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How deep does crowdsourced problem-solving go?

On the recent post, Why crowdsourcing works, Michael Fruhling of BFS Innovations asked:

A couple of related questions: for most current crowd sourced problem solving endeavors, how “deep” does the problem solving routinely go? And do the results meaningfully change if incentives are introduced?

It was a good, thoughtful question. I answered it in the comments there, and wanted to make the answer into its own blog post, below.


Tim O'Reilly tweet on crowdsourcingThe depth of the problem-solving in a crowdsourcing endeavor is wholly dependent on:

  • The question that is asked
  • The engagement of the question sponsor
  • Who is asked to participate
  • Why people would want to participate

A few points on each of those factors.

Question that is asked

As you can imagine, the question impacts the depth of problem-solving. In-depth question = in-depth problem-solving. The more specific the question, the better the quality of people’s contributions. “Specific” here doesn’t mean asking a tactical, low-level question. Rather, it means clearly delineating what is sought in a way that people can relate to .

Engagement of the question sponsor

Crowdsourcing works best (obviously?) when solving a specific problem that someone has. People will respond to the question with different concepts and questions. The feedback of the question asker (aka “sponsor”) provides the back-n-forth that breaks through initial responses to build a deeper response.

Who is asked to participate

Getting cognitive diversity is the key, as described in the post. But also, you want people who have some connection and interest in the question. Think holistically about that. Upstream, downstream, adjacent fields. Problem-solving depth requires matching a question with people who will give a damn.

Why people would want to participate

The question of “why” is closely related to the preceding question of “who”. If a question’s answer potentially affects a person, there is built-in motivation to participate: steer things in a way that makes sense to you. This works well for internal employee-based crowdsourcing. However, there are certainly questions where the personal impact may be less acute. Other incentives come in to play. Engagement with a sponsor – with attendant acknowledgments, thank you’s, feedback – are great incentives. Opportunities to see an idea through is a powerful stimulant. And prizes have great power. Prizes work best when they establish an opportunity to see an idea one is passionate about become real (e.g. investment funds). Or when the question is not one that directly impacts you. In such a case, they are compensation for putting your brainpower to work problem-solving.

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

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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.

Why crowdsourcing works

CrowdCrowdsourcing is a method of solving problems through the distributed contributions of multiple people. It’s used to address tough problems that happen everyday. Ideas for new opportunities. Ways to solve problems. Uncovering an existing approach that addresses your need.

Time and again, crowdsourcing has been used successfully to solve challenges. But…why does it work? What’s the magic? What gives it an advantage over talking with your pals at work, or doing some brainstorming on your own? In a word: diversity. Cognitive diversity. Specifically these two principles:

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

These two principles work in tandem to deliver results.

Diverse inputs drive superior solutions

When trying to solve a challenge, what is the probability that any one person will have the best solution for it? It’s a simple mathematical reality: the odds of any single person providing the top answer are low.

How do we get around this? Partly by more participants; increased shots on goal. But even more important is diversity of thinking. People contributing based on their diverse cognitive toolkits:

Cognitive toolkit

As described by University of Michigan Professor Scott Page in The Difference, our cognitive toolkits consist of: different knowledge, perspectives and heuristics (problem-solving methods). Tapping into people’s cognitive toolkits brings fresh perspectives and novel approaches to solving a challenge. Indeed, a research study found that the probability of solving tough scientific challenges is three times higher if a person’s field of expertise is seven degrees outside the domain of the problem.

In another study, researchers analyzed the results of an online protein-folding game, Foldit.  Proteins fold themselves, but no one understands how they do so. This is particularly true of experts in the field of biochemistry. So the online game allows users to simulate it, with an eye towards better understanding the ways the proteins fold themselves. As reported by Andrew McAfee, the top players of Foldit were better than both computers and experts in the field at understanding the folding sequence. The surprising finding? None had taken chemistry beyond a high school course. It turns out spatial skills are more important to solve the problem than deep domain knowledge of proteins.

Those two examples provide real-world proof for the models and solution-seeking benefits of cognitive diversity described by Professor Page.

Solution landscape - cornstalksProblem solving can be thought of as building a solutions landscape, planted with different ideas. Each person achieves their local optimum, submitting the best idea they can for a given challenge based on their cognitive assets.

But here’s the rub: any one person’s idea is unlikely to be the best one that could be uncovered. This makes sense as both a probabilistic outcome, and based on our own experiences. However in aggregate, some ideas will stand out clearly from the rest. Cognitive diversity is the fertile ground where these best ideas will sprout.

In addition to being a source of novel ideas, cognitive diversity is incredibly valuable as feedback on others’ ideas. Ideas are improved as people contribute their distinct points of view. The initial idea is the seedling, and feedback provides the nutrients that allow it to grow.

Cognitive diversity requires spanning gaps in social networks

Cognitive diversity clearly has a significant positive effect on problem-solving. Generally when something has proven value to outcomes, companies adopt it as a key operating principle. Yet getting this diversity has not proven to be as easy and common as one might expect.

Why?

Strong weak no tiesBecause it’s dependent on human behavior. Left to our own devices, we tend to turn to our close connections for advice and feedback. These strong ties are the core of our day-in, day-out interactions.

But this natural human tendency to turn to our strong ties is why companies are challenged to leverage their cognitive diversity. University of Chicago Professor Ron Burt describes the issue as one of structural holes between nodes in a corporate social network in his paper, Structural Holes and Good Ideas (pdf). A structural hole is a gap between different groups in the organization. Information does not flow across structural holes.

In and of themselves, structural holes are not the problem. Rather, the issue is that when people operate primarily within their own node, their information sources are redundant. Over time, the people in the node know the same facts, develop the same assumptions and optimize to work together in harmony. Sort of like a silo of social ties.

Idea quality vs diversity of connectionsThe impact of this is a severe curtailment of fresh thinking, which impacts the quality of ideas. Professor Burt found empirical evidence for this in a study of Raytheon’s Supply Chain Group. 673 employees were characterized by their social network connections, plotting them on a spectrum from insular to diverse. These employees then provided one idea to improve supply chain management at Raytheon. Their ideas were then assessed by two senior executives.

The results? Employees with more diverse social connections provided higher quality ideas. To the right is a graph of the rated ideas, with a curve based on the average idea ratings versus the submitter’s level of network diversity. The curve shows that with each increase in the diversity of a person’s connections, the higher the value of their idea.

Employees with access to diverse sources of information provided better ideas.  Their access to nonredundant information allowed them to generate more novel, higher potential ideas. Inside organizations, there are employees who excel at making diverse connections across the organization. These people are the ones who will provide better ideas. They are brokers across the structural holes in social networks.

Professor Burt provides the key insight about these brokers:

People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of genius; it is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.

An “import-export business”. Consider that for a moment. It’s a metaphor that well describes the key value of the brokers. They are exchange mechanisms for cognitive diversity. They are incredibly valuable to moving things forward inside organizations. But are organizations overly dependent on these super-connectors? Yes. Companies are leaving millions on the table by not enabling a more scalable, comprehensive and efficient means for exchanges of cognitive diversity.

Would if we could systematize what the most connected employees do?

Systematize the diverse connections

Crowdsourcing doesn’t eliminate the need for the super-connectors. They play a number of valuable roles inside organizations. But by crowdsourcing to solve problems, companies gain the following:

  • Deeper reach into the cognitive assets of all employees
  • Avoiding the strong ties trap of problem-solving
  • Faster surfacing of the best insights
  • Neutralize the biases that the super-connectors naturally have

As you consider ways to improve your decision-making and to foster greater cross-organizational collaboration, make crowdsourcing a key element of your strategic approach.

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

I’m joining HYPE to help companies get more value from innovation

HYPE Innovation logoIt is my pleasure and honor to announce that today I’ve joined HYPE Innovation as a full-time Senior Consultant. HYPE provides an enterprise innovation management software platform – HYPE Enterprise – used by large companies around the globe. In my consulting role, I’ll be working hands-on with customers across the phases of innovation maturity:

  • Beginning the journey toward a more collaborative innovation approach
  • Expanding usage as they gain experience and see results
  • Developing advanced ecosystems to drive next generation business models and products

This role is a change for me, moving from product to consulting.  But it’s one I embrace and I’m looking forward to. I’ve talked a lot here about the need to understand customers’ jobs-to-be-done. By working side-by-side with organizations, I’m going to have a deep understanding of their jobs-to-be-done for innovation and problem-solving. And even better, an opportunity to help make them successful.

HYPE is headquartered in Bonn, Germany, and I’ll be working from San Francisco. In this post, I want to cover two areas:

  1. State of the innovation management market
  2. What makes HYPE special

State of innovation management market

Enterprise traction

Over the past five years, I’ve worked with a number of customers and thought leaders in the innovation management space. People that are committed to and passionate about this. The first thing to know is that enterprises are actively exploring ways to be better at innovating. Many, IDC Predictions 2014many of the companies you know and buy products and services from. From its roots as online suggestions boxes, innovation management has become a full-fledged corporate discipline. In fact, research firm IDC forecasts that by the end of 2016, 60% of the Fortune 500 will be using social-enabled innovation management solutions. Which, if you follow the innovation diffusion lifecycle, means we’ll start to see the late majority taking it up.

Focused ideation

When I began working in the innovation field, the primary use case for innovation management software was to be an open suggestion box, equipped with social features (visibility, commenting, voting). Anytime someone had an idea, they had a place to post it. Unfortunately, that approach proved limited in engagement and value. Thus, that model has changed significantly the past few years. Organizations are now running campaigns that target narrow, specific topics. They are time-boxed events, which in a broad  sense is a form of game mechanic that spurs greater participation. Campaigns offer these advantages:

  • Ready recipients – campaign sponsors – to engage, elaborate and select ideas
  • Continuously refreshing the program and reason for people to participate
  • Address specific organization needs

Beyond innovation

Innovation – however you define it – continues to be a prominent use case. And with good reason, as CEOs rate it a top priority. There are multiple disciplines that address innovation: crowdsourcing, design thinking, TRIZ, incubators, lean startup, etc. Generally, innovation is considered creating something new which adds value.

But I’m seeing signs that crowdsourcing  is being applied in other ways outside the traditional view of innovation. Here are three examples:

  • Problem-solving: An example of this is cost-saving initiatives. People out on the front lines are seeing opportunities for improvement that are hidden from decision-makers in the headquarters.
  • Positive deviance: In every large organization, there are people who have figured out a different, better way to do something. Crowdsourcing helps find these people, and their novel approaches can be identified and shared.
  • Trend-spotting: With an army of employees out in the field, organizations have a ready way to canvas an area. People can post what they’re seeing, a valuable source of raw insight.

Idea development, evaluation and selection take center stage

When I talk with people not familiar with the innovation management field, I find their understanding often to be, “Oh, so it’s an idea collection app.” That is a necessary feature of course – no ideas, no innovation. But it’s a comical under-representation of what innovation management is. As Professor Tim Kastelle notes:

“Generating ideas is the easiest part. Most organisations already have enough ideas. The challenge for them is not generating more but implementing their existing ideas more effectively.”

As the market matures, companies are seeking ways to better advance the most promising ideas. This is where the puck’s heading.

Innovation becomes part of the purposeful collaboration canon

In the broader enterprise 2.0 social business market, the integration of ‘social’ into core business functions has emerged as the basis of value. This is a change from the movement’s early roots. Constellation Research VP Alan Lepofsky nicely illustrates this evolution to Generation 3 as follows:

Alan Lepofsky socbiz generations

Innovation is a prominent use case that benefits from the application of social and collaboration. You can see more in Alan’s Slideshare presentation on innovation and purposeful collaboration.

What makes HYPE special

From my experience in the industry and in my meetings with the team, three things about HYPE stand out in the innovation management field

  1. Singular focus on customers’ innovation jobs-to-be-done
  2. Market leadership
  3. Demonstrated customer excellence

Singular focus on customers’ innovation jobs-to-be-done

HYPE has over a decade of experience in the innovation market. It’s roots were in the R&D world, with a deep emphasis on how to maximize the value of ideas. In industry parlance, this is sometimes called the “back-end” of innovation. It’s a sophisticated activity with variance in process for each organization. Through the years of working with customers, HYPE has become adept at handling this phase of innovation. I know it’s not easy – I did some initial product work myself in this realm previously. Success here hinges on understanding what customers seek to achieve, and acting on it.

With the rise of social business and increased interest in better utilizing the collective smarts of employees, HYPE moved forward to the “front-end” of innovation. Powerful features include campaign development, participation management, idea surfacing, collaboration and evaluation. With this investment of time and effort, HYPE offers the most functional full-cycle innovation process in the industry:

HYPE - full lifecycle innovation process

With deep expertise built throughout the platform, HYPE is well-positioned to address organizations’ innovation jobs-to-be-done.

Market leadership

Forrester Wave - Innovation Management 3Q13 - rotatedIn the past few years, HYPE has increased its presence in the market, following an investment from ViewPoint Capital Partners. From its roots in Germany, the company has become the leader in Europe. It is now seeing good growth in broader EMEA, the United States and South America.

Recently, Forrester published its Wave for Innovation Management Tools. Analyst Chip Gliedman reviewed 14 of the most significant vendors in the space.  The analysis included:

  • Innovation lifecycle: the components of a complete cycle
  • CIO concerns: governance, security, architecture, integration
  • Product roadmap
  • Management team
  • Vision

HYPE achieved the top overall ranking, the coveted “top right” position of the Wave.

Demonstrated customer excellence

HYPE Customers

HYPE has over 170 customers from around the world. Consistent with my experience, the industries are varied. Some representative names are shown to the left. This is something one sees when it comes to innovation: everyone does it. There’s really not a specific sector that pursues innovation and problem-solving more than others.

HYPE has a number of long-term relationships. And it’s fair to say that once you’re a client of HYPE, you’ll be happy, satisfied and get results. Annual churn is less than 4%. On a monthly basis, that’s roughly 0.3%, at the magic level for enterprise software companies.

That level of customer satisfaction doesn’t “just happen”. Rather, it comes from being dedicated to customers’ success and working to make them successful at their jobs-to-be-done.

That HYPE logo?

Finally, about the HYPE logo. I actually do not yet know the background on it. But take a look at it. See some similarities to different hand gestures?

HYPE logo meaning

I’m looking forward to joining the team.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

When Should Management Push Enterprise 2.0 Adoption?

After the Boston edition of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, IBM’s Rawn Shah wrote a great follow-up post outlining ten observations from the event. A couple points that I found myself agreeing with wholeheartedly were:

Adoption is about transforming human behaviors at work – More folks are starting to recognize that it is not trivial to bring communities and other social environments to life.

‘Let’s get beyond “adoption”’ – This was another sentiment I heard several times, but I attribute it to short-attention span. The general statement was ‘adoption’ was last-year’s thing, and we needed a new ‘thing’.

The underlying philosophy of his post contrasts with that of Paula Thornton, who finds talk of driving adoption to be antithetical to the true nature of Enterprise 2.0. As she described in a post from several months ago:

If you have to “drive adoption” you’ve failed at 2.0 design and implementation. The fundamentals of 2.0 are based on design that is organic — meets the individual where they are and adapts based on feedback — it emerges. The ‘adoption’ comes from rigorous ‘adaptation’ — it continuously morphs based on involvement from the ‘masses’. If done right, you can’t keep them away…because you’ve brought the scratch for their itch.

While I empathize with her design-driven perspective, I personally find there to be more to people’s adoption patterns. Sometimes the superior design does not win. Existing network effects may prove a high barrier to adoption of something new. Embedded history makes the current approach valuable. And other reasons intrude.

In considering adoption, we have the push strategy (by management), and the pull strategy (viral, organically spreads). Both are viable approaches. The key factor is to determine when each needs to be employed.

A Decision Framework for Pushing Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

The graphic below outlines a basis for determining when Enterprise 2.0 adoption must be pushed, and when to let adoption be pulled:

The two key factors in the framework are user-centric and organization-centric.

The X-axis highlights a key reality. If a current approach/technology is working well enough for users, there is an inertia to making a switch of any kind. This principle is nicely captured in the “9x problem”, an explanation by Harvard professor John Gourville that was highlighted by Andrew McAfee. The 9x problem is this:

Users will overvalue existing products/solutions by 3 times, and undervalue the benefits of a new products/solutions by 3 times.

We’re for the most part risk-averse (e.g. technology adoption lifecycle is back-end loaded), and giving up existing ways presents a level of uncertainty. It’s the devil we know versus the devil we don’t. We place a value on the certainty of current methods, even if flawed.

The other part of the 9x equation is that users will place an uncertainty discount against new products/solutions enumerated benefits. Yes, it’s true. We don’t always buy everything we’re told.

The Y-axis speaks to the value of E2.0 to organizations. Certainly there will be use cases that can drive high value for the organization. And just as certainly, there will be those use cases that contribute little to organizational value.

Let’s run through the different approaches mapped on the graph, clockwise from top right.

Requires a Top-Down Push

Situation:

  • Existing ways are ‘good enough’ for employees
  • Executives see great potential for value from adoption

What might this be? Imagine management has seen too many examples of people missing key information and connecting the dots well with others are working on. An enlightened C-level type knows there is an opportunity to pick it up a level.

So some sort of social software – e.g. wiki, collaboration groups, etc. – is selected to make this a reality. But guess what? People keep emailing to one another and saving docs to the LAN.

Why? Because those are the tools they know, there is no learning curve and everyone operates on a shared set of processes and assumptions. Things work “as is”.

This is where management needs to wield its power, and come up with ways to influence employees to alter their entrenched behaviors that work “good enough”.

Mix a Push-Pull Strategy

Situation:

  • Existing ways are actually not “good enough”
  • There is high value in large-scale adoption

This is the home run of initiatives. Solves a “what’s in it for me” need of individuals, while also presenting a great chance to advance the value of the organization.

An innovation platform is a good example here. A place for individuals to express those ideas that fire them up or just plain solve annoyances. Which get lost in the email inbox.

But the opportunity for new ideas that deliver to the bottom line gets management’s attention.

Pull works here, as word spreads about the initiative. But management has an interest in making sure everyone is aware of the initiative, as soon as possible. Push tactics are good supplements.

Let It Grow Organically

Situation:

  • Existing ways are actually not “good enough”
  • There is low value in large-scale adoption

This is a tough one. Clearly the “Enterprise 2.0 way” can solve a problem for employees, but its adoption cannot be seen to lead to high impact on company value. An example here? Hmm…tough one. Enterprise bookmarking might be one area. Solves the, “how do I find things?” conundrum, for me personally and for others. But hard to see just how it will increase firm value. At least on a standalone basis.

Best to let these initiatives grow of their own accord. Let their value emerge, often with stories.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Situation:

  • Existing ways are ‘good enough’ for employees
  • There is low value in large-scale adoption

Suffice to say, this one should be killed before it ever starts.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 032610

From the home office in CTU, where I’m taking control of ’24′, not going to let it be canceled

#1: RT @scobleizer http://bestc.am/T90 This is Paul Pluschkell CEO of @spigit which is cool ideation software used by tons of companies. Now onto @pipioinc

#2: Wow – my moment in @dahowlett‘s spotlight: Enterprise 2.0: let’s be careful out there http://bit.ly/bQR3vj Great stuff, needs several reads

#3: Enterprise 2.0 and our tendency to think and talk in terms of efficiency http://bit.ly/cDe3mO by @oscarberg #e20

#4: Discussion is a good thing! RT @rawn Had to write disagreeing response to spigit post “Maslow’s Hierarchy of E2.0 ROI” http://bit.ly/9ltJo6

#5: Avoiding Innovation Chaos inside Companies (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/anh1cY #innovation #e20

#6: RT @govfresh Manor in WSJ: ‘A Hotbed of Tech Innovation: the Government of Manor, Texas’ http://bit.ly/aUyxbF #gov20

#7: Is Crowdsourcing Disruptive? http://bit.ly/aYybmt by @stephenshapiro > Cost per design vs cost of acquisition #innovation

#8: Can truly great design be done the open source way? http://bit.ly/bcZszD by @cdgrams > a bazaar or a cathedral? #design

#9: Actual newspaper headline: “Republicans turned off by the size of Obama’s package.” http://bit.ly/crhh2O #hcr?

#10: RT @skydiver “One of the things I love about Twitter is that you can totally make up quotations.” – Abraham Lincoln

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.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 021210

From the home office in Vancouver, where I’m preparing to compete in the snow blogging competition…

#1: Twitter’s location information would come in handy during the Olympics. Choose to follow tweets of only those in your time zone.

#2: Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley (@dens) describes the future of participating in location-based social applications http://post.ly/Mft6

#3: Fascinating study of Twitter spammers, and how they compare to legitimate users http://bit.ly/bFkd6l > Hard to tell difference

#4: The Importance of Managing Your Online Reputation http://bit.ly/a7i5mx by @VenessaMiemis > Strong, comprehensive post

#5: Goal Setting Stimulates Employee Innovation (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/cuKC9u #innovation #e20

#6: RT @mvandall MIT-Sloan 4 keys to driving innovation: Measurement, experimentation, sharing & replication. http://bit.ly/cH9khC. Spigit got it right!

#7: In light of Toyota’s quality issues, do you think they abandoned the “million employee ideas” somewhere along the line? http://bit.ly/a3iX9K

#8: RT @SmartStorming You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club. Jack London #innovation #creativity

#9: Nice word: “heterarchy” a formal structure, represented by a diagram of connected nodes, without any single permanent uppermost node

#10: Chocolate chili recipe http://bit.ly/aXn4kd > Hearty chili with an exotic quality. @cflanagan @justinmwhitaker @cubba #superbowl

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.

Noted: Innovation Management races past Enterprise 2.0

I belong to two groups on FriendFeed, Enterprise 2.0 and Innovation Management. These groups track tweets and Delicious bookmarks related to their respective topics. The Enterprise 2.0 Group was set up in June 2008, meaning it’s about 15 months old.  The Innovation Management Group was set up July 24, 2009, meaning it’s  about 1 1/2 months old.

So the Enterprise 2.0 Group has a 13 1/2 month head start in terms of attracting members.

Which makes this all the more remarkable:

Innovation Mgt vs E2.0 - FriendFeed GroupsThe Innovation Management Group tied the Enterprise 2.0 Group in membership last Friday (9/4/09). It now has 607 subscribers vs. 590 in the Enterprise 2.0 Group.

Noted.

Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2009: What’s Peaking, What’s Troughing?

Gartner maintains something called hype cycles for various technologies. What’s a hype cycle? The hype cycle provides a cross-industry perspective on the technologies and trends IT managers should consider in developing emerging-technology portfolios.

UPDATE: Link to Gartner’s 2010 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle

Here are the five stages of the hype cycle:

1. Technology Trigger
The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest. A “technology trigger” is breakthrough, public demonstration, product launch or other event generates significant press and industry interest.

2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. Trough of Disillusionment
Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

4. Slope of Enlightenment
Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. Plateau of Productivity
A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations.

On July 21, Gartner released its omnibus Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2009. This report covers a wide range of industries, from flat panel displays to home health providers to cloud computing.

Honestly, it’s fascinating to see how Gartner positions the various industries along the cycle. Here is 2009′s hype cycle for emerging technologies:

Gartner Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle 2009

Boy, that’s a full hype cycle isn’t it? The report itself is chock full of analysis and forecasts for the various technologies. Here are a few notes of mine from reading it.

Social Software Suites: It’s clear that the market is moving toward more applications bundled into Enterprise 2.0 offerings. As Nikos Drakos and Anthony Bradley write, “we expect that successful products will continue to assimilate new functionality.” The report notes that Social Software Suites have tipped past the peak of inflated expectations.

One observation made by Drakos and Bradley resonates with me:

In the longer term, many companies will have social software technology supplied by their strategic workplace vendor, perhaps augmented with additional third-party products. Accordingly, industry is starting to move from general-purpose suites to more targeted products, concentrating on “horizontal” social business challenges, such as idea engines, prediction markets and answer marketplaces.

Putting Enterprise 2.0 to work on specific problems was something I wrote about as well recently in Enterprise 2.0: Culture Is as Culture Does. If you’re not addressing specific problems as a social software vendor, you’re basically angling to replace the company intranet or portal.

Finally, note that standalone wikis and corporate blogging are in the Slope of Enlightenment. Those apps are also part of social software suites.

You can see the Gartner Social Software Hype Cycle 2009 graph on the Spigit blog.

Idea Management: Idea management is further along the curve, knocking on the door of the Slope of enlightenment. What’s interesting to me is how much the idea management space is really overlapping the social software space. Indeed, read the quote above. According to my interpretation, this means that social software is moving more toward tackling horizontal challenges, “such as idea engines.”

Speaking from my own Spigit experience, this quote rings true:

Industries that emphasize new product development were early adopters of idea management tools. In 2009, service industries and government are increasingly adopting innovation and idea management practices.

Microblogging: With Twitter’s rapid ascension in the public consciousness, it’s no surprise that the Enterprise 2.0 vendors are rapidly adding microblogging to their suites. Analyst Jeffrey Mann predicts that “by 2011, enterprise microblogging will be a standard feature in 80% of the social software platforms on the market.”

I like Mann’s advice to corporate clients reading this report:

Adopt social media sooner rather than later, because the greatest risk lies in failure to engage and being left mute in a debate in which your voice must be heard.

Cloud Computing: Cloud computing is at the top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. It’s hot. I’ve seen bloggers debate what constitutes “cloud computing”. This definition by David Mitchell Smith seems as good as any:

Gartner defines “cloud computing” as a style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies.

Smith notes that cloud computing is actually quite varied, and “that one dot on a Hype Cycle cannot adequately represent all that is cloud computing.” The report does say that cloud computing will be transformational. Yup.

E-Book Readers: So, have ya heard of e-book readers? When they debuted, I personally didn’t think much of them. I mean, what’s wrong with books? Turns out, there’s a great market for them. I still haven’t bought one, but that doesn’t mean much.

And this report is illustrative of the unexpected success of e-book readers. Here’s what the Gartner analysts said for the appearance of e-book readers at the top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations:

This positioning has been reassessed from the prior year’s Hype Cycle. E-book readers saw serious hype in the early days. These largely failed to capture the attention of the consumer and fell into the trough never to emerge.

Those are a few notes from the report. It’s 55 pages, and there are technology-specific versions of them as well. Gartner always has an interesting take.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Build it and they will come: Innovation Management FriendFeed Room

friendfeed-logoOn this blog, I’ve talked previously about the value of using FriendFeed for tracking topics from around the web (here, here, here). For instance, the Enterprise 2.0 Group, with 508 members, is a great place to track the latest in enterprise social software.

When I joined Spigit, I wanted to get up-to-speed fast on the topics and people driving the energy in innovation management. So I set up another FriendFeed Group, called Innovation Management. This one I set up as a “private, invite only”. I just wanted a nice place where I could learn and keep up with happenings in the field. I was tracking tweets with the hash tag #innovation, the words “innovation management” and Delicious bookmarks tagged with innovation. I also have the tweets of as number of people in the field captured in the Group as well. My own little private news service.

But a funny thing happened. People found my “private” Group. I had 17 different people requesting to join the Group. How’d they find it? I don’t know. FriendFeed Group search says “Find public groups“. It wasn’t public.

Regardless, there were 17 people who requested to join my little Group of 1. What to do?

I opened it up. What the hell, why not? So if you’re interested in tracking what’s happening in the world of innovation management, go ahead and click the link below:

Innovation Management FriendFeed Group

40 people are members already. See you there.

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