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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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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 041610

From the home office in Iceland, where I’m stuffing rags down that volcano to get planes flying again…

#1: You know those ads where Domino’s admits their pizza sucked? Guess who saw profits double. http://bit.ly/bayH3b

#2: RT @drewmaniac Ignore Foursquare at Your Peril – An Analysis of Potential by @JayBaer http://bit.ly/dqzxtz /via @unmarketing

#3: RT @mathewi the FT will let users of Foursquare who check in at certain spots earn points towards a free subscription: http://is.gd/bmvGU

#4: RT @TNWlocation Why Dave McClure is Wrong about LBS http://tnw.to/15wnR

#5: RT @building43 Spigit: the platform for democratic & fair company decision makers http://is.gd/bubWS by @scobleizer

#6: Shepherding Social Business Transformation « Dachis Group Collaboratory http://dach.is/2P by @cdangson #e20

#7: Enterprise 2.0 and improved business performance http://bit.ly/aMMBF3 by @dhinchcliffe > Can social tools deliver “hard numbers”?

#8: CIO Magazine: Better Business Decisions: winning the race one report at a time http://bit.ly/cecqXm #e20

#9: RT @CrisBuckley Have You Been Institutionalized By Your Job? [BLOG] http://bit.ly/bDzGbP

#10: Out here on I-5 where there’s nothing around. Checked Foursquare, someone created “The Middle of Freakin Nowhere”. Checked in there.

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

The Two-Year Lag from Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0

The Enterprise 2.0 sector draws heavy inspiration from innovations in the Web 2.0 world. Indeed, the name itself, Enterprise “2.0” reflects this influence. From a product management perspective, Web 2.0, and its derivations social networking and social media are great proving grounds for features before coding them into your application.

A fruitful area to review is how long it takes for a feature to go from some level of decent adoption in the consumer realm to becoming part of the mainstream Enterprise 2.0 vendor landscape. The list of features that have made the jump – forums, wikis, blogs, tagging, social networking, activity streams, status updates – is impressive. Let’s look at three features that made the leap, with an eye toward how long it took.

Tool Year of Web Adoption Year of E2.0 Adoption
Wikis 2002 2004
Social networking 2006 2008
Microblogging 2007 2009

Here’s the back-up for those dates.

Wikis: Wikis got their start back in 1995. From there they grew, and the application became popular with computer programmers. But it hadn’t caught hold outside that culture. Wikipedia was launched in January 2001, and grew rapidly over its first two years. It wasn’t yet mainstream, but it clearly had caught a wave among early adopters. As recounted on the history of wikis page in Wikipedia, 2004 – 2006 saw an explosion of interest in wikis from companies.

Social networking: Defined as enabling social profiles, and connecting with others. Facebook started in 2004, and grew very popular among colleges. In 2006, it opened up its membership beyond college students, and turned down a $1 billion offer from Yahoo! Clearly, the company was on fire (even then).

In April 2008, Jive released Clearspace 2.0, which was touted as Facebook for the enterprise. Socialtext 3.0 was released in September 2008, and it included Socialtext People, its social networking feature. And I can tell you that at BEA Systems, there was a second quarter 2008 release of a Facebook for the enterprise in the Aqualogic product line.

Microblogging: Twitter. The source of it all. Twitter actually was conceived as an idea back in 2000, and company was started from a 2006 brainstorming session at Odeo. But it really hit big with the early adopter set at 2007’s South by Southwest.

Microblogging broke into the Enterprise 2.0 world when Yammer won best-of-show at the September 2008 TechCrunch 50. But that doesn’t count as mainstreaming into Enterprise 2.0. Yammer proceeded to grow strongly the next few months. And Socialtext introduced Signals in March 2009.

So there’s some documentation backing my 2-year cycle for Web 2.0 innovations to move from hitting the early adopter set to the Enterprise 2.0 sector. Note that this doesn’t apply to every Web 2.0 innovation. No one ever talked about “MySpace for the Enterprise” and there’s really not a Flickr in the Enterprise 2.0 umbrella.

Which raises a question about today’s hottest Web 2.0 trend…

Foursquare for the Enterprise?

Foursquare, and its up-n-coming competitor Gowalla, are all the rage these days. These location-based social networks are good for seeing what friends are doing. Foursquare also integrates features that reward participation (points), add a sense of competition (mayors) and provide recognition (badges).

Mark Fidelman recently wrote about Foursquare and Enterprise 2.0. And using our handy two-year lag calculation, somewhere in early 2012 the first mainstream Enterprise 2.0 will integrate Foursquare features. Actually, two of them.

Location check-ins

Employees will check in their locations from all around the globe. Sales meetings, customer on-site deployments, sourcing trips, conferences, etc. Sure, this info might be in the Outlook Calendar. But even if it is, Outlook Calendar entries aren’t social objects. These check-ins will allow you to know where colleagues are, including those you don’t know well. But wouldn’t it be nice to know if some other employee visited someplace you’re investigating?

These check-ins can be even more tactical. Folks who are part of a meeting in a conference room all check-in. Voila! Meeting attendance, which everyone can see. For an individual employee, these check-ins become a personal history of what you did over the past week.

Mayorships, Badges, Points

Foursquare makes it fun, and for many people, addicting, to check-in. You get points and *bonuses* when you check into the places you go. If you check in to the same place enough times, you get to be mayor of a venue and tweet it about it. You earn badges for accomplishing different things in the Foursquare system.

These features have had the effect of motivating legions of people to participate. It’s fun to see your stats. It’s fun to get a little competitive.  It’s great when you get that notification that you’ve earned a new badge.

Andrew McAfee wrote a series of posts exploring the question of whether knowledge workers should have Enterprise 2.0 ratings. This chart was from one of his posts:

Well, the Foursquare approach certainly takes us down this path, albeit in a fun way. I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out that Spigit already has these tools in place (ahead of its time?).

So what do you think? Personally, I’m looking forward to more Foursquare in the enterprise.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 031210

From the home office at SXSW in Austin, where I’m not…

#1: Is Collaboration Enough for Knowledge Management? http://bit.ly/bXdNhj by @deb_lavoy #e20 #km

#2: What Enterprise 2.0 vendors can learn from FourSquare http://tinyurl.com/y9bsxc6 by @markfidelman

#3: RT @Irregulars Wikipedia’s Decline and the 7 Types of Human Motivation http://bit.ly/atzPLC

#4: White House expands Gov 2.0 with landmark crowdsourcing directive (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/auo6FK #gov20 #innovation

#5: “Contests are increasingly being used as a tool to solve society’s most entrenched problems” http://bit.ly/9KFJmy #crowdsourcing

#6: RT @VentureBeat Spigit offers social media platform for company contests http://ow.ly/1q0m44 #crowdsourcing

#7: RT @elldir Woops! Too long ago I told @bhc3 that I would post how I think about different dimensions of innovation. http://bit.ly/dcNd7s

#8: Five inter-related innovation problems that an organizational structure should address – Scott Anthony HBR #innovation http://post.ly/SOB2

#9: Reading @bokeen‘s write-up of his chatroulette experience. Damn funny, and pretty much what I’d expect. http://bit.ly/9Wnd20

#10: RT @anildash I’m surprised none of you dorks camped outside of your own house last night, then ran back in to order an iPad

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 030510

From the home office in Hawaii, where I swear those waves look bigger than normal…right?…you see it too, don’t you?…sorta…

#1: Funniest man on TV: Craig Ferguson http://bit.ly/brF6j2 by @berkun > “The lack of autonomy always explains mediocrity” #innovation

#2: Curation’s Growing Value http://bit.ly/a5JNnR > I also turned to Twitter more than news sites for #hitsunami updates

#3: Who are your positive deviants? (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/clDDJw #e20 #innovation

#4: Why CEOs Don’t Get Innovation http://bit.ly/9tgigJ @lindegaard‘s Business Week column #innovation

#5: Is collaboration enough to connect the dots? http://bit.ly/9oonRd on the Product Four blog #e20

#6: Interesting concept: “Social Sigma” (vs. Six Sigma) to improve products http://bit.ly/aWMlp2 by Forrester’s @gcolony #innovation

#7: This Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out http://bit.ly/cDcZU5 by First Round Capital’s @kentgoldman > Importance of pivoting business models

#8: Enterprise 2.0 Trends: Which vendors are in the running? http://bit.ly/anZI2Q by @markfidelman #e20

#9: Today’s @gapingvoid cartoon email is a fave of mine: “It’s easy to spot a purist. They’re the ones without any skin in the game.”

#10: I’ll admit: If I see one too many a “Hallmark card” inspirational quote from someone, I unfollow.

My Other Blog Covers Innovation, Crowdsourcing and Social Software

To really work, Sierra observed, an entrepreneur’s blog has to be about something bigger than his or her company and his or her product. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. It takes real discipline to not talk about yourself and your company. Blogging as a medium seems so personal, and often it is. But when you’re using a blog to promote a business, that blog can’t be about you, Sierra said. It has to be about your readers, who will, it’s hoped, become your customers. It has to be about making them awesome.

This is from Joel Spolsky’s Inc. column, where he also announces that he’s quitting his uber popular blog, Joel on Software. Which is incredible. Like Louis Gray giving up his blog.

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Joel notes that he’s been at it for 10 years, and his company Fog Creek Software, has grown to the point where he needs to focus on its operations and alternative marketing modes. He does offer business owners some thoughts consistent with what “got him there” in terms of Fog Creek’s growth:

  • If you’re selling a clever attachment to a camera that diffuses harsh flash light, don’t talk about the technical features or about your holiday sale (10 percent off!). Make a list of 10 tips for being a better photographer.
  • If you’re opening a restaurant, don’t blog about your menu. Blog about great food. You’ll attract foodies who don’t care about your restaurant yet.
  • If you make superior, single-source chocolate, don’t write about that great trip you took to the Dominican Republic to source cocoa beans. That’s all about you. Instead, write the definitive article about making chocolate-covered strawberries.

Joel’s been at it longer than me, but those tips are spot-on for the way I approach writing on the Spigit blog. Don’t write endlessly about the product features and press releases. Write to illuminate and give identity to the nascent Innovation Management 2.0 market. What’s important to organizations beginning to look at innovation management seriously?

If You’re Tracking the Innovation Space…

To that end, I know I’ve got some readers here who have an interest in both Enterprise 2.0, and innovation. In addition to this blog, I’m writing relevant posts over on the Spigit blog. Many of these of have garnered a lot of attention (a republished version of one on Braden Kelley’s multi-author blog was the #3 most viewed post there for February).

But don’t just take my word for it. See what you think. Here are seven posts I’ve written over there. Do any of them grab you?

Study – Collaborative Networks Produce Better Ideas: Presents the research of University of Chicago professor Ron Burt, who found that more connected employees generated hiogher quality ideas.

Ideas as the Basis of Social Networks: Begins with a video by Brian Solis, who discusses the concept that ideas, more than pre-existing relationships, will be the basis of social networks. Then weaves in Joshua “Bokardo” Porter’s thoughts on social object design.

Crowdsourcing Is the New Collaboration: Compares the behaviors, groups formation and expectations between traditional collaboration and crowdsourcing. They each have a place inside organizations. Also, a good antidote to the rising outcry over spec work crowdsourcing contests.

Four Models of Competitive Crowdsourcing: Provides a look at four different ways organizations can engage customers and interested participants in the crowdsourcing process: Crowd Sentiment, Expert Decision; Crowd Decision; Expert Decision; American Idol.

Who Are Your Positive Deviants?: Positive deviance refers to practices that fall outside the standard ways in which things are done, and which provide much better than standard results. People trying unorthodox things. Finding and propagating these positive deviances is important for social and corporate advancement.

Gary Hamel: Hierarchy of Employee Traits for the Creative Economy: Hamel lays out what he views as the key employee traits in the future, as we shift from the Information Economy to Creative Economy: initiative, creativity, passion. Key for workers is to get above the line of commoditization.

Study – Distributed Idea Generation Outperforms Team Brainstorming: Researchers at INSEAD and Wharton conducted a rigorous field study, comparing in-person team brainstorming to individualized, distributed idea generation. They found distributed idea generation outperformed the old corporate standby, team brainstorming.

If those topics interest you, I encourage you to subscribe. For reference, here’s the blog’s RSS feed:

http://blog.spigit.com/feed/blog/Hutch

See you there.

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