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Bring customers into the idea review process

Say you’ve got some internal ideas at your company. Who takes a look at them? Assesses them to determine next steps for each idea? Figures out the value and difference the ideas can make?

How about your own customers?

I talk a lot about jobs-to-be-done here, and getting a firm grip on those to understand where innovation and product enhancement opportunities lie. But sometimes that’s not realistic. Ideas come from many sources, and more likely than not, fail to reflect hard analysis of jobs-to-be-done. But customer feedback is valuable. Any idea which can touch on customers’ experience – products, services, support, pricing, deliver, knowledge – can benefit from their perspectives.

The concept sounds right, yes? But it’s also something that’s somewhat scary. I know this because I asked innovation executives for a number of large companies what they thought of it. There was hesitancy to the concept of bringing customers into what is generally an internal – and often murky at best – process of evaluating ideas.

In my post, What if customers evaluated your company’s ideas?, five areas are examined to de-scarify this idea:

  • Differentiating from focus groups
  • Profile of right customers to involve
  • Type of ideas
  • Ways to engage customers in the evaluation process
  • What criteria make sense?

Give it a read, and see if this is something you’d consider.

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

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The Journey of an Idea

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

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

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

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

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

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 120409

From the home office in the middle of the road by my smashed up SUV with a nine-iron imprint on my face…

#1: RT @parkerlsmith Foursquare: Democratizing the Loyalty Program http://post.ly/Dpfx > SMBs can use @fourquare as a loyalty program

#2: FT.com – We’re all selling now: the evolution of online reputations http://ow.ly/Izba #socialmedia #e20 #reputation

#3: What can email interfaces learn from Twitter clients (e.g. Tweetdeck) to manage the overload? http://post.ly/Dlww

#4: Collaboration Is Hot: Why Now? > Forrester survey shows idea mgt tools are a top 2 #e20 priority http://post.ly/DuBB

#5: IT@Intel Blog: All I Want For Christmas is my #E20 > ideation was the one measurable ROI #innovation http://post.ly/E8Nt

#6: Fox: Cisco has a product ideas wiki for employees. Dedicated VC funding for ideas. Similar to what AT&T is doing w/ Spigit. #ois09

#7: Lasher: Innovation lever = do small thing w/ big result. Avoid going right for big bang. Otherwise corp antibodies kill you #ois09

#8: McKinney: 60% of ideas generated internally. Via HP Garage. Use employee crowdsourcing to filter and refine these. #ois09

#9: RT @AndreaMeyer: HP Labs saved $2 bln $ from its supply chain through internal innovations #ois09

#10: Just started a posterous account: http://bhc3.posterous.com/ Collect stuff I find along the way. FriendFeed meets Evernote meets blogging.

My Ten Favorite Tweets: Week Ending 080709

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the five stages of the hype cycle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gartner Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle 2009

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

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

One observation made by Drakos and Bradley resonates with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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.

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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.

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

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 050809

From the home office in the Nokia Theater, Times Square…

#1: Twitter is working on a reputation ranking for users, to be part of how search results are returned: http://bit.ly/hu3yX

#2: Seeing a number of enterprise 2.0 vendors moving hard into the idea/innovation management realm. Good place to be.

#3: CapGemini – companies that batten down the hatches & stop innovation during the recession will find themselves behind on the upswing #wif09

#4: Christensen – Intel did $18 billion in revenue from ideas generated by employees in breakout groups organized by Andy Grove #wif09

#5: Christensen – Strategy problem for companies. A business model hijacks an idea and forces it to change to conform. #wif09

#6: Christensen – Expensive failure always results when disruption is framed as technological rather than business model terms. #wif09

#7: Saffo – a Stanford colleague says that by 2030, half of all miles driven will be by robots. #wif09

#8: Saffo – you can always tell when a new tech is hot. Single males in that field can actually get a date. #wif09

#9: Nice article in the @latimes about the iconic California fast food chain – In-N-Out: Can perfection survive? http://bit.ly/sZUfb

#10: iPhone effect: my 5 y.o. son was pressing his finger on my laptop screen to navigate on a web page.

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You can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/bhc3