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Friday, April 30, 2010

Innovation Perspectives - Social Media and Global Innovation

This is the fifth of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'What is the role of social media in innovation? (Either inside or outside the organization)'. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Steve Todd

One of the main innovation themes that I encounter as an intrapreneur in a global organization is innovation by adjacency. This theme is a key driver for introducing new products into the high-tech industry. The e-book "Innovate With Influence" provides several examples of new products that have resulted from the integration of adjacent technologies. The adjacency theory relies on collaboration with two separate yet equally important parties: customers and technologists.

I use the diagram below to highlight the main task of a corporate intrapreneur.

Innovation Perspectives - Social Media and Global Innovation
An intrapreneur starts with deep technical knowledge and goes in search of new problems to solve (customer needs and requirements) and new technologies to help solve them. The beauty of corporate innovation is that plentiful adjacent technologies are often at the fingertips of any inventor. For example, my corporation (EMC) has acquired forty different technologies in the last decade; each technology comes with relevant experts. These experts can work with intrapreneurs to combine intellectual property and form something new.

In the past few years this type of corporate innovation has undergone world-wide acceleration due to the adoption of internal and external social media. Social media creates a level playing field for the submission, documentation, discussion, and progression of ideas, no matter what part of the globe that they come from. The global scope of social media toolsets enables corporations to capitalize on the international trend of reverse innovation.

Reverse innovation, as defined by Vijay Govindarajan, relies heavily on innovation occurring outside of the United States. Corporations often struggle to implement this type of innovation as their traditional models rely on idea generation in the US and idea implementation overseas.

Internal social media allows for global intrapreneurs to surface within a corporation and announce their presence. They have direct access to local customers in developing countries. They can share and collaborate on customer needs that are unique to their region. They can collaborate with remote corporate intrapreneurs on technologies that may help them solve their problems.

External social media allows for global intrapreneurs to become a public focal point for customers in their geography. Inventors that indicate a willingness to engage in social conversations with customers are gathering what they need to jump-start innovative activities. Twitter is a great example of how brief conversations with customers about their business problems can lead to the union of different technologies that solve those problems.

This was not possible a few short years ago. Intrapreneurs in the United States were trying to solve the world's problems. Unfortunately they were cut off from the breadth and scope of technologies and customers available via social media. The global reach of these tools allows them to form peer relationships inside global corporations. Peer relationships facilitate the transfer of new products back into the United States, which is the central theme of reverse innovation.

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You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.
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Steve ToddSteve Todd is a high-tech inventor and author of the book "Innovate With Influence". An EMC Intrapreneur with over 150 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground.

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