My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 071709

From the home office in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.

#1: Reading: Your Idea Sucks, Now Go Do It Anyway Most important thing is to get started, not be right #innovation

#2: Love this quote: “Disruptive innovation has been held up as the Olympics of innovation sport.”

#3: Google and Apple “are accidental competitors. They just don’t seem to know it yet.”

#4: Reading: Adoption stories by @panklam on The AppGap #e20 #e2adoption

#5: Social Computing Journal picks up my post – Enterprise 2.0: Culture Is as Culture Does #e20

#6: P&G’s @JoeSchueller has a nice comment on Google Wave’s potential in the enterprise on Socialtext’s blog:

#7: I like @fredwilson‘s take on customers. Active transactors vs. active users.

#8: RT @markivey Why BusinessWeek Matters (from a former BW writer) Really GREAT post, why we *need* our news institutions

#9: An entrepreneur who has built companies in both Silicon Valley and NYC describes the issues w/NYC for startups:

#10: I ♥ wikis


Your Brainstorming Sessions Suck? Four Drivers of Success and Where the Web Helps


photo credit: Freshview

ReadWriteWeb’s Bernard Lunn penned a piece recently, How Can Web Tech Help Enterprises with Innovation Management? The post argues that Innovation 3.0 will include a large dollop of external idea generation via social media. And companies are hungry for it:

There is no more important an issue on the agenda of top management than driving innovation.

Bernard’s point about the hunger for innovation is right. It’s always been an imperative, but the ease with which companies can come from anywhere to disrupt markets has raised the importance of new ideas.

While his post focuses on externally sourced ideas, I’d like to talk about what’s happening inside organizations. Specifically, I’m talking brainstorming. Those “have-the-potential-to-be-fun” meetings with your colleagues to work on the next generation of your companies products and services. But they’re not always fun are they?

Turns out there are some new services that can improve the way companies’ employees generate top-notch ideas. Before hitting those, there’s an intriguing study by some INSEAD and University of Pennsylvania researchers that sheds light on where brainstorming can be improved.

The Four Drivers of the Best Ideas

In Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea, the academics examine the different processes that  lead to the best ideas (not just good ones) being generated and selected in brainstorming.

Their hypotheses are interesting. Here are the four drivers for getting the best ideas from brainstorming:

  1. The sheer volume of ideas generated
  2. Average quality of all ideas generated by brainstorming
  3. The amount of variance in the quality of generated ideas
  4. Ability to evaluate what the best ideas are

These are covered below, including which styles of brainstorming are better. Before that though, here’s a little more on how these academics arrived at their conclusions.

First, they studied existing literature. A must for any researcher. They then created their own field study, using Wharton students in brainstorming experiments. Now whether that fairly models company brainstorming…let’s see what they found, eh?

Two styles of brainstorming were analyzed:


Hybrid: Individuals went through their own personal brainstorming exercise, then met as a team and generating more ideas.

Team: All idea generated occurred in a group setting.

Turns out, it makes a difference which brainstorming style is used. This is discussed below.

Volume of Ideas Generated

This one ranks up there with motherhood and apple pie. The more ideas you generate, the higher probability you have of generating outstanding ideas.

On this metric, the Hybrid approach is much more productive. When individuals sit down and come up with ideas by themselves, they produce more ideas than what a group typically generates. The primary difference in quantity of ideas generated is termed “production blocking”. Production blocking is the inability to generate ideas when others in the team are speaking.

Important to note here is that there is a time restriction in this metric. As in, “# ideas per hour” type of a metric. The more time given to a brainstorming session, the less difference there is in quantity of ideas generated between the two brainstorming styles.

Average Quality of Ideas

This one is little less intuitive. The Hybrid process generates ideas of higher average quality than does the team process. I can’t say what I expected, but hearing this was a bit surprising.

Seemingly, the ability of the group to refine an idea generated during brainstorming would ultimately raise the overall quality. But it seems that individuals have pretty good internal regulators. I’d guess we actively suppress the worst of the ideas, or those that we’re not so sure about.

Thus we raise the overall quality. But in doing so, do individuals snuff out potentially high value ideas?

Variance in the Quality of Ideas

This is the one that will probably surprise you. To get the highest ranked, the best ideas, you want a higher variance in the quality of ideas generated. That means more really crappy ideas, along with some truly inspired ideas. In terms of a statistical distribution, think of it as more ideas extending to the extreme left and right tails of a population quality.

Turns out, Team has the edge here over the Hybrid approach. As the study authors say, “we believe there is more potential for both breakdown and collaborative success in teams then in individual idea generation.”

What an interesting statement! On the downside, the variance comes from poor group dynamics inside that brainstorming conference room. Have you ever been in that situation? I have. A bunch of elephants coming together into a room, with existing political connections, and the result is a really bad session with few ideas of middlin’ quality. Because of these qualities, some idea gains currency among the group, and discussing that idea becomes the theme of the meeting.

And it feels like you just wasted an hour or two. Frustrating.

But Team brainstorming also has its high points. When the team comes together without agenda, and brings a serendipitous variety of viewpoints. People feed off one another, and imperfections in one idea are overcome with different thinking from someone else’s idea. These brainstorming sessions are gold, and incredibly valuable when they happen.

One thing to take away from this. When considering brainstorming in your workplace, have an honest assessment about your company’s culture. Can people really come in and have an idea jam? Or will things inevitably get mired in the same old agendas and relationships to reduce brainstorming effectiveness?

Evaluation of Ideas

This is the final step, and it’s where a lot of brainstorming sessions fall short. How good is the team in evaluating the quality of the ideas generated? According to the research of the academics, the Team approach is less effective in evaluating idea quality than the Hybrid approach.

To ascertain the “true” quality of ideas in the Wharton student experiments, the researchers had an independent panel of people rate the ideas that came out of the brainstorming sessions. They then compared these independent ratings to the self-evaluated ratings of the different teams.

This quote from the paper actually made me laugh a little:

We find that the ranks obtained in the Team process have no correlation with the panel ratings whereas for the Hybrid process they exhibit a significant positive correlation.

No correlation for how the Team approach evaluated the ideas. My fellow workers of the world, does that ring a little true to you? The researchers ascribe this finding as supporting “the theory that in a team, ownership of ideas, social pressures, team dynamics and interaction of different personalities limit objectivity and the ability to discern quality.”

In the Hybrid process, there were actually two idea rating events: individuals rated their own self-generated ideas, and the team evaluated its ideas. The researchers found that the individuals rating their own ideas was the primary reason for the correlation of self-evaluated ratings’ high correlation with the panel ratings.

Turns out we’re pretty good at discerning idea quality when we’re free from the group setting. Even for our own ideas.

Implication for Using the Web to Improve Innovation

The academics findings lead them to this conclusion:

These results suggest that it would be best to employ team processes in the idea generation stage and then use an independent individual evaluation process.

I’m going to disagree somewhat with the first part of that statement. I’d say a mix of individual and team processes is best. Inside an organization, there will be plenty of times where you as an individual will have an idea. Some of those individually-generated ideas will be top-notch. And there will be times where a Team approach will be employeec. See what ideas come from those sessions. As I said before, just be mindful of your existing company culture in term of the quality of ideas that come from these sessions.

The second part of the reseachers’ conclusion is where Enterprise 2.0 comes in. Once ideas are generated – whether individually or in a Team process – they need to go through an evaluation process. Google employs a form of this with its internal prediction markets.

There are a couple companies out there who are working in part of the Enterprise 2.0 space:

Spigit: Spigit provides InnovationSpigit, which has a prediction market orientation to evaluating ideas.

BrightIdea: Brightidea provides Pipeline, which has a project management orientation to idea management.

There may other companies out there as well. The point is to recognize that we employees are imperfect.  Increasing the visibility and accessibility of ideas and independent evaluations is a great way to bring structure and a diversity of opinions to bear on ideas. Remember, companies are hungry for innovation.


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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 120508

From the home office in Truth or Consequences, NM…

#1: Love this post by Atlassian’s @barconati Connectbeam Connects | Confluence Customers Beam >> why E2.0 integrati …

#2: Noticing that my tweets that hit 140 characters are having text cut off well before 140. Anyone else?

#3: @twitter A bug. Char. < and > are stored as 4 char. in ur DB, not 1. Means each use cuts max char. of tweet by 3. This tweet’s max=134

#4: One effect of BackType – I am more conscientious than ever about commenting. Comments have the effect of Google Reader shares.

#5: Lump by Presidents of the USA comes on radio. Says 20-something, “Oh that’s the classic rock station.” Lump is classic rock? Ouch!

#6: One thing vacations with little kids ain’t…restful.

#7: RT @timoreilly Derived intelligence from large data sets is a kind of interest or “float” on data. Analogy of Web 2.0 data to capital.

#8: The H-P Social Computing Lab is doing some really interesting research

#9: RT @jbordeaux re: enterprise 2.0 “And like pornography: they’ll pay too much, get over-excited after tiny results, but soon regret it.”

#10: But at least I’ve got a Sam Adams.

Three Ways to Double the Value of Your Social Software

I did a Connectbeam webinar yesterday, Double the Value of Your Social Software. One thing about webinars is they really force you to crystallize your thinking, and you get to try out some cool new ideas. This one was a lot of fun for me. I enjoyed bringing some unconventional examples to the discussion.

So how exactly does one “double the value” of social software? The core of the argument is that integrating the various social software apps inside companies produces a new layer of value. In terms of how this happens, I developed three areas of focus:

  1. Expand information’s reach
  2. Create an employee skills database
  3. Diversify and strengthen workers’ sources of information

The Slideshare below is the presentation I used in the webinar. Below the Slideshare, I describe the background and the three areas of focus.

“Enterprise Silos” 2.0

The great thing about companies rolling out the tools of Web 2.0 is that it lets people from everywhere contribute. Multiple people jump on wikis, blogs, microblogging, etc. Social software can tear down the departmental and geographic walls that separate employees.

So it’s ironic that these wall-busting apps end up as new walled gardens of participation. Employees update their Confluence wiki, they blog on Movable Type and Yammer away. But there’s no integration of the apps.

There’s a screaming need to pull these social software apps together. The folks over at venture capital firm Foundry Group laid out a nice investment theme with regard to Glue.  A lot of the logic from that post applies to the proliferation of social software apps inside companies.

By connecting the different social software apps inside companies, companies will realize a new source of value from them, “doubling” their value.

With that, let’s look at the three new sources of value when you integrate these apps.

Expand Information’s Reach

It’s true that information is the key driver of success in the market today. That’s a truism, overplayed theme, I know.

But, it has had its effects inside companies. You see this theme played out in architectural decisions, such Service Oriented Architectures, which makes integrating data and processes much easier. Mashups are another area where we see this.

How about the consumers of data? How to optimize the creation, distribution and consumption of data inside the enterprise?

This is an area where Enterprise 2.0 can learn a lesson from the world of e-commerce. E-commerce companies work hard to optimize the finding and purchasing processes on their sites. Every extra step it takes to find something or to purchase it causes some percentage of consumers to drop out. So they work hard to provide a full, but easy experience.

How about applying that thinking to accessing the employee-generated content inside companies?
How to reduce the steps to accessing this content?

There are three components for what I’ll call an Information Reach Program:

  • Search
  • Serendipity
  • Notifications

Let’s take a look at those three components.

Search: A Forrester Research survey found that only 44% of employees can regularly find information on their corporate intranet. Meanwhile, Pew Research found that 87% of people can regularly find what they want on the Internet.

Where do you think employees will turn first for information? Now there’s nothing wrong with googling something. New information needs to be brought into the enterprise. It’s healthy and vital.

But the pendulum has swung too far toward looking externally, particularly with the rise employee-generated content. Thing likes social bookmarking, blogging and wikis are letting employees find and filter an array of great information. Yet it’s too easy to ignore.

One way to counteract that? Integrate employee-generated content with search engines. When an employees runs searches, they get their usual search results. But why not also show them related content from the company’s social software? Slide #12 in the Slideshare presentation shows Connectbeam’s example of that.

Serendipity: Also known as, finding useful information when you weren’t expecting it. Or as Dennis Howlett put it:

Serendipity: the 21st C word for ‘bloody good luck.

If search is purposeful, serendipity is passive, and in-the-flow of whatever else you’re doing. For serendipity to work, you have to expose people to a range of information during their activities. And let’s be honest – much of that information will score low on the usefulness scale.

But I argue that you need to cionsider serendipity from a portfolio perspective. If you can enable employees to be exposed to random information in high volumes, there will be cases of great matches between something a worker needs and a piece of information she wouldn’t normally see.

Key here is putting this information in-the-flow of daily work. If all employees do is watch a cascade of information, they’re not being very productive.

Notifications: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” says Clay Shirky. Search is purposeful, serendipity is luck. How about those nuggets of informaiton that you want to know, but aren’t actively searching for and miss during the course of the day? Notifications are the third component of the Information Reach Program.

Key here is to let people personalize their notifications, because people aren’t monolithic in their interests. Top down push processes diminish employees’ interest in tracking the data presented. Filter on groups (e.g. departments, projects, communities of interest), individuals and keywords. These go a long way toward answering Clay Shirky’s point about filter failure.

Create an Employee Skills Database

When you integrate the different social software apps, you can create rich set of data that well-describes what each employee knows and is working on.It’s not just your position and previous titles that matter – it’s your contributions, visible and accessible by all.

We’re seeing steps toward this approach on sites like LinkedIn, with its new apps platform. When you view a person on LinkedIn, you see more than their resume. You get a living, dynamic view of their work. Someday, all that content you’re piping into your LinkedIn  profile should be searchable by others – beyond the current resume entries.

Same idea holds inside enterprises. If you could aggregate employees’ contributions across the social software apps, you have a much richer view of their skills, knowledge and interests than the typical corporate directory.

Connectbeam customer and all-around smart guy Rich Hoeg of Honeywell put it nicely at the recent Defrag conference:

With Connectbeam, I was looking for a social bookmarking application. I ended up with a skills database.

Yes, that’s a Connectbeam plug. But the logic applies more broadly.

Diversify and Strengthen Workers’ Sources of Information

I’ve discussed previously on this blog a fantastic research paper that evaluated the power of employees’ social networks to affect productivity. Basically, the more diverse an employee’s sources of information, and the stronger her connections to a large number of peers, the more productive she is.

Now tie this idea in with Harvard professor Andrew McAfee’s thinking about employees’ Strong, Weak and Potential ties inside companies. Employees already maintain Strong ties inside companies. That’s the status quo out there.

The opportunity for companies is to work those Week and Potential ties. Move them closer to close ties. How?

  • Make employee contributions as findable as possible (i.e. expand information’s reach)
  • Associate activity and tags to individuals
  • Enable easy following of the activities of others
  • Fish where the fish are – put employee generated content where people do their work

Wrapping up

This webinar was a lot of fun, and I think you’ll notice some different thoughts than what is usually seen in these presentations. There are several ideas included in it that really merit exploration separately. I’ll probably do that on this blog, and over on the Connectbeam blog as well.


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