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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 051410

From the home office in outer space, where I’m blogging from the space shuttle Atlantis’s final mission

#1: RT @georgedearing Pilot advertisers happy with initial results from Twitter’s new ad program // http://bit.ly/twittermarketers // #fb [ADWEEK]

#2: The debate about pilot projects in social business http://bit.ly/c3EViV by @leebryant #e20

#3: RT @amyjokim How to build a sustainable community http://bit.ly/bJtkes (practical tips for hands-on community management)

#4: Applies to enterprises as well: RT @sidburgess How Cul-de-Sacs Are Killing Your Community http://bit.ly/cGg6yi #e20

#5: Does Reputation Ranking Make a Difference in Idea Management? (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/cfPWa0 #innovation #e20 #reputation

#6: Customer Suggestions: When to Listen, When to Ignore >> Pragmatic Marketing #innovation http://post.ly/fMoz

#7: RT @jorgebarba Game-based marketing takes off from frequent flyer programs to social media | VentureBeat http://ff.im/-k2bW1

#8: Noticing an uptick in Foursquare friend requests lately.

#9: Would love a laptop like this: Future Designer laptop – ROLLTOP http://bit.ly/dkypIY

#10: My kindergarten son made this “spy” laptop computer today – no Flash support though… http://twitpic.com/1nk9pw

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Six Factors in Emergent Innovation

In discussing employee-driven innovation, having a technology platform to deliver on objectives is a key part of a company’s strategy. Hard to get everyone tuned in when you rely only on email and conversations with your cubicle mates. But that’s just one factor. There are many other considerations for companies seeking to vault to the top of their industries through greater innovation.

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One set of characteristics are what I term factors of “emergent” innovation. I use emergent here in the sense of conditions which let good ideas find their level inside a company, regardless of source. Think of this as an alternative to R&D-led innovation, or innovations decided solely in the executive suite and cast down for implementation by the troops.

Of course, there are more than six factors to emergent innovation. For instance, the actual process of turning someone’s idea into an innovation project has several factors of its own. But these six are a good start.

This post is long. The links below will take you directly to a specific section.

  1. Healthy use of doubt
  2. Rough alternatives
  3. Experiments
  4. Resource margin
  5. Positive deviants
  6. Diversity of viewpoints

So what are these factors?

Healthy Use of Doubt

In creative thought, doubt is good. Doubt produces creative efficiency.

David Kord Murray, Borrowing Brilliance (page 167)

Credit: Eleaf

Doubt is a word pregnant with different connotations. It can have a strong meaning of, “I don’t believe you.” In terms of working on innovations, that meaning has the potential to undermine collaborative work.

But in the quote above from David Kord Murray, it has a more productive meaning. “Doubt” refers to continually challenging existing practices to determine how things can be done better. These may be company practices, or your own. As Murray explains it, without doubt you are implicitly accepting that current practices are the best they can be. You get locked in on one way to do things. Yet, as has been documented, the rate of change in global markets is accelerating. Locking into the one best way to do things becomes a recipe for a declining business.

In his book Borrowing Brilliance, Murray relates that Albert Einstein had an apathetic relationship to his first Theory of Relativity. Why? He maintained a healthy use of doubt toward it, knowing there was more to be done. He didn’t settle on his first theory, and eventually came up with his better second Theory of Relativity.

One note about the term “healthy” here. Doubt is a mental framework in which you look at things and consider how they can be better. Doubt should not become a systemic condition that causes people to stop efforts on current projects, as in “we’re doing this wrong, so why bother”. It’d be wrong to assume everything a company does is poor and must be scrapped. Or that every individual opinion must be acted upon.

Rough Alternatives

A Stanford study investigating quick executive decision making noted that fast decision makers (a necessary component of agility) operated as though they had a rotating radar antenna; constantly refreshing context and identifying alternative paths of action. Their speed came from having rough alternatives at hand if conditions changed.

Christopher Meyer, LinkedIn discussion

Intuitively, this concept makes a lot of sense. While it may seem obvious, it’s not for those working in the trenches. The general approach is selecting the course of action, and execute like hell. Go big or go home.

And that “execution” mentality is right. It is appropriate to aggressively execute on an initiative once a decision has been made. That’s how companies get ahead.

Meyer’s comment from the LinkedIn discussion above gets at an aspect of company strategy that’s growing in importance. Be ready to pull the trigger on an alternative when conditions change. Which means having a set of rough alternatives ready.

The notion of “doubt” in the previous section is useful here. Again, not “doubt” in the sense of undermining efforts to see a particular course of action through to success. Rather, maintain a healthy perspective that even as you’re working on one way to do something, there likely are better ways still, undiscovered.

Maintaining a set of alternatives is applicable to all parts of an organization. Senior level executives, mid-level managers, project leaders and anyone doing their job. I’d argue that people in the trenches are closer to the reality of how an initiative is faring, and have a sense of rough alternatives. Enable these individuals to share what they’re seeing.

Experiments

The cost of experimentation is now the same or less than the cost of analysis. You can get more value for time, more value for dollar, more value for euro, by doing a quick experiment than from doing a sophisticated analysis. In fact, your quick experiment can make your sophisticated analysis better.

Michael Schrage, Research Fellow at MIT Center for Digital Business

Credit: jurvetson

Once a proposed idea has been identified as having merit, it needs to be put through its paces. This historically was challenging, due to constraints on building out prototypes or simulating new features. But the world has gotten more digital, and as such much more can be tested than historically has been possible. In a Wall Street Journal article by the quoted author above, Michael Schrage, Google is noted for its ongoing experiments with search results. This isn’t surprising of course. Google exists in a digital world.

But what about non-digital firms? Wal-Mart regularly experiments with signage, displays and shelf layouts to gauge the effect of different ideas. Tesco experiments with different factors that determine when another checkout lane should be opened.

Even in the realm of healthcare, experiments are being conducted. Not drug trials, but improvements to processes. Kaiser Permanente operates The Sidney R. Garfield Health Care Innovation Center. The Center “brings together technology, architecture, nurses, doctors and patients with human-centered design thinking and low-fidelity prototyping and design to brainstorm and test tools and programs for patient-centered care in a mock hospital, clinic, office or home environment.”

Experiments are a data-based method of testing potential innovations. But they differ from current practice for many corporations, which to rely less on your own experiments and ore on the advice of well-paid consultants. Why? Dan Ariely observes the following in Harvard Business Review:

There’s the false sense of security that heeding experts provides. When we pay consultants, we get an answer from them and not a list of experiments to conduct. We tend to value answers over questions because answers allow us to take action, while questions mean that we need to keep thinking.

Emergent innovation is better served by internally managed experiments, not advice from external experts.

Resource Margin

The concept of resource margin is a really good one. I came across this nice description:

No matter how I see it, agility to me is much to do with introducing margin. What I mean by this is how much the necessary margin to have within your processes, knowledge base and human resources to allow for changes. You may have a norm for people to continuously question their processes and products, “Only the paranoid survives”, but if they have no room/margin for change, it’s hard to get them to react with agility.

Jeevandra Sivarajah, LinkedIn discussion

Credit: See MidTN.com (aka Brent)

This observation just makes sense. In a world of increased busyness, employees need that bit of flex in their schedules to explore improvements to something: processes, products, customer service, etc.

Google, of course, is famous for its 20% time. Employees have the freedom to set aside their daily work and invest some cycles on exploring something new. 3M has long had a similar policy.

Now for companies, I can see the math here…employees only working 4/5 of their time on core daily tasks needed. Means you need to hire 5/4 number of employees, or an extra 25% headcount. Economy is still wobbly, hmmm…

The reality is that innovation is a core part of companies’ growth. Which company doesn’t see that? Sure, there are firms devoted to be fast followers rather than innovators. But most companies thrive-or-suffer based on their innovation performance. Note, innovation is not just slick new products.

Employees should have innovation as part of their core jobs. In other words, sure they need to file their TPS Reports and process N number of transactions. But part of their day includes thinking about improvements and bigger ideas, socializing these ideas, researching them, figuring out experiments for them, etc.

Alternatively, companies can set up special ideation events. Maybe employees don’t have the time or wherewithal to pursue an innovation all the way through. But others in a company will, and they will benefit from hearing the crowdsourced ideas of employees.

Resource margin plays an important role in emergent innovation.

Positive Deviants

I really love the juxtaposition of “positive” and “deviants”. Two words that are often at odds. But they work well together. What is a positive deviant?

This initiative is an example of “positive deviance,” an approach to behavioral and social change. Instead of imposing solutions from without, the method identifies outliers in a community who, despite having no special advantages, are doing exceptionally well.

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, The power of positive deviants

Credit: asw909

As someone who has worked in large organizations, the observation that there are people with different, smart approaches is one I wholeheartedly endorse. Seen it plenty of times, from my work with headquarters, in-store and warehouse personnel at Hecht’s Department Store to my days of investment banking with Bank of America.

Here’s a good example. The sales crew at Spigit do a good amount of outbound marketing to prospective customers. As anyone who has used email for this knows, it’s hard to figure out what works in terms of email subject lines and email body. One of our sales guys came up with a totally different subject line, certainly different than anything I would have come up with. And it works. The open rate is much better for his subject line. No paid consultants needed – someone figured out a way that works.

What’s particularly appealing here is that these innovations arise from the everyday work and problem-solving people do. This is the benefit of tapping this amazing resource: employees’ ingenuity and problem solving acumen.

Leveraging the “found” solutions inside an organization is part of emergent innovation.

Diversity of Viewpoints

Ideas benefit from a diversity of viewpoints. Professor Ron Burt studied something called “structural holes”, and employees who broker them. Think of structural holes as gaps between groups of people in an organization. These gaps prevent people from accessing one another’s feedback, perspective and expertise.

People with connections across structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations which gives them a competitive advantage in seeing and developing good ideas. 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.

Professor Ron Burt, Structural Holes and Good Ideas (pdf)

Credit: Marco Bellucci

Professor Burt’s empirical analysis identified exposure to a greater range of perspectives as a key element of generating higher quality ideas. I particularly like this part of his observation: “diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations”.

That’s right. Disagreeing perspectives are good for innovation. Not a chorus of “amens”. Contradictory knowledge and perspectives as productive innovation friction.

For companies, these collaborative networks are a form of crowdsourcing. Sourcing ideas from around the organization, and more importantly letting others with interest provide feedback and ideas for refinement.

Emergent innovation benefits significantly from…emergent perspectives gathered from around the organization. Note that email and over-the-cubicle-wall conversations are limiting factors on innovation. Hard to get a diversity of perspectives with those as your only sharing modes.

For companies seeking to accelerate innovation, those six characteristics are a solid beginning. What do you think?

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ComMetrics on Crowdsourcing Innovation: You’re Doing It Wrong

ComMetrics is a social media analytics company, a division of CyTRAP Labs GmbH. ComMetrics is well-known in the industry, including its FT ComMetrics Blog Index.

The company published a useful piece, Crowd-wisdom fails businesses. The basic premise is that crowds do not innovate. It’s useful, because it contains both truths and misconceptions about the role of communities in the innovation process.

Let’s break it down.

Innovation via a stadium crowd?

Photo credit: Ian Ransley

The initial point of the post is that “Crowds Innovate – NOT”. And it’s true in its literal sense.

This may be one of my favorite misconceptions about the role of communities in innovation. That crowdsourcing is some sort of mind meld where innovations spring from a collective brain wave.

This quote by ComMetrics both sums up the truth, and the common misconception:

It seems a bit naive to think that going to Dodger Stadium or the LA Coliseum in the hope that crowdsourcing will show people exhibiting the above [innovation] behaviors, and therefore help us innovate faster…

Really now…

Actually, it wouldn’t be naïve if you were soliciting the stadium’s feedback on ways to improve the sport event experience. Understand the different “jobs” the sport event is supposed to do:

  • Outlet for aging or non-practicing athletes
  • Family adventure
  • Business social events and networking

You mean you wouldn’t solicit the stadium crowd for ideas related to what they’d like to see on those fronts? How about their feedback on the stadium management’s and others’ ideas?

The stadium example is a good one, because it offers a chance to parse out the role of crowdsourcing into three dynamics:

  1. Crowdsourcing involves collecting ideas in aggregate
  2. Community feedback brings a diversity of viewpoints to the ideas
  3. Crowdsourcing does not mean 100% of the world’s population

Collecting ideas in aggregate. Stop for a moment and consider that. I’m contrasting that view of crowdsourcing from the hivemind singularity that operates off a single brain wave. While the employees of a business have more of a vested in its success, the actual users of a product or service have a pretty good sense of what they want to accomplish.

Diversity of feedback. Research demonstrates the power of information diversity in increasing the quality of ideas. And crowdsourcing is a marvelous way to capture a broad spectrum of opinion and understanding. If you’re going to get a range of opinions, including wild cards that weren’t expecting, soliciting a community’s feedback is a powerful approach.

Crowdsourcing doesn’t mean the whole world. When I read the stadium crowd quote, I get a subtle ‘dis’ in it. Namely, that there some serious nimrods in the crowd, and what the hell would they know about your business? But that’s a stereotype. For instance, look at the open source operating system Linux. Linux is a great example of crowdsourcing. But you’re not going to find me contributing anything there. I have no knowledge, opinion or interest in it. Crowdsourcing attracts parties interested in the product/service being examined. It’d be too demanding to participate otherwise.

The problems with popularity

The ComMetrics post has two separate points around the problems with popularity. First, is the issue of superusers having too much control over crowd opinion:

The notion that a book might be a must-read because it is highly ranked by many on Amazon does not make it Nobel prize material. The earth did not stand still just because Galileo fell out of favor, nor has evolution been shown to be false due to the faith of believers.

Hence, product reviews driven by superusers and crowds who follow just means that the wisdom of crowds can only be conventional. Volume against quality.

The second point is that simple votes don’t provide enough input on an idea’s value:

Thumbs Up or Down works but fails to explain why: Crowds do not drive and bring innovation to successful fruition in the form of a marketable product. Nor are they the best source for assessing quality – the one that shouts the loudest is heard the most.

Nevertheless, crowds can tell you if they like or dislike something.

There are truths in both of these observations. Amazon superusers are the modern equivalent of tastemakers in pre-Internet society. The people the crowd followed to find the best of things, often read in the newspapers. There are cases where the opinion of an A-Lister can have too much sway.

One key difference is this: today, people have to re-earn their influence over time. If over a sustained period someone falls down and no longer looks forward to the fresh, to the new, they lose their influence. The crowd moves on to someone else who is at the leading edge. Humans have a natural affinity for the new.

Perhaps more importantly, one cannot argue that no one has solid authority over a particular innovation domain. We don’t all wake up as blank slates every morning, having to relearn expertise during that day’s work cycle. There are bona fide, honest-to-goodness authorities on subjects who are motivated for improvement.

Which brings me to the second point about simple up-down votes. These votes do provide valuable feedback. You get an early read on what is resonating with the crowd, which is a valuable filter. But they lack nuances that can help identify the best among ideas that are resonating.

Microsoft’s Wilson Haddow’s observation is spot-on. Companies ought to be able to leverage both the wisdom of the crowd in getting feedback, but also leverage the opinion of authorities as well. Going back to what I wrote earlier…

  • The crowd can provide ideas in aggregate
  • The crowd can collectively weigh in on ideas’ merits
  • Individual authorities are generally needed at later stages of evaluation

And the role of these authorities should include finding valuable ideas the crowd overlooks.

In the blog post Corporate Innovation Is Not a Popularity Contest, I argue that binary feedback mechanisms – up-down votes – fall short. They are valuable, but not enough. And this is something Spigit does with its integration of reputation scores into the innovation process.

ComMetrics makes good points here. And kudos to ComMetrics for taking the time to weigh in on this topic. Their post provides a good framework for considering both the problems and opportunities of working with communities in the innovation process.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 111909

From the home office in the restarted Cern Large Hadron Collider along the French-Swiss border…

#1: What Shaun White & Snowboarding Can Teach You About #Innovation http://ow.ly/E8h7 Get exposure for ideas early, so others can digest impact

#2: Managing Employee Innovation Communities (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/3SREBr #innovation #e20

#3: City of Manor’s “citizens’ innovation” project (using Spigit) is featured on WhiteHouse.gov blog: http://ow.ly/DURl #gov20

#4: RT @CarolineDangson #IDC Social Survey: workers say they use IM for ‘collaboration’ & social networks for ‘sharing’ – thinking about diff

#5: RT @rotkapchen: RT @wimrampen Social Media Disrupts Decision-Making Process http://bit.ly/2KTUIz (via @GrahamHill)

#6 RT @tjkeitt Starting the process of researching #e2.0 technology pushed into business processes (CRM, ERP, project management, etc.). This is the future.

#7: RT @kevinmarks says @Caterina “Google never got social software – Knol means you have to write a whole article; wikipedia combines tiny contributions” #w2e

#8: Pitching Sequoia? They want to know which deadly sin your company lets customers indulge in http://ow.ly/DGn1 by @glennkelman

#9: Checking out: The Awesomeness Manifesto http://ow.ly/DmID by @umairh Much to love in that one #innovation

#10: Time Magazine is apparently torn between naming Twitter or the Economy as its “Person” of the Year http://ow.ly/CRbB

Management by Community

At the Spigit Customer Summit, Gary Hamel described an innovative management approach that has stuck with me. W.L. Gore management has a hands-off approach to managing employees. Each employee is free to say ‘no’ to any request by a colleague. That’s right. Refuse to do something a colleague asks.

Damn, that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? No more of those annoying requests that drive you insane.

But doesn’t it also sound like a recipe for anarchy? I mean, companies need employees to get specific things done, on a timely basis. It’s what make companies “go”. You get people refusing to do work, things will grind to a standstill.

All true, if the story stopped there.

Say ‘No’ But Watch the Repercussions

The figure below demonstrates the power of community in regulating excessive refusals to do work, or in providing work that is of inferior quality just to get someone off your back:

Mgt by Community

Employees learn community expectations about what constitutes quality work, responsiveness and collaboration. As you see in the graphic, each employee is requested to work on different projects over the course of a year. And true to the W.L. Gore way, an employee can say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to each request.

The kicker is that at year-end, peers will rate the employee’s performance. A normal, conscientious worker will do fine in this scenario. But one who is an underperformer will have trouble hiding from the judgment of peers.

Consider how this maps to current processes:

  • Executives and other employees set direction and launch new initiatives, just like today
  • Employees are expected to contribute to multiple projects during the year, just like today
  • Employees need to work in a collaborative team environment, just like today
  • Peers provide a 360 review of employees, just like today

The biggest difference is the primacy given to the peer feedback. It is the crucial input on performance reviews.

It is the crucial input on performance reviews. This is how individuals internalize expectations that might normally come from a single boss. In the usual work setting, your boss is the final arbiter of your performance. Which means you really need to focus on winning the opinion of just one person.

In management by community, you need to think larger than that. The work everyone does plugs into a larger objective of growth and profitability. By tying one’s performance to the interactions with multiple colleagues versus one, companies like W.L Gore alter the influences on employees’ work. And it has paid off for Gore. As noted in FastCompany recently:

In its 50th-anniversary year, the $2 billion-plus private company is on pace for record revenues and profits, thanks to a number of clever new products with a lot of potential.

Visibility Becomes More Important

One outcome of management by community is that the visibility of one’s work becomes more important than ever. Two reasons for this:

  • You want a record of the work you have done, so others will see it  and be able to find it
  • You need evidence of the work you are doing when you inevitably have to say ‘no’ to someone

Others will know that you are accomplishing things as you deliver your work for projects. But the visibility will be limited to only those involved at that time on that task. You’ll likely email your work to others for use in a project. That includes your boss, which is all you really need usually.

Creating public spaces for the sharing of work allows you to deliver on a specific task to a group of people in the same way. But it also lets others know what you’re doing. Someone who may be rating you down the road may not have been on that specific task. But they are now aware of your work. Think that might help influence their opinion come peer review time? I’d say it will. It also makes you more valuable to others for future work, which is an important aspect of management by community.

The other thing is that you will have to say ‘no’ to people. They will be disappointed, even a bit angry. This is a reality, as there is only so much of you to go around. But what can help mitigate those feelings of rejected “work suitors” is a demonstration that:

It’s not you. It’s me.

You didn’t say ‘no’ to someone because you don’t like them, or the work they need. It’s because you’re just so tied up currently on other things.

Final thought on visibility. One could take this to an extreme of tracking the tasks you’re asked to work on. You then signal whether you are in or out on some sort of online site. Considering that many task requests come in the form of email, perhaps not so farfetched to imagine them being made online.

Better Match between Employees Interests and Their Work

Another aspect of management by community is that employees will tend to associate to projects with work that matches your skills and interests. As you make decisions about what to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to, there will inevitably be a pattern to them. Generally, I’d expect a bias toward ‘yes’ on projects requiring talents matching yours.

This has two upsides and one downside. One upside is that projects get a better mix of diverse skills from people with above average talents for a given task. This is great, as it improves the output of a team.

A second upside is that employee satisfaction rises. Imagine a world in which you got to employ your skills in something bigger than yourself, and that was your primary work. Not everyone gets to do this. Having more control over your career destiny and work that you personally enjoy is a recipe for happier employees.

The downside is that there are always going to be those grunt tasks that need to get done. Having liberated workers who determine that their time is better spent on meatier projects can risk a failure to get the grunt work done. We all know what employees who exhibit these traits are called: prima donnas.

An interesting question is how much the community dings employees who refuse the more menial tasks that make up everyone’s day. If you truly are world-class talented for something and applying those skills for bigger picture work makes everyone’s projects better, I suspect you can get away with it. But suppose your chosen work is of decent quality, but not earth-shattering. Or what you’re good at is in low demand by peers. I think you risk serious prima donna backlash in the community reviews by saying ‘no’ too many times to grunt work.

Employees will have to do a serious self-assessment in such an environment. Which may be one of the best outcomes of management by community.

There is a lot to commend this concept of management by community. It plugs employees much more into the hive mind of the organization than do traditional management models. And it seems to work. Aside from W.L. Gore’s record financials in its 50th year of business, note that the company is consistently ranked as One of the Best Companies to Work For by Fortune Magazine.

Management by community: worth a closer inspection.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 082109

From the home office at the World Track Championships in Berlin…

#1: Spigit Innovation Summit Wrapup http://bit.ly/4zIqo1 by @innovate “It’s important to have connectors on your #innovation team”

#2: Jeff Bezos on corp #innovation: For innovative ideas to bear fruit, companies need to be willing to “wait for 5-7 years” http://bit.ly/tP9vj

#3: Like this by @paulsloane – Given unlimited resources to solve something, we’d dev something expensive & over engineered http://bit.ly/Qa3tY

#4: Zopa isn’t disruptive argues @bankervision http://bit.ly/ZYela His key points: same customers, same credit scoring, same pricing as banks

#5: Gary Hamel last week: “We have a state of creative apartheid, where some are *really* creative, some aren’t. That’s BS.” #spigit09

#6: Bookmark this: 14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail http://bit.ly/3piYNF by @dhinchcliffe #e20

#7: Bookmark this: How To Kick Start A Community – an Ongoing List http://bit.ly/641dA by @jowyang

#8: Mashable: “14% of surveyed employers disregard candidates who use friendly smiley faces in social media” http://bit.ly/1ajvd8

#9: RT @skap5 Is IMHO a necessary descriptor? Unless of course the rest of your opinions are not humble.

#10: My son starts kindergarten in a couple weeks. Then I see this: “Tutoring tots? Some kids prep for kindergarten” http://bit.ly/3htw0 No…