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It’s an Innovation Geekfest! AT&T’s Tech Showcase

On Thursday, November 5, I attended the AT&T Technology Showcase in San Francisco. The Tech Showcase presents some of the latest cool inventions coming from AT&T Labs. Imagine a highly professional, well-resourced Maker Faire. AT&T calls the showcase, “The Art of the Possible”, stressing the experimental nature of this stuff.

While I’m not actually a geek, there were some cool things there. And notice the iPhone usage in these inventions.

For easy reference, I’ve included some anchor links below:

iPhone Microprojector

AT&T iPhone microprojectorThis was really cool. It’s a device that lets you broadcast video and images on any surface. You insert your iPhone into the microprojector and point it where you want to display. It uses three-color lasers to display images. With lasers, the image is always in focus, regardless of distance from the display surface.

The inventor stressed the medical uses of it. He showed how a brain scan would look. Doctors can view results on-the-fly, on any surface. This gives them the ability to react much more quickly to medical conditions.

But another guy watching this and I both had the same thought: this would be great for business. Sales presentations held on your iPhone. It also seems like something that work at trade shows.

And how about watching videos through your iPhone? Not on the small iPhone screen, but broadcast on a nearby wall or a screen in the back of a car seat? That would be pretty slick.

iPhone as Voice-Powered TV Remote

For the ultimate in minimizing the steps needed to find a show: the voice-powered TV remote. Here’s how I saw it work:

  • Say something like “basketball this evening”
  • System searches a show schedule for “basketball” instances
  • It’s intelligent enough to understand “evening” as a set of defined hours
  • Serves up a list of programs that match the voice-entered search
  • Pick the one you want, watch or record it

To use this, you need an Internet Protocol (IP) TV. For a demo, see MG Siegler’s YouTube video, taken as part of his TechCrunch coverage:

Ad Hoc Social Networking

Under the research initiative, “Just in Time Mobile Services”, is this wild concept.You ask total strangers to provide you with information about some location in which you’re interested. Here’s a process flow:

Ad Hoc Social Networking process flow

Say there’s some place you want to go to, but it can be hit-or-miss there. Maybe too crowded, not enough people, delay in some event, etc. You reach out this Ad Hoc Social Network. The Network system finds people who are in that location. They agree to answer a question. You check out the ratings for those people, select the one with a sufficient rating. You then ask them about the location. After they give you an answer, you determine whether the answer was good, and rate them.

All of this done anonymously.

Key here are the ratings. Your rely on those with better online reputations. As for incentives to participate, maybe there’s some lessons in foursquare (points, badges, mayors).

Internet Protocol TV

AT&T offers a digital TV content  delivery service called U-verse. It uses Internet Protocol to deliver signals, and competes with Comcast and other cable providers, as well as satellite TV providers. There are some cool experiments developed for U-verse, including a few they aren’t ready to make public.

Here are some of the cool things they’ve done in the Lab for IPTV:

Use iPhone pictures to find programs: The monthly U-verse guide provides information on upcoming programs, including photos from those programs. Use the iPhone to snap a picture of a program. Send it to the application in the  IPTV. The TV matches the picture from the iPhone to a program, and shows a list of upcoming episodes. Record the ones you want.

Twitter: Add a scrolling ticker to the bottom of your screen. You when this would be good? When BIG stories break that capture the nation’s attention. They invariably have # hashtags. Have a running ticker of hashtags across the bottom of your screen while watching live coverage from a new station.

Throw media objects from phone to TV: Say you have a video on your iPhone 3GS. With this app, you simply “throw” it to the IPTV. The video will be loaded to the TV, and begins to play. If you had an IP stereo, this would work for music.

FamilyMap: Want to know where your kids are? This app tracks the signals for your family’s phones, and plots their locations on a map. A FamilyMap. I’m going to remember this for my kids in about a decade.

Telehealth Remote Monitoring

At the World Innovation Forum, futurist Paul Saffo said that sensors are the BIG next technology wave. The telehealth remote monitoring project shows one way this will be true.

At the Technology Showcase, one Labs researcher showed off a sensor that tracks the foot signature of people (“smart slippers”). With four sensors in a slipper, it tracks the unique foot signature of an individual. The sensors will measure the footstrike, and provide data that can identify if something is off. If something is off, family and care providers can be alerted.

AT&T has a vision to develop sensors that can track a number of health related conditions. I took a picture of a poster that gives a high level view of their direction. Notice the age demographic of the couple under “You” to the left of the picture:

AT&T Telehealth Remote Monitoring

This is an area of growth, not just for AT&T, but for the technology industry overall. The New York Times just ran a story about this topic, Watch the Walk and Prevent a Fall. The article noted:

Researchers are beginning to apply the digital tools of low-cost wireless sensors in carpets, clothing and rooms to monitor an older person’s walking and activity. The continuous measurement and greater precision afforded by simple computing devices, researchers say, promise to deliver new insights on risk factors and tailored prevention measures.

If The Graduate were remade today, the man at the graduation party would whisper “sensors” in Dustin Hoffman’s ear.

GeoCasting

Finally, I took in the GeoCast demo. What is GeoCasting? It allows you to communicate between mobile handsets without the need for a cell or data network.

Sort of like an updated version of walkie talkies.

This is essentially a very localized peer-to-peer way of communicating. It relies on sensing nearby phones. The use case demo I saw related to public safety. Imagine there is a disturbance of some type on a college campus. School authorities would have access to a broadcast application, which would localize instructions to students on the campus. If you were inside a building where the disturbance was occurring, you’d get one set of instructions, perhaps telling you the safe way out. If you were on a different part of campus, away from the problem, you’d get instrucitons to stay in your room and lock it down.

GeoCasting is an innovative way to localize information out to mobile handset holders. One could see interesting commercial applications for this, such as retailers sending messages to consumers nearby.

Good stuff coming from the AT&T Labs guys. Look forward to some of this becoming commercial. I may seriously have to get U-verse TV when it becomes available in my neighborhood.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 103009

From the home office, waiting for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch…

#1: NIH grants $12mm to create a national, Facebook-like social network for scientists http://ow.ly/xtAD Goal? Find collaborators

#2: RT @jowyang Ritz Carlton’s mktg chief says hotel mgt at each property spends 1 hour reviewing online convos each am –even tweets #forbescmo

#3: The Time I was Written Up for Blogging http://ow.ly/x3ph by @tacanderson Lesson on employees and social media

#4: Skating to where the puck will be – Apple & advertising http://ow.ly/xnXJ Apple has offered to rebuild a Chicago mass transit stop?

#5: Very cool: Los Angeles adopts Google e-mail system for 30,000 city employees http://ow.ly/x3hP Cloud makes inroads #saas

#6: 84% of firms say #innovation is important to firm success. 51% of firms do not have anyone who is steering the innovation ship. #iai09inno

#7: 10 examples of minimum viable products http://ow.ly/xbi1 Cool list of minimalist approaches to engage customers & build product

#8: Stuck trying to write that next blog post? 100 Ways to Find Ideas for Your Blog Posts http://ow.ly/wA1T from the LifeSnips blog

#9: Geek alert! RT @PaulSloane: @DougCornelius RT Awesome T-Shirts for twins: http://bit.ly/14LYeI

#10: OK, figure this one out. @gaberivera created a tweet that links to itself. See for yourself: http://bit.ly/2IIkJG

Bonus just for this week…

#11: Small change to my Twitter bio…I’m now VP of Product at Spigit. Carry on…

Innovation ROI – Why Every Enterprise 2.0-Enabled Connection Counts

In a recent post on the Spigit blog, Study – Collaborative Networks Produce Better Ideas, I described the research of Professor Ronald Burt. He found that employees who are better connected across the organization generate higher quality ideas than those with limited connections. Wider access to the ideas, knowledge, experiences and judgment of colleagues makes employees stronger in innovation.

I posted this write-up in the Continuous Innovation group on LinkedIn. One person made this observation:

Need to keep in mind that collaborative networks have little to do with technology. There are certain personality types that keep the organization connected. The proportions of those people in an organization is related to the specific corporate culture.

There’s a good alternative perspective. That really, the same people that connect via collaborative networks are those that would be doing it in an offline world as well. The rest of the employee population likely continues to work in a more insular world.

I see it differently though. First, I agree that there are people with natural connector personalities. They would span the different parts of the organization no matter what. Anyone think David Armano wouldn’t be one of those types?

But not everyone need be an uber connector to see benefits from plugging into a more connected network. My personal experience on sites like Twitter and FriendFeed tells me that everyone benefits from these online social networks. We may not all be uber connectors, but we do increase our degree of connectedness.

The graph below is my concept for how this effect manifests:

Offline vs online degree of connectedness
Assume a population of employees: 25 in this hypothetical example. The blue line is the level of connectedness for employees working the way they have for decades. Your connections tend to be local and departmental, with some tenure you gain a larger informal network. In Professor Burt’s terms, most workers are relatively insular in terms of who they access for information and ideas. But some broker connections across different corporate “tribes”.

The red line represents the level of corporate connectedness for employees including the ability to find others online. To me, this is a no-brainer. Of course people are going to connect with others they wouldn’t have otherwise. The number, diversity and depth of connections increase.

The gray zone between the red and blue lines represent that improvement. Some people won’t get too much increase. They really are in-person types of connectors. But others thrive in the online environment. They have more specific interests, and didn’t know who else in the organization held them. Through the social software, they find more people with interests similar to theirs. Or at least with experience relevant to their interests.

Don’t need to be an uber connector there. Just need to be able to make connections.

Next…the ROI math.

The Natural Logarithm Method

Take a look at the graph below. It shows the scatter plot of how ideas were rated for different employees (Y axis). The X axis represents the degree of connectedness for employees, based on actual social network analysis conducted by Professor Burt in his study:

Measuring Innovation ROI from E2.0 Connections

The scatter plots show that employees who have a high diversity of connections across the organization provided higher quality ideas. The converse holds true as well.

Regression shows the equation that represents the observations:

Value of Idea = 5.51 – 0.91 * ln(Level of Network Constraint)

The equation shows that, on average, every increase in a person’s level of connectedness with different parts of the organization produces higher quality ideas. Note the natural log curve. The effect increases as connectedness improves. What I like about that is that the benefits increase, even if the work of increasing employees’ network diversity gets more difficult as you try to connect those last holdout groups.

Extrapolate the effect out to the organization at large. Raising the overall level of workforce connectedness will have a salutary effect on the average quality of ideas generated. In an era of ever higher levels of market volatility, improving the organizational “innovation IQ” is a critical aspect of surviving and thriving.

One thought on the accelerating benefit – increased idea quality – as connectedness improves. In a large population, would this have any correlation to network effects?

It’s not perfect, but Professor Burt’s analysis demonstrates a strong ROI basis for leveraging social software to increase the diversity of connections.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 102309

From the home office in Kabul, Afghanistan…

#1: Twitter’s Web Traffic Flatlines http://ow.ly/viH9 …while Facebook continues to grow.

#2: Initial take on MSFT’s Twitter integration (http://ow.ly/vLGF)…that is sweet! Now will they show tweets beyond the last 3 days?

#3: RT @danschawbel REPORT: 65.6% of CMO’s feel that social media should be done in-house http://tinyurl.com/ygdjtfb

#4: If the Enterprise 2.0 crowd wanted to share a link, my guess for the top 5 services: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Posterous, Yammer. Agree?

#5: Study – Collaborative Networks Produce Better Ideas (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/3xoPM5 #e20 #innovation

#6: Interesting point from #spc09 – SharePoint is a critical driver of MSFT’s future growth. #e20

#7: Two SharePoint 2010 articles – RWW http://bit.ly/1zjI49 | @olivermarks http://bit.ly/4f9en0 – paint a good picture of its #e20 initiatives

#8: Southwest Airlines is running a “test lab” of ecofriendly products on its new Green Plane http://ow.ly/w3fR

#9: RT @Cubba: @bhc3 I thought this was timely based on our conversation at Patsy’s; http://bit.ly/1WQGwH = “10 Tips for Retrosexing on FB”

#10: http://twitpic.com/m13gk – It’s pumpkin patch time! Kids have their own. #halloween

Could FriendFeed have crossed the chasm?

FriendFeed folds it up

FriendFeed folds it up

FriendFeed is now part of Facebook. For many of us FriendFeed users, this was quite a shock. We didn’t know exactly what FriendFeed’s future was, or how it was going to make money. But Twitter has set the current mental model of not worrying about such things. And in some ways, Amazon.com did the same in the 1990s with its grow-don’t-make-money strategy. In both cases, the companies persevered and are now enjoying mainstream success.

Rather than follow this model, FriendFeed sold itself to Facebook. Perhaps this is a case where the founders saw something we didn’t. After all, for every Twitter and Amazon, there are thousands of startups that don’t make it.

But given the heavy attention and usage of FriendFeed by the technology Early Adopter crowd, it’s worth examining this:

Could FriendFeed have crossed the chasm?

I’m referring, of course, to Geoffrey Moore’s classic and still-relevant book where he examines the challenges of moving from the Early Adopters to the Early Majority segments in the technology adoption cycle:

Crossing the Chasm

The biggest issue is that what appeals to Early Adopters doesn’t work for the Early Majority. If you’ve tracked public reaction to FriendFeed, doesn’t that sound familiar?

In Moore’s book, he counsels that companies need to establish a toehold in the Early Majority segment by focusing on a vertical niche. Let’s use that approach in examining FriendFeed’s options.

FriendFeed’s Early Majority Options

In the table below, I’ve come up with six possible use cases that might have been bases for breaking into the Early Majority. Each use case has a potential Early Majority niche noted. And each use case has one or more existing competitors listed:

FriendFeed Early Majority Options

Let’s analyze things by use case…

Company public groups: In this use case, companies set up shop on FriendFeed, with their own groups filled with content. PepsiCo set up one, called Pepsi Cooler. The idea is a stream of content produced by a team from Pepsi. If you look at the stream, it’s primarily tweets.

If FriendFeed had decided to pursue this option, it needed to create points of permanence on the page. Having just a stream of content makes it hard to establish objects that focus on your brand and let’s you run events. Creating an experience like this was something that would have given FriendFeed groups more value.

Alternatives? Companies run their websites, upgraded with social media streams of content. And Facebook has really pushed this with its pages effort. Facebook’s 200+ million members gives it a big leg up here.

This would have been a tough one to break into the Early Majority, as Facebook really owns this niche. The easy ability to stream content would have been FriendFeed’s advantage.

Collaboration spaces: Let employees work together on projects in their own private groups. Content can be streamed in certainly, but more important, people can post things directly into a collaboration space. Teams can comment on posted items to advance projects. Documents can be included in posts, letting the same version be accessed by everyone. Direct messages can be sent to one another.

In June of 2008, I wrote Using FriendFeed Rooms for Work: What’s Needed? In it, I argued that FriendFeed could be used for getting work done in teams. I saw some things I’d want there: better “stickiness” for current projects and documents. Can’t have everything fly by in a stream. Also, accept RSS feeds of document changes from Google Docs, Zoho and other cloud office productivity apps. Chris Brogan saw the potential too in a post from August 2008,  How to Use Friendfeed as a Collaborative Business Tool.

Collaborative business apps are an area of overall growth, but one that is filled with competition. Atlassian  has been delivering this for a while with its Confluence wiki, and Basecamp is a favorite small business collaboration tool. More recent entrants like SocialCast have added activity streams as part of their core functionality.

FriendFeed could have been a strong player here, but it needed a lot of focused feature development.

Social web monitoring: This is my use case. FriendFeed has a marvelous way of handling RSS feeds into separate groups, and managing people and groups into separate lists. I found these to be quite helpful for staying on top conversations and content that is getting attention. I actively monitor three groups formed specifically to be my “news tickers” on the social web. I don’t use them as communities for conversations, but as information management tools.

The real-time feature is great for this purpose. As soon as something is made available via RSS, or in Twitter’s case it’s posted, you’d see it show up in your groups. I find this to be highly valuable for jumping into conversations on Twitter, and to understand what’s buzzing now.

FriendFeed doesn’t have the powerful analytics and structure of the new premium Social CRM apps. I’d argue that for SMBs, that’s not needed. What’s needed is an ability to stay on top of topics and conversations relevant to your industry. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick was seeing the same thing in How FriendFeed Could Become the Ultimate Social Media Tracking Service.

To my mind, this is the use case that was most promising relative to unmet need and dearth of competition. And FriendFeed had great technological advantages here in terms of its SUP work and real-time updating. Feels like an opportunity missed.

Real-time conversations: When FriendFeed made the switch to real-time updating by default, one thing users gained was the ability to see new comments on threads without constantly refreshing the page. Thaty meant you could engage others easily on the page as people posted back-and-forth.

For live events, this is pretty fun. It’s great to share a common moment this way. Be it sports, political events or technology conferences. And that’s what makes me think the real-time conversation platform would be great for online media sites. Imagine CNN.com outfitted with real-time conversations by FriendFeed. News events are constantly, and always will be, unfolding. Giving site visitors a way to converse quickly with one another would be great. Admittedly, this real-time conversation flow is something that is already present for webcasts.

The limitation for the value of real-time conversations is (i) the existence of alternatives; (ii) limited utility for most people. Twitter isn’t real-time, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a good-enough conversation platform with a large subscriber base. Forums will do the threading work for multiple participants. And the people that got the most use out of real-time were social media A-Listers who get a lot of comments on their threads. Most people don’t get that level of interaction. So the value of real-time conversations was lost on them.

Following friends’ activities: This was the original purpose of FriendFeed: “FriendFeed is a service that makes it easy to share with friends online. It offers a fun and interactive way to discover and discuss information among friends.” Makes sense…”friend”…”feed”.

The challenge is that it is quite RSS dependent on friends’ streams. Which means people need to have content available via RSS. That’s still a slowly growing dynamic. The other issue is similar to that described above for company public groups and collaboration spaces: lack of ability to create more permanent objects on your profile. If Friends don’t RSS, they need a good way to manage content they directly post.

This really is Facebook’s game. Once they added the ability to follow RSS feeds of friends, much of the rationale for FriendFeed was lost, at least in terms of following friends. There’s still a great use case in following people that may not qualify for the traditional definition of “friends”. But you can stay on top of the likes of Craig Newmark, Robert Scoble, and others.

Personal information management: If you participate in several different social sites, you can create a diverse amount of content: tweets, Flickr photos, blog posts, YouTube videos, SlideShare presentations, etc. As you create it, you want to be able to reference it. The most obvious way to do that is to go to each site individually and search for some part of your content.

FriendFeed is marvelous for managing all the different content in one place. This is something I talked about recently in Three Reasons You Need to Be on FriendFeed *Now*. One place for all your content, with amazing search capabilities. Much better than what Twitter offers. With FriendFeed, you can actually access old tweets via search.

This use case is great, but it’s ability to penetrate the Early Majority is questionable, at least for now. It takes people who have these diverse social sites where they’re posting content. As we know from the 1-9-90 rule of participation, the number of people actively posting new content is still relatively low. But as social sites proliferate, I believe you’ll see increased numbers of people posting original content. 1-9-90 may apply to any one site, but viewed from a portfolio perspective, the ratio will be higher for the general population.

Am I missing something?

Those are the use cases that come to my mind. What do you think? Did I miss some important ones? And how about the assessments I made for each of the use cases? On target?

My own thought is that FriendFeed had a great opportunity for social web monitoring. It’s an area of growing interest, and FriendFeed had the technology and raw feeds to be a big player there. More and more, the mainstream is interested in the workings of and information available on social media.

Let’s see if Facebook sees a similar opportunity.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 071009

From the no-hitter home office at AT&T Park in San Francisco…

#1: If you tweet about a baseball no-hitter in progress, is that risking a jinx?

#2: It’s from 2008, but still a great read: Shirky’s Law and why (most) social software fails http://bit.ly/HslAq by @michael_nielsen

#3: Email: The First –and Largest– Social Network http://bit.ly/4dmIiw by @jowyang Hmmm….where does postal mail rank then?

#4: Reading: 15 ways to spark a fight in the E2.0 community http://bit.ly/QvOj9 by @gyehuda #7 is my favorite.

#5: Anyone remember Larry Ellison’s dream of the Net Computer back in 1996? http://bit.ly/hirKr Fast forward to 2009’s Google Chrome OS

#6: @SameerPatel @defrag Oh yes, happy to provide the State of California with Spigit. Better filtering, to avoid this: http://bit.ly/2WyL2t

#7: “What are the five things you value most in life?” asks @fhinnovation http://bit.ly/xkc4L Me? Kids, wife, health, living in U.S., job

#8: My wife and I are now sharing our Google Calendars. Only way to stay on top of the kids’ schedules now that they’re both starting school.

#9: Are you following @badbanana ? Practically every tweet of his is a treasure of humor. Found out about him a few months ago thru @chrisbrogan

#1o: My 5 y.o. son yesterday: “Daddy, would you still love me if my name was different?” Me: “Depends on the name.”

What is Innovation Management?

Innovation “Management” as a term, doesn’t sit well w/ me. Just like Knowledge “Mgmt”. KM failed in part b/c of the inherent controls

Sameer Patel, April 22, 2009

I thought this was a good comment by Sameer, as it reflects a couple things:

  • Nascent field of technology tools that specifically facilitate and improve corporate innovation is just becoming understood
  • Concern that the unpredictable and rough-edged aspects of idea generation will be smothered by ham-handed managerial controls

Seeing what’s happening with customers at Spigit, I can safely say that the field of innovation management is much richer and collaborative than the term might connote. It’s not so much “control” management as it is “optimization” management. It’s a recognition that companies have significant margin for improvement in their innovation processes and outcomes.

With that in mind, I wanted to put forth eight elements that help describe “innovation management”. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a feel for what the field is about today.

#1: Innovation benefits from a range of perspectives

For most of our industrial history, innovation has been the province of an internal R&D team. Those smart geeky types who labored to create the next generation of products for big concerns. Fast forward to where we are today. With the rise of the Information Age, more people have a knowledge-based relationship with their employers.

Contributing what you know has become the dominant part of work in Fortune 2000 companies. Leveraging this trend into the innovation realm is a natural extension of employees’ work. And indeed, once done, it becomes apparent that so-called “line workers” have a lot of valuable knowledge, experience and ideas as well. You don’t need an advanced degree to understand a glaring customer issue or a better way to manage field operations.

Studies show that exposing ideas to a wider range of perspectives significantly improves them. In terms of management, the change for companies is elevating the importance of sourcing ideas from throughout the enterprise, as well as outside of it. One example: in this video on how it approaches innovation, Pfizer notes that “Ideas aren’t just sitting at headquarters. There are fantastic ideas all over the company.”

#2: Four of the most damaging words an employee can say: “Aww, forget about it”

What If I Fail cartoonIdeas come in various forms: disruptive, product and operational. And they hit employees at varying times as they do their work. Sure, a lot of these ideas won’t be feasible. But a lot will.

The problem for companies is that employees self-censor, either because (i) culturally they’re not encouraged to post ideas, even potentially bad ones; or (ii) there’s no way to easily capture these.

The recognition that there is valuable intellectual capital in the ideas that emerge from employees’ knowledge and activities is core to improving corporate innovation. Changing organizational focus to foster more ideas from all quarters, and providing the resources to capture these are core to what innovation management means.

#3: Create a culture of constant choices

Jim Collins spoke recently at the Front End of Innovation conference. A key theme from his speech was that great companies enable constant choices. By this, he means that external markets are constantly changing. Companies that are maintaining a good velocity of ideas are the ones that succeed long-term in industries.

This is actually a pretty significant cultural dynamic. Companies can be quite adept at execution, and throwing choices in front of everyone can disrupt that strength. So figuring out “their way” to create a culture of constant choices is really the hard work.

This is part of what is meant by innovation management.

#4: Looking at innovation as a discipline

Innovation is a Top 3 priority for companies, reports Boston Consulting Group. Indeed, BCG notes that innovation leaders generate 430 basis points more in shareholder returns than do average companies. So how does a company systematically address innovation as a discipline?

Companies apply resources and attention to a number of other disciplines: sales, customer relationship management, supply chain management, managerial accounting, etc. Looking at innovation from a similar perspective is emerging as an important strategy.

A number of large corporates have established internal innovation-focused executives. These aren’t employees who are supposed to dream up all the ideas. Their work is on establishing innovation as a discipline. Their charge is wide-ranging, including HR, executive attention, focus areas for innovation, internal communication, processes and selection of technology to facilitate. While I wasn’t around in the rise of the CRM era, presumably there was similar work by earlier generations of employees.

The work of making innovation a discipline is part of innovation management.

#5: Focus employees’ innovation priorities

Each of us knows a lot. From a variety of activities and interests. Work. Hobbies. Family. Locale. Life. I’ll bet you come up with ideas and encounter problems to be solved for a wide variety of things.

For corporations, this wealth of experience is an asset, but it does require some tuning. For ideas, you never know when someone’s personal church activities might have relevance to a product idea for the company. You want that variety of perspectives to inform and improve ideas.

At the same time, there needs to be a channeling of where employees’ ideas are focused. If executives don’t lay down directional areas for innovation, employees’ time on innovation will not be as valuable as it could be. Of course they’re going to have a range of ideas. But which ones are most pertinent to the company’s success in the market?

Channeling employees’ innovation focus is part of innovation management.

#6: Recognizing innovation as a funnel with valuable leaks

When one views innovation as not just game-changing disruptive ideas, but including incremental ideas, it becomes clear that innovation is fundamentally a funnel. Start with a large, ongoing quantity of ideas drawn from employees, customers and partners. As discussed in #2 above, you really want to get as many of these ideas as you can.

Ideas must then go through a winnowing process. Some will get stronger, and advance to projects. Some will fall away as not feasible.

And from all this intellectual activity around ideas, new ideas will emerge. It’s natural. Once employees are in the mode of generating and assessing ideas, it nwill be natural for new ones to emerge. Really, this arguably is the case for a lot activities that foster interaction among employees. But in this case, the social object around which they’re interacting is an idea. In terms of instilling a culture of constant choices, interaction around ideas promises to be a key part of achieving that.

Managing the funnel is part of innovation management.

#7: Establishing a common platform for innovation is a revolutionary step forward

Consider how employees innovate today. You have an idea, what are you going to do with it? Certainly you’ll sound it out with peers, which is illustrative of the fact that innovation is a social activity. Then what? Tell your boss. Email it. Enter it into a customer service database. Put it in a PowerPoint. Try to schdule meetings.

When you consider what employees must do today to move an idea forward, it’s really pretty daunting. Under this system, corporate innovation requires phenomenal acts of heroism to get anything done. Ad hoc, siloed applications make companies the poorer for the ideas they’re missing. Existing idea management processes don’t allow cross-enterprise visibility, which means collaboration among interested parties is limited. An unfortunate outcome is that the pace of innovation falters as ideas lose share of mind.

Creating the common community space for innovation is a dramatic leap forward in how companies foster innovation. The same mechanisms of departmental outreach and email are certainly still available. But now, ideas can get an audience of thousands, allowing them tap different reservoirs of experience and perspective. Senior executives csn see ideas that previously would languish in lower levels of the organization.

Creating this common platform is part of innovation management.

#8: Innovation must be more than  purely emergent, disorganized and viral

Innovation management today draws heavily from the themes of Enterprise 2.0. Key to the power of social computing is letting employees’ activities and knowledge apply itself naturally where it’s needed throughout an organization. For purists, this means get rid of oversight and managerial prerogatives.

To create ongoing, sustainable innovation, there needs to be a programmatic approach. Riding the pure emergent form of Enterprise 2.0, or continuing the current ad hoc, siloed approaches to idea management, is insufficient. Employees will be busy with projects and tasks they need to execute. Perhaps culturally, innovation hasn’t been a focus. There will need to be a push to raise the awareness of innovation. And some organization to channel it where it’s needed.

There will also be ideas that are valuable, but which may not resonate with a broader section of the employee base. Leaving the emergence of these ideas purely to viral dissemination means leaving some of them buried at the departmental level. Companies need ways to ensure valuable ideas are caught and surfaced systematically.

Combining bottom-up emergence with top-down priorities and organization is part of innovation management.

Wrap-Up

As I said above, innovation is a multi-faceted activity, with many moving parts and ways of approaching it. What I’ve listed here represent my way of clarifying what the field of “innovation management” is about. If you think I’m off or missed something, let me know in the comments below.

Thanks.

Under this system, corporate innovation requires phenomenal acts of heroism to get anything done
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