea site. Some examples of customer product and service ideas:

  • Use dark chocolate in espresso drinks #
  • More milk substitute options #
  • Healthy food items #
  • Mobile QR codes with payment info and drink order (scan-n-pay) #
  • Separate lines for drip coffee buyers (during morning rush hour) #

Often, I see this type of innovation pooh-poohed, as if it is not worth the effort. I fundamentally disagree with that position. This is the important, block-and-tackle work of serving a large market.

As the graph shows, these individual innovations won’t dramatically change a company’s fortunes. But in aggregate, they become a vital part of the product strategy for companies. Soliciting useful ideas for features is relatively easy.

It is important to remember that no company will blindly follow whatever ideas are suggested.  Innovation here is customer-centered, but not majority centered.

Product’s “Job”

The notion that customers hire your product to do a “job” is one I learned from Clayton Christensen. He stresses thinking of what customers need to accomplish, as opposed to thinking of product features or customer demographic segments. This frees your mind to address products differently than as a collection of features.

The challenge is to go deeper on what the customers are requesting. This is where customer feedback is not the final answer. Rather, it’s an important clue as to what “job” your customers are hiring for. Take a look at these five ideas from the Starbucks ideas site:

  • I need a 24 hour Starbucks #
  • Have late night locations near hospitals #
  • Later Weekend Hours #
  • More comfortable seating and extended hours #
  • New/additional 24hr locations #
  • Open late #

Now as features go, the ideas above are pretty basic. Keep Starbucks open later. But rather than look at them that way, are they providing clues about the “job” customers hire Starbucks to do?

It’s obvious customers are hiring Starbucks for more than a cup of coffee. Starbucks has consciously built out a more lifestyle-based experience. These requests for nighttime hours are indicators that Starbucks has an opportunity to address a new “job”. Here’s my interpretation of the “job” (yours may be different):

People want the solo intellectual pursuits of reading a book, creative writing, researching or getting projects done on a computer. They could do this at home with their own coffee brew or tea. But there’s something social about being around others, even if you’re not engaging with them. You’re connected to the world, as you view it through the periphery of your mind’s focus.

People want to pursue their individual interests, but do it in a way that let’s them feel connected to larger society, be around kindred types and keep tabs on what is happening.

If you accept that as the “job” that customers hire Starbucks to do at nighttime, then the next activity in customer-centric innovation is to come up with other features of the experience that address the “job”.

This is where Starbucks can suggest new features to customers, based on a better understanding of the “job”. The new features can be put out to the customer community for their feedback.

Proposal

Roberto Verganti describes a “proposal” in his book, Design Driven Innovation. A proposal is a product that is not a linear change in your offering, but represents a radical change in meaning. Many purchases – such as a Starbucks coffee – have meaning beyond the coffee. In fact, I’d argue Starbucks has successfully performed a radical change in meaning with its coffee varieties, “baristas” and lifestyle experience. Much different than say, a Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds coffee.

Verganti also takes a fairly dogmatic position against customer-centric innovation. Rather, he argues for vision-centered innovation. The inspiration and sources for vision comes via learning from networks at the edge of societal change, within your industry and outside it. But it’s not without a role for customers after all. As he wrote recently on the Harvard Business Review:

They need to propose new unsolicited products and services that are both attractive, sustainable, and profitable. It is only within the framework of a vision-centered process that users can provide precious insights.

In this model, customers cannot tell you the new, unimagined things they want. Would anyone have suggested a need for Adobe Acrobat, Turbotax, Facebook or Twitter? But once a company has a new proposal for customers, they can become part of the development process. As Russell Ackoff and Herbert Addison wrote in the Little Book of f-Laws (pdf):

There is no point in asking consumers – who do not know what they want – to say what they want. Many new product and service introductions have been disastrous despite the extensive surveys conducted to show that there is consumer interest in, and intention to buy, such a product or service. These surveys have incorrectly assumed that most consumers know what they want.

Consumers can discover what they want in products and services by designing them. It is in design that people find what they want. Furthermore, consumer involvement in product/service design almost always gets creative results.

Engaging customers to get their ideas for something radically different holds great value here. This is not an exercise in determining market interest – although that might be a side outcome. Rather, it’s a process of getting ideas to flesh out this proposal. Let customers help determine the radical innovation of meaning for a new concept.

Progress on the Open Innovation and Social CRM Fronts

The graph above is really more a spectrum, not a series of discrete models. For example, where feature requests leave off and become input about a product’s “job” isn’t a step function. More part of a continuum. But it’s helpful for discussion purposes to describe three models, because there are differences at different points of the spectrum.

As both open innovation and social CRM progress, think about the implications of these approaches on integrating customer feedback into innovation.

Why Ideas Are Core to Enterprise 2.0

Brian Solis spoke recently on what the future of social networks will be. Ideas, it turns out. As I wrote on another blog post:

Solis, leading thinker in the integration of social media and PR, recently spoke on an intriguing concept: ideas connect us more than relationships. The premise of his argument is that ideas are what elicit passion in people. They animate us, and if we find someone with a similar interest in a given idea, we connect.

Then there was this observation by Intel’s Enterprise 2.0 lead Laurie Buczek on the only quantifiable value they found in their Enterprise 2.0 efforts:

Where we did quickly find quantifiable business value during an ideation proof of concept.  Ideas that are discovered and turned into action have produced dollarized return of business value.

Both Brian and Laurie are pointing to the unique nature of ideas. Brian talks of ideas as connectors. Laurie talks of ideas being “discovered”. If Enterprise 2.0 rests on delivering value through collaborative, emergent and social means, ideas are the top basis for leveraging these qualities.

Of course, from a pragmatic, what-do-businesses-care-about perspective, innovation is a top priority.

The top-down, Board-level importance of innovation is not a surprise. As I’ve seen repeatedly with our enterprise innovation work at Spigit, ideas are an excellent bottom-up basis for Enterprise 2.0.

Ideas Are Me

Credit: -: pranav :-

Perhaps the most important aspect of social is the ability to express what you’re thinking. Ideas fit this dynamic quite well. Ideas are…

Expressions of my creativity, ingenuity and problem-solving

Inside companies, we see things that we know can be improved. We see opportunities that need to be explored. We know a good answer for a particular challenge put forth by managers.

Every time you have an idea, a bit of you bonds to it. Your way of thinking, your understanding of context, the experiences you’ve had, the expertise you bring to bear, the work aspirations you have.

Ideas can be small, giving you satisfaction in fixing something obvious to you. They can be big, offering the possibility of work that elicits your passions.

This is powerful stuff. It is a unique intersection of something that helps the company with something that personally satisfies you.

Ideas Are the Basis for Finding Like-Minded Colleagues

When I post an idea, I create the basis for finding others. That because when I post an idea, I’m making…

Credit: cauchisavona

A call for your interest

Think about that. The act of publishing an idea is a broadcast across the organization. It’s a tentative query to see who else feels the same way. Or if not the same way, who has an interest that overlaps mine.

This is unique to ideas. Ideas are potential. They are a change from the status quo. There are others who share at least some aspect of your idea. In large, distributed organizations, where are these people?!!

My idea is my call to form my own virtual team, to see who can help me accomplish something of value to me and the organization. I contrast this with other types of activities one might do under the Enterprise 2.0 umbrella: status updates, project tasks, writing a common  document, adding content to knowledge wiki. Those aren’t calls to form virtual teams.

Ideas have a unique quality in team and community forming, consistent with the emergent nature of Enterprise 2.0.

Ideas Are Social Objects

A key consideration of any framework for interaction is, “what are we going to talk about?” Within the enterprise

Credit: Akshay

environment, an idea is…

A social object for our interaction

The concept of social objects is powerful. It illuminates the core basis for why two or more people interact. They share an interest in some thing. We are complex beings, with multiple different interests. We won’t ever match up  with someone else exactly in terms of what animates. But social objects allow a sort of miniature Venn Diagram of our common interests to flourish.

Hugh MacLeod pragmatically notes, “The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else.”

Leading designer Joshua Porter, also known as Bokardo. In his post, Finding Innovation in Design, he describes the AOF method of social experience design:

  • A = activity you want to support
  • O = social objects that define the activity
  • F = features are actions people take upon social objects

You build social-oriented sites around a core set of objects and activities which attract people.

Ideas, because they represent something new, something that can affect your daily work, are terrific social objects. An idea is a proposal, and a natural basis for interacting. Contrast this with posting a document, or a page of knowledge, or a status update. Those are lower wattage, more ephemeral social objects.

Ideas Become Projects

Ideas get attention. They propose to change things, and they will need work. An idea is…

The basis of a future project for us

Credit: The National Guard

What makes ideas so powerful is they are changes to the status quo. This means:

  • They’re going to affect people’s daily work
  • They require some work to make happen

This imbue ideas with a certain vitality. It gives them a power not seen with with other types of social computing activities, save projects themselves.

Another important aspect is that ideas will elicit passion in certain users, those we talked about earlier. If there is a chance to become part of a project team working on the idea, that is exciting. Consider times in your life you got to be part of a team, working on something that excited you.

Ideas have these qualities: possibilities, change to work routines, chance to be part of an exciting initiative. Projects have a certain aspirational quality for us employees, and ideas tap this aspect well.

There are many types of content and activities – social objects – that are part of a social computing initiative. I’d argue ideas, for a host of reasons, should be considered top amongst those social objects.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 012210

From the home office in Massachusetts, where I’m saying, “Kennedy who?”

#1: the six types of ideas http://bit.ly/6pKGGZ #innovation

#2: RT @InfoWeekSMB Spigit Introduces ‘Idea Management’ for SMBs http://bit.ly/6CGhWO

#3: RT @johnt Systems that eliminate failure, eliminate innovation by @snowded http://icio.us/xoupma

#4: This is really cool: @tyler_thompson decided to redesign airline boarding passes: http://bit.ly/75OWtU What do you think?

#5: RT @markfidelman My new Post: Hutch Carpenter on the Innovation X Factor http://tinyurl.com/y9hfvrq

#6: RT @stu: New Blog Post: Celebrating the Web at 20 http://bit.ly/6Vtjo5 incl interviews w/ @bhc3 @louisgray #emc #innovation

#7: @pgkiran Good to know Kiran! Got no beef with Conan, he’s getting a raw deal. But I don’t blame it on Leno.

#8: RT @MarkDykeman: I hereby coin the term “nanocause”. It’s a thing that you care about for no more than 15 min. before you get bored.

#9: Seventh Generation (cleaning products) ad on TV just referenced the vaunted “5-second rule” for food on the floor. #lifelessons

#10: There truly are times a parent can look at his lovely little children, and think: “savages”.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 010810

From the home office in Sacramento, where Governor Schwarzenegger laid out an initial budget that will take 11 months to resolve and pass…go ahead and get your California jokes ready now…

#1: If this topic interests you – Designing for Innovation through Competitive Collaboration – I ask for your #e2conf vote http://bit.ly/8xuQuC

#2: The Wisdom of Crowds Like Me http://bit.ly/4WM1Bi #crowdsourcing

#3: How Do Product Managers Reject Bad Ideas? http://bit.ly/7j6Ax0 by @chriscummings01 #innovation

#4: Jessica Hagy: The Visual Grammar of Ideas :: Articles :: The 99 Percent #innovation http://post.ly/HcJL

#5: Should you be thinking about Enterprise 2.0 in 2010? http://cli.gs/th9me by @dahowlett > A rare, rare bit of optimism there #e20

#6: MITRE’s intranet, including its Spigit deployment, is named to Jakob Nielsen’s Top 10 Intranets for 2010: http://bit.ly/5jrgJY #e20

#7: RT @dhinchcliffe The K-factor Lesson: How Social Ecosystems Grow (Or Not) http://bit.ly/8aEQEQ

#8: RT @paujoral Great quote by @wimrampen: “the name of the (social networking) game is how to participate in knowledge flows”

#9: Just had to use the “Let Me Google That for You” site for a colleague: http://lmgtfy.com/

#10: This is both funny and so true: Effect of Bay Area earthquakes on Twitter traffic http://twitpic.com/x3c10 (h/t @louisgray)

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 010110

From the home office in the future, where I’m currently reviewing all these 2010 predictions with a skeptical eye…

#1: How Companies Increase Innovation – WSJ.com #innovation http://post.ly/GubP

#2: RT @chuckfrey Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on two ways to approach customer-focused innovation: http://ow.ly/QIbl #innovation #strategy

#3: RT @briansolis Ideas Connect Us More than Relationships (video interview) http://bit.ly/8wPTzf

#4: Outstanding, detailed post on Enterprise 2.0 adoption from @ITSinsider & the @20adoption council: http://bit.ly/516Cv4 #e20

#5: Designing For Social Traction by Joshua Porter #design http://post.ly/GoE6

#6: Intellipedia anyone? “Preventing the Terrorist Attack: Massive Failure in Collaboration” http://bit.ly/6AQgPV #e20 #gov20

#7: 2010 Predictions from @jkuramot of Oracle AppsLab: http://bit.ly/7ainDr “Reputation will be all the rage in 2010.” > Agree

#8: RT @matthewemay Six years ago this USAToday essay by Jim Collins changed my entire view of the world. http://is.gd/5HPPu

#9: RT @davewiner: Anil Dash, an upper-caste Twitterer, explains to low-life scum like you and I, what it’s like up there. :-) http://r2.ly/yxbt

#10: My 5 1/2 y.o. son on why he didn’t see a friend’s kindergarten girl from the sister school in his coed class: “All the girls look alike.”

My Ten Favorite Tweets: Week Ending 080709

From the home office in the former Soviet republic of Georgia…

#1: GigaOm: One RSS subscriber equals 5 to 10 Twitter followers http://bit.ly/MkRHF

#2: Interesting take: “To enable innovation it may be necessary to reduce the number of social ties between coders” http://bit.ly/5apJn

#3: RT @berkun The best approach for wicked problems is to break them apart into smaller problems. Repeat until there’s a piece you can solve.

#4: @GrahamHill Toyota had 20 million ideas in 40 years? Wow. That’s says a lot for how they got to the top of the automotive world.

#5: Checking out @lindegaard‘s list of books and people he finds useful for #innovation work: http://bit.ly/18MUk3

#6: Lloyds CIO: RT @kat_woman have u had a look at spigit? We used it 2 create a world-first idea mgt system internally that runs like a stk mkt

#7: Just spoke with Gary Hamel re: next week’s Spigit Customer Summit. Very nice, very sharp. His keynote will be: “Inventing Management 2.0″

#8: Reading: Go cloud, young man http://bit.ly/h2wx3 by @philww Cloud computing is the future #saas #careers

#9: With family, we’re hitting the shopping holy trinity: Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s

#10: I see these foursquare updates of people out and about, looks great. Mine would be…home….home…playground…home… Kids, you know.

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