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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Idea Cancer - The Danger of Good Ideas

(Growing Out of Control)


by Jeff Lindsay

Idea Cance - The Danger of Good IdeasNussbaum on Design (BusinessWeek) has a thought-provoking column that mentions several innovation principles from designer Diego Rodriquez. One of these is "Killing good ideas is a good idea." That's the kind of counter-intuitive blasphemy that merits reflection. Of course, developing good ideas is essential, but without the killing phase, good ideas can lead to "idea cancer." Ideas from late-stage idea cancer strangle many organizations and many minds - when ideas grow without control, unregulated and unchecked by proper objectives and reality. Ideas can metastasize and choke the arteries of business, cloud the mind, and weaken all life support systems in the end, unless they are regulated and killed at the appropriate time. So many great failures begin with good ideas, and lots of them.

Innovation is often more about execution and planning than idea generation. A weak idea, implemented ITERATIVELY with the right talent, can be adjusted based on feedback from the system (e.g., the market) and become successful. Even mediocre ideas can beat good ideas if there are great skills, good leaders, and good execution. But add an occasional great idea to the mix and the success can be remarkable, if the dream isn't cluttered with lots of distracting good ideas along the way.

Innovation requires discipline. One has to focus and learn iteratively in the process, and not let unrestrained good ideas shut down your innovation engines with "idea cancer."


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Jeff LinsdayJeff Lindsay is the lead author of "Conquering Innovation Fatigue" (Wiley & Sons, 2009) and Director of Solution Development at Innovationedge. He blogs at InnovationFatigue.com.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Are You Prepared to Lose Control of the Idea?

Are You Prepared to Lose Control of the Idea?
Photo by chavals

by Glen Stansberry

People are awfully protective of their ideas (myself definitely included). There are plenty of reasons for not sharing ideas:
  • We're afraid people won't like them, or worse, won't understand them.
  • Someone might steal them
  • They might, in reality, be total crap
  • They're hard to explain, especially when the proverbial ink is still dry in the mind
  • etc., etc., etc.

But the biggest fear I have of sharing ideas is losing control.

There is an awful lot of ego that gets attached to our ideas, (see: the God Complex), and the thought of losing that grip is crippling.

One of the most intoxicating aspects of having an idea is having control over the idea. We thrive on building, planning, analyzing, almost anything but actually doing.

It's not just little companies or amateurs that struggle with letting go. Some of the biggest companies in the world suffer from these 'idea insecurities' listed above.


Microsoft's Decline In Innovation

I read an interesting sad article about the causes of the downward spiral of Microsoft's innovation. For the past ten years, Microsoft has been playing catch-up to companies like Google and Apple. Instead of creating breakthrough products that once made the software giant famous, the company has relied on a monkey-see, monkey-do approach to production.

The article goes on to explain that the top brass at Microsoft were directly responsible for the void of innovation, simply by harboring the fears listed above. Products were never made because of petty differences between divisions. The main reason for the lack of innovation was the stubbornness of division heads to work together on technologies.

They were afraid of losing their ideas in favor of someone else's better idea.


Letting Go of the Idea

Some people never understand that if they hand over control of the original idea, something better might come out of it. Flickr was set to be a gaming company until the founders discovered a really efficient way to serve photos. There are plenty of examples of this happening throughout history.

Letting go is one of the absolute hardest concepts to grasp as an entrepreneur. But sometimes our idea outgrows us. The trick is to swallow the thick pride and embrace the potential of what could happen.

If the powerful suits at Microsoft had put aside petty differences and allowed other departments to improve their products, who knows what Microsoft would be today. They might have had a Google killer, or the iPod. We'll never know.

This wasn't an excuse to single out Microsoft. Every single company and entrepreneur deals with control issues at some point. I know I have. The important thing is recognizing when we're holding on a bit too tightly on what's "ours" and not recognizing the full potential of the idea, with the help of others.

Related article - Microsoft and Creative Destruction - by Scott Berkun


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Glen StansberryGlen Stansberry writes at LifeDev, a blog that helps people make their ideas happen. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Adopt, Adapt, Improve and Innovate

by Paul Sloane

Adopt, Adapt, Improve and InnovateAdapting ideas that have worked in one environment and using them in another is one of the most successful of innovation techniques. Let's look at some examples.

In 1916, a young American scientist and inventor called Clarence Birdseye went to Canada as a fur trader. He noticed that people in Labrador kept their food frozen in the snow for extended periods in the winter. When he returned to the U.S. he developed this idea and launched a line of quick-frozen foods and persuaded retailers to stock them in freezers. He created the frozen food industry. Birdseye subsequently sold his business to General Foods Corporation and made his fortune. He saw a good idea, adapted it to his business environment and implemented it.

Alexander Graham Bell studied the workings of the human ear. He adapted the idea of the eardrum vibrating with sounds into the workings of a metal diaphragm which led to his invention of the telephone.

The motto of the Round Table is adopt, adapt, improve and it is an excellent guideline for implementing new ideas in your business. Taking ideas from other environments and adapting them for use in your situation is one of the best ways of implementing novel solutions. Amar Bhide of the Harvard Business School studied the origin and evolution of new businesses. He found that over 70% of successful start-ups were based on ideas that the founders had adopted from their previous employments. They took a promising idea in a field they understood and made it better.

The person who invented the roll-on deodorant was looking for a new way to apply a liquid. He copied an idea from another field, writing, where the same problem is solved. He adapted the concept of the ballpoint pen to create the roll-on deodorant.

Samuel Morse was the inventor of morse code. He encountered a problem sending signals over long distances on the telegraph - the signal became attenuated and weak. Then one day when he was travelling by stagecoach he noticed how the coach changed horses at relay stations. He adapted this idea to put in relay stations for telegraphs that boosted the signal.

In 1941 George de Mestral went for a walk with his dog in the Jura mountains in Switzerland. On their return he noticed that many plant burrs were attached to his trousers and to the dog's coat. They were hard to remove. He examined them under the microscope and saw that they contained tiny hooks that caught in the loops of his clothes and in the dog's hair. He developed an artificial material to mimic nature and in doing so he invented Velcro.


Putting this creativity technique to work

If you have a problem try to force fit a link with a random event or animal or institution. Then adapt some ideas from that environment. Say your problem is how to motivate a lethargic team and you choose at random the Olympic Games, a tiger and a Ballet school. What sorts of ideas would that trigger? You might offer medals as recognition for top performers. You could keep records of who has achieved the fastest qualified lead or the fastest assembly time and post them on the wall or the extranet in the form of Olympic records. The tiger might suggest face painting as a trick for raising morale or it might suggest hunting - you could have a treasure hunt in the office or organise a 'hunt for sales' competition. And so on. The ballet school students practice all their exercises each day before they perform a dance. This might suggest a high-energy group practice session each morning before work proper begins. Ballet dancers practice in front of mirrors - what if we installed systems that gave us feedback to build the team's motivation?

Alternatively, try to adapt a combination between your organization's main strength and that of other organizations or people. Say you provide high level training courses and you choose at random a hospital then you might come up with the idea of a consulting accident and emergency clinic where people turn up with their problems and you help diagnose them on the spot. Or you may ponder that many people forget what they learn on training courses. In a hospital patients have ongoing physiotherapy sessions to aid recovery. This idea could be adapted so that you send out "physio trainers" to top up the learning of participants after they have completed their courses. Alternatively, if you think of the Boy Scouts then you might imagine a summer camp for some of your top clients or a "bob a job" campaign where you offer short introductory courses for new clients.

Lateral thinking is about finding new ways to solve problems. It is very likely that the current problem you face at work today has been faced and solved by other people. Maybe they were in your line of business or maybe they confronted a similar problem but in an entirely different walk of life. Why do all the brain work yourself when you can adapt someone else's idea and make it work for you?

Tips for finding ideas you can adopt and adapt:
  • Deliberately gather inputs from unrelated settings.
  • Take time out to discuss your problem with people from entirely different backgrounds. If you are a businessman then ask a teacher or a priest or a musician.
  • Read a different magazine, visit a different environment, see a foreign movie, drive a new route home, find some new inspiration in a different source.
  • Place yourself in a different environment and it will help you see concepts and ideas you can adapt. If you visit an Eskimo in his igloo, like Clarence Birdseye, you may come back with an idea as good as the one that built the frozen food industry.
  • Identify analogous situations in other fields and ask how they would be handled.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ten Reasons Your Corporate Social Network Should be an Innovation Social Network

by Matthew Greeley

Ten Reasons Your Corporate Social Network Should be an Innovation Social Network
  1. Adoption - There is no doubt online communities are valuable and powerful, but there is no value if your community is an empty dance floor. Generic communities based on generic tools, often have no stated purpose and employees or customers don't know why they should go there. Idea Portals are a proven way to get very rapid uptake because there is something in it for the end user. Either participating in the product direction or cutting costs instead of headcount...there's an obvious 'What's in it for me?' and that drives rapid adoption out of the gate.

  2. ROI - In today's environment the bean counters are holding the purse strings pretty tightly. So a technology looking for a problem is dead on arrival. However with Innovation we are often talking to our customers about Millions, Hundreds of Millions and Billions of dollars. By connecting the benefits of social networking with the innovation process the ROI is obvious, immediate, quantifiable and large.

  3. Innovation is a Social Activity - and can not be managed or automated with older transaction-or workflow-based enterprise software. By allowing individuals to interact with Innovation Management and Measurement is the first true killer app of the social software revolution.

  4. Important Stuff Falls Through the Cracks with Horizontal Communities and Platforms - Like stock market bubbles, this is a lesson that has be re-learned with every generation. The instinct to build a one-size-fits-all solution to "capture more of the market" almost always leads to failure. Vendors that focus on specific niches, sub-categories, roles, functions, jobs and even specific tasks as customer is trying to get done - deliver more value, and win out in the end. If your social networking platform is generic, beware, you may be fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

  5. Your Company May be Trying to Create a "Culture of Innovation" - Right Now! - Sit in on an executive meeting and the topic of innovation is likely to come up many times. By tying the roll-out of an internal social networking platform to the innovation process you ensure you are aligned with the goals of the company and your budget is less likely to be cut.

  6. It's Fun! - How would you like to see all the best ideas your group, department or company has to offer? And all the innovative projects people are working on? By working on these systems, you literally get to see the future of the company as it takes shape.

  7. Silo Busting is More Important to Innovation than Anything Else the Company Does - Social Networks naturally break down silos, increase communication and enable ad hoc relationships to form... while that can be helpful in areas such as customer support, it is EXACTLY what is needed in corporate innovation, where the current organizational structure often the culprit stifling creativity and collaboration. Innovation is the killer app for this new paradigm.

  8. Innovation Data HAS to be Controlled by the Company - As employees proactively reach for consumer Web 2.0 tools to make their job easier with out approval from the IT department, dangerous data-ownership issues arise quickly. A seemingly harmless employee- or customer user- group setup on facebook can spring a leak in your intellectual property regime. Do you really want the intellectual property rights of your company's latest ideas to be subject to facebook's latest terms of service? Saavy CIO's will be ahead of the curve to set standards for where these types of communities can reside.

  9. Inter-Company Collaboration - Many innovation initiatives involve customers, partners or suppliers. An online social network is a great way to have 'facetime' and maintain relationships when you don't see those people every day.

  10. It's easy to get started - You don't need to establish an enterprise wide roll-out strategy, to run a group or product-focused brainstorm. If you are hearing "Innovate in a Recession" or "Do More with Less" you can launch your first Innovation Community in a few hours.


Thanks for listening, I'd love to hear your perspective on this. Until next time, Keep Innovating...


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Matthew GreeleyMatthew Greeley is Founder and CEO of Brightidea, the global leader in On-Demand Innovation Management software. Prior to founding Brightidea, Matthew consulted for Wrenchead.com, helping them raise over $100 million in venture funding. Follow him on twitter @brightidea.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Distributed Idea Generation Outperforms Team Brainstorming

by Hutch Carpenter


"This has significant managerial implications: if the interactive build-up [of team brainstorming] is not leading to better ideas, an organization might be better off relying on asynchronous idea generation by individuals using, for example, web-based idea management systems."


Distributed Idea Generation Outperforms Team BrainstormingThat quote is from a report by three researchers from the INSEAD and Wharton business schools. They published a study, "Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea", that analyzes a mainstay of corporate life: the brainstorming session.

Is it effective in generating quality ideas?

To find out, the researchers conducted a field experiment in which they compared two models of generating ideas:
  • Team structure: Group works together at the same time together in a room to generate ideas.

  • Hybrid structure: Individuals generate their ideas independently, then meet together in a group.

Their objective was to determine which of those two structures generated more ideas, ideas of higher quality and is better able to discern the quality of ideas. They found in all cases that the hybrid structure outperformed the team structure.

Extreme Value Theory


The success of idea generation in innovation usually depends on the quality of the best opportunity identified. For most innovation challenges, an organization would prefer 99 bad ideas and 1 outstanding idea to 100 merely good ideas. In the world of innovation, the extremes are what matter, not the average or the norm.

The researchers - Karan Girotra, Christian Terwiesch, Karl T. Ulrich - were interested in determining what methods generate the best ideas. They distinguish their approach from previous research which analyzed the quantity or average quality of ideas generated.

They use extreme value theory to understand the factors impacting the quality of ideas. Extreme value theory shows that the maximum value of an idea from a set of ideas is based on:
  1. The sheer volume of ideas generated
  2. Average quality of all ideas generated
  3. The level of variance in the quality of generated ideas

These concepts are put together nicely in this graphic:


Extreme Value Theory
Once you understand this framework for innovation, it becomes a matter of maximizing the values for each component. Watching, of course, for correlative impacts between them.

Field Research Experiment


The three researchers conducted an exhaustive experiment to determine which of the two methods - team structure or hybrid structure - generated the highest quality ideas at the top end of the scale. Here is the summary of their experiment.

Subjects: 44 juniors, seniors and grad students at the University of Pennsylvania

Challenges: They generated 443 ideas around two challenges.
  • You have been retained by a manufacturer of sports and fitness products to identify new product concepts for the student market. The manufacturer is interested in any product that might be sold to students in a sporting goods retailer.
  • You have been retained by a manufacturer of dorm and apartment products to identify new product concepts for the student market. The manufacturer is interested in any product that might be sold to students in a home-products retailer.

Idea generation formats: Subjects were split into four clusters. Half the clusters did the team structure first, half did the hybrid structure first. The clusters then switched structures for the different ideation challenges.

Idea quality: The quality of the ideas was assessed in two ways.
  1. Business value: Panel of 41 Wharton MBA students each assessed the business value of the ideas on a 1 - 10 scale
  2. Purchase intent: Panel of 88 college students (the target market for the ideas) each assessed their own likelihood of buying a given product proposal on a 1-10 scale

Experiment format: Subjects conducted idea generation exercises as follows.
  • Team structure: 30 minutes together in a room to generate ideas together. Then 5 minutes of assessing and selecting the best 5 ideas.
  • Hybrid structure: 10 minutes of generating ideas on their own. Then 20 minutes of discussing these and new ideas. Finally, 5 minutes of assessing and selecting the best 5 ideas.

Results: Hybrid Structure Tops Team Brainstorming


The results of the experiment are eye-opening. The researchers analyzed the two approaches on the three components of extreme value theory. They find hybrid is better on the individual components of the theory, and in the ultimate test: quality of the top ideas produced.

Number of ideas generated. Hybrid structure generates three times more ideas than does the team structure. Researchers attribute this result to three dynamics:
  1. Free riding: it's easy enough to ride the idea coattails of the group
  2. Evaluation apprehension: the fear of negative reaction when proposing an idea in front of a group
  3. Production blocking: participants have to wait while one person is speaking, limiting idea generation throughput

Idea quality: The average quality of the hybrid structure ideas was higher than that of the team structure. Specifically, 0.25 points better in business value, 0.35 points better in purchase intent. To put this in perspective, these differences translate into roughly a 30 point differential in percentile rankings. In other words, the difference between the 1st and 30th idea in a pool of 100 ideas.

Researchers attribute the decrease in idea quality for team structures to the same free riding dynamic that reduces the quantity of ideas.

Idea quality variance: The researchers found no discernible difference in idea quality variance between the hybrid and team structures.

What this means is that from extreme value theory, the quantity and average quality of ideas are the key drivers of generating the highest-ranked ideas.

Best ideas: Here's where the rubber meets the road. Which approach had the highest ranked ideas? Hybrid structure, by a landslide.

The researchers looked at the top 5 ideas, by quality scores, that emerged from the two approaches. The hybrid structure ideas were of much higher quality than those generated from the team structure. This finding held for looking at the top 3, 4 and 6 ideas as well.

To recap:

The hybrid structure produced:
  • More ideas
  • Ideas of better quality on average
  • Highest rated ideas

Ability to Select Best Ideas


Perhaps the one down note from the study is the ability of the group to select the best ideas. Remember that in both the team and hybrid structures, the group did a consensus selection of the top ideas. Participants weren't asked to select the top ideas individually.

The researchers found a small advantage in the hybrid structure group's ability to select the top 5 ideas resulting from their ideation exercises. But it wasn't material. Indeed, they note:


"The hybrid process may generate better ideas, but that due to the noisy selection process, its relative advantage is much diminished, to the point of becoming statistically insignificant for one of our quality metrics."


"Noisy selection process", indeed. Ever been in a brainstorming session where you're supposed to rank the ideas at the end? Imagine the dynamics of resolving differences of opinion, time constraints and the extraordinary influence of certain individuals that drowns out other opinions. This is not an optimal way to determine the ideas that define innovation for your organization.

What This Means for Companies Seeking Innovation



As we described previously in "Crowdsourcing Is the New Collaboration", there are many benefits to taking a new approach to idea generation, peer collaboration and integrating innovation more deeply into an organization's culture. Advanced innovation management platforms are ideal for this approach.

As this study confirms, distributing the idea generation process, as well as the idea selection process, results in higher quality ideas for organizations. This study dovetails well with another study by Professor Ron Burt, that found that employees with access to a wider range of viewpoints and feedback generate higher quality ideas.

Brainstorming does have its benefits in terms of face-to-face interactions. Perhaps the nature of what is brainstormed needs to change. Brainstorming can be valuable for project-oriented tasks and problem-solving. But don't consider it your go-to activity for the best ideas.


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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

It's OK if People Don't Understand Your Idea

by Glen Stansberry

It's OK if People Don't Understand Your IdeaWhen a new idea strikes me for a website, I typically try to run it by a close friend. And usually, I get a really blank look.

It's not that the ideas are bad, it's that the person I'm explaining it to doesn't really understand my idea. Unless he/she sees a prototype, it's incredibly difficult to follow what's inside my head. Why? Because it's inside my head. I'm the only one who can fully grasp the concept.

Truly innovative ideas take a while to get used to, or even understand. History is riddled with inventors who were mistaken for crazy, only later to have made some of the most groundbreaking discoveries. Yet had they listened to their friends, we probably wouldn't have many of the cool technologies that exist today.
  • Alexander Graham Bell: "I'm going to try and make a machine that allows two people to hear each other's voices with a wire."

  • Friend: "Riiiiiiggghhhht."

Fortunately, people like Edison, Bell and a slew of others didn't listen to their friends or critics. They forged ahead because they believed in their ideas. And they weren't afraid of failure.

It's your idea. Nobody understands it as well as you. You are officially the authoritative expert on your idea. I eventually stopped telling people my ideas until I could show them a prototype, but even then I take their opinions with a grain of salt.

A major obstacle in completing ideas is getting over the "is it good enough?" stage. Honestly, you won't truly know how innovative your idea is until you actually create it.

Instead of spending your time asking everyone around if they think your concept will work, spend that time developing the idea. Let it marinate and take shape. And develop the snot out of it. Once you've got a bangin' prototype, then see what people think.

An article was published recently chronicling Zappos and their successess in internet marketing. One of the main reasons for their success is that they stopped listening to consultants to tell them how to run their business.


"You have to avoid falling into the trap of a consultant telling you that, "If you spend a large amount of money with us, all of your problems will be solved, and you'll never have to worry about this again." In the end, they are outsiders and do not understand your business as well as you do."


As originator of the idea, it's your responsibility to see that the integrity of your idea is kept. Don't try and let outsiders tell you what they think of your idea, or how to implement it. Think of the idea as your baby. You wouldn't let somebody else raise your child, would you?


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Glen StansberryGlen Stansberry writes at LifeDev, a blog that helps people make their ideas happen. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ideas Are Core to Enterprise 2.0

by Hutch Carpenter

Ideas Are Core to Enterprise 2.0Brian Solis spoke recently on what the future of social networks will be. Ideas, it turns out. As I wrote on another blog post:


"Solis, leading thinker in the integration of social media and PR, recently spoke on an intriguing concept: ideas connect us more than relationships. The premise of his argument is that ideas are what elicit passion in people. They animate us, and if we find someone with a similar interest in a given idea, we connect."


Then there was this observation by Intel's Enterprise 2.0 lead Laurie Buczek on the only quantifiable value they found in their Enterprise 2.0 efforts:


"Where we did quickly find quantifiable business value during an ideation proof of concept. Ideas that are discovered and turned into action have produced dollarized return of business value."


Both Brian and Laurie are pointing to the unique nature of ideas. Brian talks of ideas as connectors. Laurie talks of ideas being 'discovered'. If Enterprise 2.0 rests on delivering value through collaborative, emergent and social means, ideas are the top basis for leveraging these qualities.

Of course, from a pragmatic, what-do-businesses-care-about perspective, innovation is a top priority.

The top-down, Board-level importance of innovation is not a surprise. As I've seen repeatedly with our enterprise innovation work at Spigit, ideas are an excellent bottom-up basis for Enterprise 2.0.


Ideas Are Me

Perhaps the most important aspect of social is the ability to express what you're thinking. Ideas fit this dynamic quite well. Ideas are...
  • Expressions of my creativity, ingenuity and problem-solving

Inside companies, we see things that we know can be improved. We see opportunities that need to be explored. We know a good answer for a particular challenge put forth by managers.

Every time you have an idea, a bit of you bonds to it. Your way of thinking, your understanding of context, the experiences you've had, the expertise you bring to bear, the work aspirations you have.

Ideas can be small, giving you satisfaction in fixing something obvious to you. They can be big, offering the possibility of work that elicits your passions.

This is powerful stuff. It is a unique intersection of something that helps the company with something that personally satisfies you.


Ideas Are the Basis for Finding Like-Minded Colleagues

When I post an idea, I create the basis for finding others. That because when I post an idea, I'm making...
  • A call for your interest

Think about that. The act of publishing an idea is a broadcast across the organization. It's a tentative query to see who else feels the same way. Or if not the same way, who has an interest that overlaps mine.

This is unique to ideas. Ideas are potential. They are a change from the status quo. There are others who share at least some aspect of your idea. In large, distributed organizations, where are these people?!!

My idea is my call to form my own virtual team, to see who can help me accomplish something of value to me and the organization. I contrast this with other types of activities one might do under the Enterprise 2.0 umbrella: status updates, project tasks, writing a common document, adding content to knowledge wiki. Those aren't calls to form virtual teams.

Ideas have a unique quality in team and community forming, consistent with the emergent nature of Enterprise 2.0.


Ideas Are Social Objects

A key consideration of any framework for interaction is, "what are we going to talk about?" Within the enterprise environment, an idea is...
  • A social object for our interaction

The concept of social objects is powerful. It illuminates the core basis for why two or more people interact. They share an interest in some thing. We are complex beings, with multiple different interests. We won't ever match up with someone else exactly in terms of what animates. But social objects allow a sort of miniature Venn Diagram of our common interests to flourish.

Hugh MacLeod pragmatically notes, "The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else."

Leading designer Joshua Porter, also known as Bokardo. In his post, Finding Innovation in Design, he describes the AOF method of social experience design:
  • A = activity you want to support
  • O = social objects that define the activity
  • F = features are actions people take upon social objects

You build social-oriented sites around a core set of objects and activities which attract people.

Ideas, because they represent something new, something that can affect your daily work, are terrific social objects. An idea is a proposal, and a natural basis for interacting. Contrast this with posting a document, or a page of knowledge, or a status update. Those are lower wattage, more ephemeral social objects.


Ideas Become Projects

Ideas get attention. They propose to change things, and they will need work. An idea is...
  • The basis of a future project for us

What makes ideas so powerful is they are changes to the status quo. This means:
  • They're going to affect people's daily work
  • They require some work to make happen

This imbue ideas with a certain vitality. It gives them a power not seen with with other types of social computing activities, save projects themselves.

Another important aspect is that ideas will elicit passion in certain users, those we talked about earlier. If there is a chance to become part of a project team working on the idea, that is exciting. Consider times in your life you got to be part of a team, working on something that excited you.

Ideas have these qualities: possibilities, change to work routines, chance to be part of an exciting initiative. Projects have a certain aspirational quality for us employees, and ideas tap this aspect well.

There are many types of content and activities - social objects - that are part of a social computing initiative. I'd argue ideas, for a host of reasons, should be considered top amongst those social objects.


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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

To Uncover Great Ideas, Generate a Large Quantity of Them

by Paul Sloane

To Uncover Ideas, Generate a Large Quantity of ThemOne of the great problems with the Western education system is that it teaches that for most questions there is one correct answer. Examinations with multiple choice questions force the student to try to select the right answer and avoid the wrong ones. So when our students leave school they are steeped in a system that says find the "right answer" and you have solved the problem.

Unfortunately, the real world is not like that. For almost every problem, there are multiple solutions that may solve the problem with varying degrees of effectiveness. In other words, in the real world, there is more than one "right" answer. We have to unlearn the school approach and instead adopt an attitude of always looking for more and better answers.

To be really creative, you need to generate a large number of ideas before you refine the process down to a few to test out. To make your organization more innovative, you have to increase the yield. Why do you need more ideas? Because when you start generating ideas you generate the obvious, easy answers. As you come up with more and more ideas so you produce more wacky, crazy, creative ideas - the kind that can lead to really radical solutions.


Real-world examples

The management guru Gary Hamel talks about "corporate sperm count" - the virility test of how many ideas your business generates. Many managers fear that too many ideas will be unmanageable but the most innovative companies revel in multitudes of ideas.

When BMW launched its Virtual Innovation Agency (VIA) to canvass suggestions from people all round the world it received 4,000 ideas in the first week. And they continue to roll in. You can even make your own contribution to BMW's idea bank.

The Toyota Corporation in-house suggestion scheme generates over 2 million ideas a year. Over 95% of the workforce contribute suggestions; that works out to over 30 suggestions per worker per year. The most remarkable statistic from Toyota is that over 90% of the suggestions are implemented. Quantity works.

Thomas Edison was prolific in his experiments. His development of the electric light took over 9,000 experiments and that of the storage cell, around 50,000. He still holds the record for the most patents - over 1,090 in his name. After his death 3,500 notebooks full of his ideas and jottings were found. It was the prodigiousness of his output that led to so many breakthroughs. Picasso painted over 20,000 works. Bach composed at least one work a week. The great geniuses produced quantity as well as quality. Sometimes it is only by producing the many that we can produce the few great works or ideas.


Putting these lessons to work for you

When you start brainstorming or using other creative techniques, the best idea might not come in the first twenty - or even in the first 100 ideas. The quality of ideas does not degrade with quantity. Often the later ideas are the more radical ones from which a truly lateral solution can be developed.

What do you do when you have a mountain of ideas and suggestions? You sort them, analyze them and try out those with the most potential. The really promising ideas are critically examined from the perspectives of technical feasibility, customer acceptance and profitability. If they pass these hurdles, they move rapidly to a prototype phase. They are then tested in the harsh reality of the marketplace, where a sort of accelerated Darwinism occurs - only the fittest survive. The interesting ideas should be kept in a database and allowed to incubate. When you revisit them later, you may well find that you now see a way to adapt or combine them into something worthwhile.


The venture capitalist's strategy for testing promising ideas

The most innovative companies have an approach to trying out promising ideas that is like the philosophy of a venture capitalist. The VC invests in a portfolio of different start-up companies, fully knowing that most will fail. A few may break even, and one or two may become successes. But one big success can pay back the costs of all the failures.

Even though he is smart, the VC does not know which ventures will succeed and which will fail, so initially he backs all of them. As time goes on, he cuts funding for the failures and gives it to the winners. It is the same with prototypes in business. The leading innovators run many different pilots and measure progress carefully. They cut funding the losers, but nurture the successful trials with additional resources. That way they are first to market with the real winners.


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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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Brainstorming is More Than Ideation

by Mitch Ditkoff

Brainstorming is More Than IdeationMost people think brainstorming sessions are all about ideas - much in the same way that Wall Street bankers think life is all about money.

While ideas are certainly a big part of brainstorming, they are only a part. People who rush into a brainstorming session starving for new ideas will miss the boat (and the train, car, and unicycle) completely unless they tune into the some other mighty important dynamics:

1. INVESTIGATION: If you want your brainstorming sessions to be effective, you'll need to do some investigating before hand. Get curious. Ask questions. Dig deeper. The more you find out what the real issues are, the greater your chances of framing powerful questions to brainstorm and choosing the best techniques to use.

2. IMMERSION: While good ideas can surface at any time, their chances radically increase the more that brainstorm participants are immersed (i.e. focused). Translation? No coming and going during a session. No distractions. No interruptions. And don't forget to put a "do not disturb" sign on the door.

3. INTERACTION: Ideas come to people at all times of day and under all kinds of circumstances. But in a brainstorming session, it's the quality of interaction that makes the difference - how people connect with each other, how they listen, and build on ideas. Your job, as facilitator, is to increase the quality of interaction.

4. INSPIRATION: Creative output is often a function of mindset. Bored, disengaged people rarely originate good ideas. Inspired people do. This is one of your main tasks, as a brainstorm facilitator - to do everything in your power to keep participants inspired. The more you do, the less techniques you will need.

5. IDEATION: Look around. Everything you see began as an idea in someone's mind. Simply put, ideas are the seeds of innovation - the first shape a new possibility takes. As a facilitator of the creative process, your job is to foster the conditions that amplify the odds of new ideas being conceived, developed, and articulated.

6. ILLUMINATION: Ideas are great. Ideas are cool. But they are also a dime a dozen unless they lead to an insight or aha. Until then, ideas are only two dimensional. But when the light goes on inside the minds of the people in your session, the ideas are activated and the odds radically increase of them manifesting.

7. INTEGRATION: Well-run brainstorming sessions have a way of intoxicating people. Doors open. Energy soars. Possibilities emerge. But unless participants have a chance to make sense of what they've conceived, the ideas are less likely to manifest. Opening the doors of the imagination is a good thing, but so is closure.

8. IMPLEMENTATION: Perhaps the biggest reason why most brainstorming sessions fail is what happens after - or, shall I say, what doesn't happen after. Implementation is the name of the game. Before you let people go, clarify next steps, who's doing what (and by when), and what outside support is needed.


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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Language and Innovation

by Drew Boyd

Language and InnovationLanguage and innovation are inseparable. Language puts meaning to our ideas, be it spoken, written, or symbolic. We convey ideas to others which is essential in corporate innovation. Innovation would be nearly impossible if we did not have language.

If you want to improve your innovation effectiveness, improve your use of language. Structured innovation methods help regulate our thinking and channel the ideation process. At the moment immediately before we innovate, we hold in our minds a pre-inventive form or structure that has yet to be understood. It is at that exact moment we conjure up words and associations to attach to the pre-inventive form. It is this process of linking objective facts and judgments to the pre-inventive form that transforms it to an inventive form - an idea.

Here is a step-by-step approach how language is used in innovation:
  1. Generate Pre-Inventive Forms: Use a structured process such as S.I.T. or Geneplore to create novel, divergent, and ambiguous forms.

  2. Match Forms to Facts: Take the ambiguous forms inside your head and connect them to objective facts outside your head. This yields an idea. Better ideas are created when we strive for facts that are both clear and true. A bad idea stems from weak or assumed facts swimming around inside our head and not validated or developed. As D.Q. McInery notes, "No idea, even the most bizarre, can completely sever its ties with the objective world, but ideas can become so remote from that world that their relation to it is difficult, if not impossible, to see." It is not "thinking outside the box," but rather thinking outside your head that matters here.

  3. Match Ideas to Words: Take the ideas created in Step 2 and associate them with words or symbols. "As we have seen, first comes the thing, then the idea, then the word. If our ideas are sound to the extent that they faithfully represent the thing, they will be clearly communicable only if we clothe them in words that accurately signify them." "Putting the right word to an idea is not an automatic process, and sometimes it can be quite challenging. We have all had the experience of knowing what we want to say but not being able to come up with any words for it."

  4. Match Words to Value: Take the words and symbols that describe the idea and search for the value it creates. Identify the benefit it generates and for whom. If you have trouble at this step, go back and check the objective facts that sourced the idea to begin with. Or try different word and symbol descriptors to see if it triggers different insights about the value. Use a software program like Goldfire to search semantically for knowledge and information within the domain.

  5. Articulate Value With Demonstration: Take the insight around value creation and try it out. Build a prototype, drawing, model or other representation that you can test with the target audience. Demonstration enables evaluation. Testing discloses areas for improvement. Here again, the use of the right language in the form of words and symbols is essential. Using the wrong language may lead to the wrong conclusion.

Here is an example:
  1. This pre-inventive form is generated using the Task Unification template of the S.I.T. method: "A surgical instrument has the additional task of seeing through a small hole in the operating field."

  2. This form is matched with facts: the only way to see through an object is to make it transparent or to bend light around it. An idea!

  3. The idea is matched to words: "Use mirrors like a toy periscope to see around the surgical device and into the small opening."

  4. The value derived is in being able to do accurate surgery in small spaces. It saves time because the surgeon does not have to peak around or withdraw the instrument to see inside the opening.

  5. A prototype is built and tested, ultimately leading to a patentable product.

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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Part 1 - Three Innovation Distinctions

by Stephen Shapiro

Innovation Challenges not IdeasLast week I was with a group of extremely successful entrepreneurs in Las Vegas. I was a bit of an outlier as my background is mainly with large, multi-billion dollar businesses. Everyone else in the room came from the start-up world. Also, nearly everyone in the room worked exclusively with speakers and authors. Although I too am a speaker and an author, it was clear that my perspectives were a bit different than everyone else in the room. Or as one entrepreneur said, "Steve, you have distinctions in innovation that we don't."

So they asked me to share my point of view. What I shared were three simple distinctions on innovation.

  1. Challenges not Ideas

  2. Process not Events

  3. Diversity not Homogeneity

In today's blog entry I will focus on the first point. Subsequent blog entries will address the last two points.


CHALLENGES, NOT IDEAS

Signal-to-Noise Ratio

One of the most important, yet under-considered measure in the innovation process is the signal-to-noise ratio. The signal-to-noise ratio is the ratio of a signal power to the noise power corrupting the signal. In layman's terms, it is the ratio between what you want and what you don't want. For example, in audio recordings, it is the ratio between the music and the background noise.

Organizations do not have a shortage of ideas. They have a shortage of good ideas that matter.

In innovation, the signal is comprised of the good ideas. The useful ideas. The ideas that can and will ultimately be implemented in such a way that they create value. The noise is made up of all of the other ideas. Useless suggestions. Solutions to problems that don’t matter. Ideas that will never come to fruition.

To increase innovation's your signal to noise ratio the first thing you want to do is stop asking for ideas.


Drowning in Ideas

Suggestion boxes are cluttered with noise. The amount of time required to sift through the chaff to get to the wheat is huge. And even when you do find a good solution, the amount of effort required to rally to troops to implement the problem is huge.

The innovation team of a large retail bank implemented a major suggestion box program. They received thousands of ideas. Evaluators looked at every idea. In the end, none were implemented. In the aftermath of their efforts, they asked me for my observations. In hindsight, the submitted ideas could have been categorized into 3 groups:

  1. Duds: A large percentage of the ideas were clearly not worth pursuing. These ideas were not new, or were unlikely to show a positive ROI. However, even with these, there might have been a nugget of usefulness that was missed. However the energy to nurture these nuggets was probably not worth it.

  2. False Negatives: There were, from my perspective, many ideas that were indeed good. But for whatever reason, the evaluators dismissed them. Part of it had to do with biases of the evaluators. Sometimes it was due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the evaluators. And often, it was because the ideas were not fleshed out enough making it difficult for them to be properly judged.

  3. Good, But No Home: This was the most disconcerting category. These were ideas that were good ideas that the evaluators liked, but sadly they had no organizational home. As a result, the ideas withered on the vine and were never implemented. They never got the resources or funding necessary to move them to the next level.

The company's innovation program lasted a total of 18 months. It was shut down and deemed a huge failure.

I have seen similar results in other organizations. One large company I know has a competition each year where employees submit new product ideas. The winner gets a large check and the company implements the best idea. I asked the person responsible for this program if it was viewed as a success. The answer was, "It was a PR success but a commercial failure." The competition generated buzz in the media, but none of the products have yet to generate a positive ROI. Contrast this with their more focused efforts on creating or improving specific product lines. In nearly every case, these were commercial successes. Their idea-based programs did not generate good bottom-line results, while their challenge-based initiatives did.

The other issue with ideas is that there is no level of accountability. Because people tend to develop ideas on their own time, there are no time tracking methods that can keep tabs on how much energy is invested in idea generation. If you encourage ideas, I suspect that you are spending a lot more money on those initiatives than you could ever imagine. You might be able to measure the ROI of a winning idea. But I doubt you can determine the ROI of your overall ideas-based program. There is no way to know how much time was spent on the thousands of duds that never see the light of day.


The Power of Challenges

Contrast this with challenges. With challenges you assign owners, resources, evaluators, evaluation criteria, and funding up front. We know that the solution to a challenge will be relevant to the needs of the organization, so if a solution is found we know it will be valuable. Also, because of the nature of challenges, we have better tools to evaluate the amount of time spent on finding solutions. We can truly measure the ROI of each challenge and the overall challenge-based program.

Some of you may see a loophole in my logic. You might think, "Ok Steve, why not just post a challenge that asks for new ideas. This would seem to be a challenge-based approach. But of course all you are getting back are ideas." This is true. And this is why it is important to discuss the construction of challenges.


The Goldilocks Principle

Good challenges must adhere to the Goldilocks Principle. That is they can't be too big (broad, novel, abstract - e.g., asking for new ideas) or too small (overly specific). They must be "just right." As Dwayne Spradlin said in his InnoCentive blog entry on the topic:

For example, the big problem is not the need for a new drug for a neglected disease, it is the elimination and/or minimization of the human suffering caused by the disease. The right questions might include: How do we limit transmission? How can we cost effectively produce treatments that comprehend market based economics to ensure a sustainable model? How do we distribute treatments in the developing world? Even these questions require further decomposition until we get to well formulated challenges (e.g., Can we get 5X more vaccine into the hands of those that need it in the context of real world economic, cultural, and political constraints in Sub-Saharan Africa?).


The key is good challenges. The right challenges.

A lot more could be said on this topic. But I will close with a quote from Albert Einstein, who in 1938 said:


"The mere formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science."


I couldn't have said it better myself.

P.S. The next blog entry in this series will be on process versus events.



Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reserve Judgements

by Mike Brown

Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" begins with its narrator, Nick Carraway, recounting his father's admonition that not everyone in the world is provided the same advantages. The comment led to Nick's inclination to "reserve all judgments," a "habit that...opened up many curious natures" to him.

This opening passage of "Gatsby" has shaped me dramatically. Amid growing up in an environment of clear rights and wrongs, these words were a reminder to delay judgment in order to better understand people, even those who are objectively well outside my behavioral beliefs.

Given the importance of suspending judgment in the early stages of originating new ideas, this practice has been fundamental to helping businesses imagine new possibilities for potential opportunities. There's a time for judgment, but initially, ideas have to emerge and "breathe" first.

It isn't all glorious, however, when you reserve judgments. As Nick notes, it led to him being "the victim of not a few veteran bores." I've certainly found that to be the case. It's also led to having a diverse set of friends (really fun) who at times can't stand one another (not so fun). Their distinct differences, which I tend to overlook, often make them incompatible.

In all, delaying judgments is a beneficial practice. So what do you think? Are there a few situations in your life right now where you'd be better off to suspend judgment and see how they play out first? The interesting things you'll experience and learn will FAR outweigh any bores you might encounter. Just go with me on this - okay?

BTW - Want a little "fun" with "The Great Gatsby"? Watch this video of Andy Kaufman trying to read the book to a reluctant audience. You can skip ahead to 2:40 to hear the passage that inspired this post!



Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning marketer and strategist with extensive experience in research, strategy, branding, and sponsorship marketing. He's a frequent keynote presenter on innovation and authors Brainzooming!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who are the real thought leaders?

by Mike Myatt

Thought LeadershipThought Leadership...What is a thought leader, and what does thought leadership mean in today's business world? As much as some people wish it wasn't so, a thought leader is not someone who simply restates someone else's views and positions. Furthermore, beyond uniqueness of thought, a true thought leader's positions also challenge established norms and conventions. Moreover, the true litmus test for a thought leader is when their unique ideas are implemented in the marketplace, they tend to create disruptive innovation, and often change the way we view the world. In today's post I'll examine the subject of thought leadership in an attempt to separate fact from fiction

It is certainly much easier to look back in time at world leaders, Nobel laureates, religious scholars, philosophers, and captains of industry to identify historical thought leaders than it is to identify today's visionaries. This is due to the fact that thought leadership was once a term reserved for a limited few. Regrettably the label of thought leader has evolved to become a self-bestowed title for anyone who has something to say or promote, often without regard for qualitative issues. Some would say that the term thought leader, once synonymous with futurist and innovator, is more closely aligned with snake-oil salesman today. Don't get me wrong, true thought leaders still exist; they are just much harder to spot these days.

Let me begin by stating that authentic thought leaders, the real deals, are not created via great marketing and PR alone. While they are oft published, quite outspoken, and many times represented by marvelous publicists, they are not merely contrived, self-promoted legends in their own minds. Rather true thought leaders are born out of real-world successes, achievements, and contributions that have been recognized by their peers and competitors alike. Their work is widely regarded as being innovative, disruptive, and market altering. They are not the posers, but the players. They are not spin masters trying to make it, but are the undisputed market leaders that have already arrived.

It is also important to draw a distinction between personal or corporate branding and thought leadership. While thought leaders often become well recognized brands, there are many well crafted brands that have messaged thought leadership where none exists. Don't allow yourself to get caught-up in the spin and hype associated with great marketers who will gladly accept compensation, but will leave you woefully disappointed when it comes to living-up to their billing. Look for real results based upon market leadership, and not just brand leadership alone.

The best example I can give you about discerning the difference between brand leaders and thought leaders is that of large consulting companies. I would challenge the brand perception that McKinsey or Bain are the true thought leaders in their sector. I would submit that you will find the true innovation and thought leadership taking place at the smaller consultancies. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that there is almost an inverse relationship between size and thought leadership in the consulting world in that the bigger a firm is, the less likely they are to be innovators. Rather it is those firms chasing the big brands that must innovate to survive, and that often employ today's thought leaders. I have walked into many businesses over the years that were branded as market leaders that hadn't come up with a new idea for years. The fact of the matter is that the more institutional a firm becomes, the harder it is to maintain an entrepreneurial edge driven by a culture of innovation.

While I don't want to belabor the point and unfairly pick on large consulting firms, I think it's important to go a bit further with this train of thought. You see, the legions of twenty and thirty-something consultants employed by Accenture, McKinsey, Bain, Booz Allen Hamilton etc., haven't lived long enough to even form their own thoughts much less become thought leaders. One of the problems I have with large consultancies is that they often label themselves as thought leaders (strike one). They repurpose generic materials across industries and sectors and spin "old" as "innovative" (can you say best practices? strike two). They have regrettably become pimps of mass merchandised mediocrity (strike three).

As noted above, espousing 'best practices' propaganda has nothing to do with thought leadership, but has everything to do with creating mediocrity. What I have witnessed time and again is that these purported thought leaders have in reality weakened businesses, damaged brands, and commoditized competitive advantages for many entities, which ultimately adversely impacts their profitability and sustainability. I know my perspective may appear jaded, but I'm so tired of reading the drivel of people that don't have anything unique to say, who have been deemed as brilliant up-and-comers that I just want to scream.

I have nothing against the term thought leader, however it is my opinion the label should be reserved as an honor to bestow upon a select few, and not a title to be adopted by the masses. Dilution has the opposite effect of scarcity in that it diminishes value. Can you remember when the title of Vice President or Managing Director actually meant something? I can.

Bottom line...judge people on their actions and results, not their rhetoric. Don't accept conventional wisdom as gospel unless you can validate proof of concept, and then only accept it if you can innovate with it, or around it. Challenge everything in business by looking to improve upon the status quo and differentiate yourself from your competition. I don't advise my clients to adopt the practices of their peers, but rather to be disruptive with their innovation such that they create or widen market gaps between themselves and their peers. Lastly, when you run across a real thought leader, you'll clearly recognize them as such for there is something truly unique in both their words and deeds.



Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of "Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual", and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Not Rocket Science

by Stephen Shapiro

For those of you who asked, here is the video of my six minute speech at the TEDx NASA conference. Enjoy.





Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Innovation and Idea Management

From Ideation to Collaboration to Execution


by Robert F. Brands

Ideation to Collaboration to ExecutionInnovation: What a great idea!

Innovation thrives on a diet of news ideas. It needs fresh thinking and a different perspective from across the organization.

We've noted that Innovation = Creative x Risk Taking. Setting aside risk for the moment, creativity is a central element to the innovation process. But it must continually be nourished with new ideas from a variety of sources.

Ideation is not a single event. It doesn't originate from a single silo or one person or one department, although it can come from a single source. Ideation thrives in an open environment; think Wikipedia, the open-source, online repository of the world's specialized knowledge. It is the result of a collaborative process that welcomes minds and teams from across any organization of any size.

How can you foster a fertile ideation environment?

Start by creating an "idea hopper." This idea bank is the repository of any idea to be pursued, saved and reconsidered - or at least explored.

In the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is crated and stashed in endless warehouse of similar, non-descript crates. This is the polar opposite. Don't think of the Hopper as a bottomless pit. Think actionable. While this idea database can be managed online or in Access Dbase, Word or Excel, the key word is "managed". Ideas come in and are vetted by the Innovation Team and the Chief Innovation Officer. The CIO will organize ideas in order of importance or relevance based on the organization's current path or needs. Then the ideas then are presented at the next meeting of the Ideation or Brainstorming Session.

About that session... Brainstorm sessions should be held at a regular interval and include a variety of participants from across the organization. This isn't just a place for R&D or the New Product team. Sales should be there. So should Marketing. Include Customer Service. Those who interact with customers and have a feel for the shifting tidings of the consumer should have input in ideation - whether in feeding the hopper or digesting its contents.

The meetings also should be structured. They should be scheduled, with an agenda in place so participants know what to expect, the topics of discussion, and the anticipated outcomes. In this instance, the CIO should defer to a facilitator or Innovation Coach who can lead the session with complete neutrality. He or she (or someone designated for that task) will write, chart, graph or otherwise gather every idea presented. There are no bad ideas. All concepts should be filed, prioritized, validated, for future reference and / or use in combination with other ideation session results. The outcome of each meeting besides feeding the hopper is a prioritized list to be worked in Product Development

Next, feed that hopper. This database needs that constant diet of fresh ideas - especially between brainstorming sessions. Welcome ideas from all corners of the organization - from the C-Suite to the receptionist's desk. You never know where the next Great Idea will come from.

To be clear, new ideas aren't simply about products. Ideas can include process changes, technological enhancements - anything that represents change in the organization.

In ideation, think green. In those brainstorming sessions, some ideas will rise, some will fall. Throw none away. Those that don't pass muster at that moment should be placed back in the hopper and recycled. Some ideas fail based on momentary circumstances: bad timing, market conditions, budget constraints, technological disconnect, conflict with the organization's current needs or vision - any of which can change very quickly. In fact, two ideas discarded today may morph into a better concept tomorrow. Keeping them in the hopper ensures they can be revisited in the future.

The process of ideation isn't inherently a risk-taking endeavor. But it is part of the experimentation equation. As we've noted previously, Risk + Experimentation (+ Failure) = An Improved Environment for Innovation.

The risk here is to break the mold. Open the silos. Welcome input from across the organization. You might come away thinking, "What a great idea!"



Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Innovating with Task Unification and Social Media

by Drew Boyd

Embracing social media and the myriad of Web 2.0 tools is more challenging than just setting up a Facebook account or adding a "Follow Me on Twitter" link. Organizations struggle with how to take advantage of the power of Web 2.0. Where do you start? How do you tie these new tools in with your current website? How do you make sure your current constituents are happy while moving the organization to a more networked world?

For this month's LAB, we will use the innovation template called Task Unification, one of five templates of the corporate innovation method called S.I.T.. To use Task Unification, we take a component of a product, service, system, etc., and we assign an additional "job" to it. For this exercise involving Social Media, here is how it works. Imagine your company has a large base of employees in the field. For example, suppose your company has a large sales force or an extensive network of delivery or service people. Consider the U.S. Postal Service, for example, with an army of postal workers and letter carriers at over 32,000 post offices. A key question for these organizations like the USPS is: how do we get more value out of this fixed asset? Let's use Task Unification.

Web 2.0 LandscapeI start by visiting a site that inventories all the social web tools: GO2WEB20.NET. I randomly pick an application from this list. Then I assign the internal field resources to "use" this application to increase revenue/profits for the company. Using our example of the postal service, I create this statement: "Postal delivery staff have the additional 'job' of using XXXX (web application) to increase USPS performance." This is our Virtual Product in the S.I.T. method.

The key is to use the non-obvious applications for creating new, innovative services. You have to literally force yourself to imagine the corporate resource using the inherent aspects of the Web 2.0 application to create revenue or cut costs. Here are examples I created using Task Unification:
  • ParkWhiz:

    • "ParkWhiz helps people park their cars quickly and efficiently by providing them with the tools to make an informed decision. Instead of driving around to find parking, you can use ParkWhiz to get the best parking to suit your needs."

    • Idea: The postal workers have a role to play by spotting empty parking spots and annotating this in real time using a mobile, GPS-enabled device to indicate the location of the open spot. Subscribers go online to see what parking spots might be available in their vicinity.

  • Gist:

    • "Gist helps you build stronger relationships by connecting the inbox to the web to provide business-critical information about the people and companies that matter most."

    • Idea: Postal workers have a role of feeding information about traditional mail that is sent and received to your key contacts into the Gist system to help inform you about these contacts.

  • Walkscore:

    • "Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc."

    • Idea: Post workers have the additional job of providing information about what to see or experience between any two walking points. The information is real-time, so it includes weather, crowd information, safety issues, etc.

  • YowTrip:

    • "YowTRIP is a social network site that connects you with other world travelers in your town or wherever you're traveling. Find people like yourself who are planning to or have traveled, live or have lived, anywhere in the world. YowTRIP's goal is to promote cultural exchange by connecting world travelers and enabling them to share their travel experiences on this online community."

    • Idea: Postal workers have the additional role of collecting and reporting tourism-related information to the YowTrip system to inform tourists of local sightseeing opportunities.

  • Orchestrate:

    • "Orchestrate is an online workforce scheduling application that allows Operations Managers to schedule qualified personnel and tasks with ease. Features include qualification requirements for staff, locations, logins for managers, staff and clients, compliance reporting and visually beautiful schedules."
    • Postal workers have the additional job of feeding in critical job site information into the Orchestrate system to allow better scheduling of crews and tasks.

Companies have an enormous stockpile of Web 2.0 business model ideas sitting and waiting to be leveraged. Their challenge is to take advantage of the discipline and structure of innovation templates to lead them to new, useful, and surprising opportunities.



Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Innovating with Constraints

Our October Innovation Contest winners won a signed copy of "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis" by Bill George and the right to have their article re-published here on Blogging Innovation. Here is the first of the three winning entries:

by Tim Kastelle

I've been giving further thought to the issue of public sector innovation which I discussed briefly last week. John and I do a lot of work with people in the public sector as that makes up a fairly big part of Brisbane's economy, and I know that people often find it difficult to be innovative in that area. However, it is essential that we have good public sector innovation because large parts of our economies are in the public sector, and these parts are often very important. We just can't afford to have industries like health and education stagnate - innovation is critical in these fields, as it is in the other areas that fall within the public sector.

So what's the problem? There are a few. One is that overall, the public sector is not viewed as being very dynamic. Consequently, it does not attract a lot of attention from those of us that are interested in innovation. The Australian government is currently undertaking a review to try to devise strategies to improve public sector innovation. The website for this project includes a list of links to resources on public sector innovation (at the bottom of the page) - and you can see that there are not a lot of resources available (the project has a twitter feed too which updates new resources as they find them). This reflects a lack of interest at the levels of both research and policy.

The second issue is that government departments are often fairly risk averse - which makes innovation challenging. This issue is consistently raised by people in our innovation classes that come from the public sector, but it is a common issue for many people in other sectors as well - particularly middle managers that don't have much scope for action. When I talk to people in this situation they often say that the only way they can be more innovative is if they get more support from top management. It is true that top level support generally helps improve innovation. However, if you are waiting for increased upper management support before you start trying to innovate, in most cases, you're likely to be waiting for a long time.

Innovating with ConstraintsThere are a few things you can do to get out of the straightjacket. The main thing is to figure out how to try things. Experimenting is the key to innovating.


"The secret of fast progress is inefficiency, fast and furious and numerous failures." - Kevin Kelly


Now, obviously, failure is not a very popular idea within most government departments. The key to the whole idea though is to figure out ways to generate ideas and discard the ones that don't work as quickly and cheaply as possible. There are three steps here.

The first is to generate ideas.


"The secret to having good ideas is to have a lot of ideas, then throw the bad ones away." - Linus Pauling


Usually, this isn't the problem. People are naturally creative, and the number of untapped ideas that are in your organisation will probably surprise you. One way or another, you need to figure out how to tap into these. If you want some place to start, go to the Tom Peters site and download the Innovation Tactics paper that he has there.

The second step is the tricky one in public sector organisations - you have to select which ideas to try out. The central idea here is to look at how much authority you have. This might be as simple as signing authority - if you can authorise items worth up to $100, then what new ideas can you try to implement for $100 or less? What if you can't authorise any expenditures? The two jobs in which I've been the most innovative have actually both been in the public sector. In the first, I worked out at the start 47 ideas that I thought might make my section run better. Over 18 months, I tried out 45, at a total implementation cost of $0. At the end of that time, my section was just under 20% more effective in turning enquiries into new students, in part as a result of some of those 45 ideas that we tried. Not all of them worked, but a lot of them did - and some of the simplest had the biggest impacts. My bosses weren't too enthusiastic about new ideas when I started, but they were very enthusiastic about results. Most bosses are. So the second step is to figure out what you can get away with, and start trying things that fall within your scope of power. That's how select the ideas to try - you may have to wait on the big ones that will change the world, but if you succeed with some small ones, you may eventually get to try those out too.

The final step is getting the ideas that work to spread.


"Some people look for things that went wrong and try to fix them. I look for things that went right, and try to build off them." - Bob Stone


You need a strategy for amplifying the good ideas. Part of this is selling them to the people around you. To do this, you need to figure out which of the ideas are working. An important activity here is measurement - if you're able to measure the outcomes of your ideas, it is easier to gain support for trying more things.

Innovating is always hard. It's especially hard if you don't feel supported. But the key to innovating when you have constraints is to try things. Try as many as you can, figure out what works, and do more of that. It's a formula that you can follow in nearly every work setting. Instead of telling me why it won't work in yours, why don't you spend the time figuring out a new idea to try yourself instead?


"We have a 'strategic plan'. It's called doing things." - Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines)


(photo from flickr/djwudi - creative commons licensed)



Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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