The Myth of the Millennial Social Movement

7 05 2013

ImageHardly a day goes by without me hearing a senior executive at some major company cite the growing influence of the upcoming “Millennial Generation” as the reason for their foray into the enterprise social world. 

But I wonder if they’re missing a trick here – look at almost any study of who actually uses Social Media in the modern world – and you’ll see that the major users are not those born in 2000+ (who are yet to get into the workforce) – but rather you see an almost even split between those in the 25-34 age and those in the 35-44 range. 

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Compare that then with the average working age for most industries at late 30s-early 40s, and suddenly you come to the realization that most companies must have somewhere between 25-50% of their EXISTING workforce is already actively involved in the social world – and not just active in it – but actively leading it.  It’s almost like we’ve missed out on an entire “social generation” that is/should be the real driver of social technologies in the enterprise.

ImageAlthough there are plenty of reasons I can think of why Millennials and their ilk don’t use social to the same extent as older generations (age and access come to mind) – the rise of Social Media in our personal lives – driven by our desire to communicate with, interact with and influence our friends, relatives, and to gain access to information which has become available at an unprecedented level – has driven the familiarity and adoption of Social Media way ahead of the expected Millennial boom.

Some organizations already get this of course – I was recently talking to the CEO of a large retailer who shared by vision that social technologies are no longer a nice to have – but rather a must have for the modern enterprise.

We live in a strange period in time where for the first time in history, our personal technology use and sophistication actually outstrips that which we have available at the workplace. 

Your top employees go home and are afforded the ability to influence the world around them through online social tools like Facebook and LinkedIn – they can not only share information, find out what others are doing, work together virtually to achieve important personal projects (birthday parties, group travel, weddings, and more) and to rationalize and support the important decisions and purchases in their lives.

So isn’t it weird that we then employ these “personally powerful” people into our organizations and then don’t give them the tools to work as effectively as they can at home?

ImageIndeed, many organizations see the demand and desire from employees for social technologies and processes in the workplace to outrank the “traditional” fringe benefits that have been the focus of Silicon Valley HR orgs since the early 2000s – pool and ping pong tables and “chill out rooms” are making way for flexible working and the ability to feel deeply engaged at a value-level via social tools to the work of their company. Social technologies in reality are no longer a nice to have, but are very much a must have!  

Of course – this means wide ranging organizational changes for most companies. The Social world thrives on standards of high levels of transparency, engagement, and accountability that most organizations aren’t currently prepared for. In my mind, making these necessary changes will undoubtedly present themselves as the Change Management Challenge for the decade in most enterprises.

Do you see these at your org? – let me know! 





Are you listening? The return of Employee Engagement

23 01 2013

employee_engagement“Employee Engagement” used to be a term reserved for the hollow halls of HR departments across the land. You’d hear a client say that was their main goal, and you knew a program was doomed to fail – usually because it was code word for “I haven’t got a clue what to do with this type of social application”.  My eyes would roll, my sleeves would get rolled up, and I’d get down to work teaching them the need to rethink the requirement for innovation goals that would drive focused value and strategic change through their organization.

But that was 10 years ago – and today, as I was sitting down with the CEO of a multi-million dollar multimedia retailer, I found myself reflecting on how much has changed since those days with respects to “employee engagement”.

“Boris, I see tools like this” (referring to the Social Innovation program we outlined to her) “as table stakes for keeping today’s top employee base” she said – the first time I’ve heard a C-level executive say that with full conviction.

Bravo – for she struck the nail cleanly on the head. With social technologies increasingly being weaved into the fabric that is our personal lives – we’re getting used to being heard by the masses – and we bring that desire to be heard with us into the workplace.  As Facebook and the other mainstream social platforms get us used to being influential in a bigger world, the dichotomy of then being ignored in the workplace is increasingly causing friction.

4255321476_93d737a959Where as yesterday’s employees wanted pool tables and quirky benefits , today’s employees don’t just want to be actively engaged in the company they work for, they DEMAND it.

Smart employees want to feel a part of the world around them, want to feel they can influence and enact change, want the transparency and responsibilities that come with active engagement – and if you don’t provide that level of autonomy for them – then someone else will.

These are after all, the table stakes of keeping bright employees nowadays – question is, are you stepping up to the table?





Gamification in Innovation

23 05 2012

A few months ago I wrote a post on the promise of Gamification in the Enterprise. You can read the whole piece but as a recap, here are some of the more salient points:

1) Gamification in the enterprise is not about trivializing business processes or activities, but rather about embracing a design methodology that taps into an inherent “addiction” inside all of us to the engagement mechanics and format of  “good games”

2) Games surround us everywhere, if we choose to see them as such. Just because we don’t envision the business (and other) systems around us as games; just because we don’t design them as games; doesn’t mean they’re any less of a game – it just makes them bad games that no-one wants to play.

3) The ultimate expression of engagement is the human feeling of enjoyment – where we actively derive pleasure from engaging in a specific activity. What if we could bring that level of engagement into a business process, like Innovation for example, that would have people actively choosing to give up their free time to create new value for the company?

As in the past, a company’s Innovation process has become the best testing ground for new ways to engage the broader crowd – not least of which the history of corporate innovation becoming ever more successful with the increasing size of the crowd they’re able to tap into.  Gamification is no different – and already companies like Citi, Cisco, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt and others have embraced Gamification as a way to redesign systems to drive a new level of engagement within their crowds.

For example – at Citi, we were able to engage more than 263,000 employees around the world in 97 countries in a collaborative innovation challenge that incorporated Gamification techniques to drive a unique process that collected over 2,300 raw ideas, developed and refined 10 of those into full on business cases with accompanying video pitches, and then further refined those into 4 top quality concepts complete with prototypes that were pitched in front of Citi’s top 5 executives to be funded for development.  The amount of collaborative builds was incredible – with each of the top ideas all-receiving input from multiple business units and geographies – something previously unheard of at Citi. And the most amazing part of all? There were zero incentives used to drive that high level of engagement  beyond the gamified design of the challenge enabled by the Spigit tool.  (You can read more about the Citi Ideas Global Challenge here)

But Gamification has impact in every part of the organization and has the potential to revolutionize the way we do business as a whole.  For example – another technique we pioneered here at Spigit is the use of Gameboards – which effectively change good old fashioned process charts like this:

Into this:

The game board approach not only conveys the same information as a process chart does – but also the critical engagement elements of story line, goal orientation, levels, emotions, and more. It enables us, as social strategists, to at any one point in time look at the game board and ask ourselves “Would I play this game”? – a engagement perspective that we never consider in normal design. Why would you ever do a process chart ever again?

As always, there is much more to this concept – but I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!





Should we be starting single sex Innovation Labs?

10 04 2012
Stephen Dubner of “Freaknomics” fame recently tackled an interesting aspect of innovation on the NPR show “Marketplace” . In the show he pointed to a patent gap – namely the gender gap in patent applications.

Apparently women are only responsible for 7.5% of all patents filed and Jenny Hunt, an economist at Rutgers University reckoned that closing that male to female patent gap in science and engineering could have a dramatic effect on the economy – raising it by up to 2.7% – a pretty sizeable gain.

There are multiple reasons for this gap existing – but one of the most interesting ones that were discussed was the relative attitude towards risk between the sexes. Specifically, men are bigger risk takers than women.

Why would this be important? Well, Innovation, after all, is a risky endeavor – with average new product failure rates still hovering at the 75% level, you have to be reasonably thick skinned and willing to “go big” occasionally in order to achieve noticeable results. You have to, in short, have a reasonable tolerance for taking on risk.

Allison Booth, a British economist, cooked up an experiment that looked at the male/female risk gap by measuring the relative risk in choices between various student groups of women and/or men. She found that women who were in single sex groups were exhibiting similar risk profiles to the men who were in single sex groups. However, the women who were in co-educational groups were making less risky choices. It seemed that women were competing more aggresively (by taking bigger chances to win) when they were up against other women – but would defer/dial it down when men were also in the group.

I guess this shouldn’t come as to much of a surprise as you only need to look at the school tables in the UK to see that single sex schools tend to dominate the top of the leaderboards – especially with regards to female education – but does this mean that maybe we should continue this segregation beyond the development years?

Potential legal issues aside, would we gain more from a segregated workforce? Should we start setting up single sex Innovation Labs to maximize the competitive elements that drive creativity? Would we double the amount of innovation happening in our companies by segregating staff into men/women-only divisions?

Sounds counterintuitive – but maybe it would work – what do you think?





Getting Inside the Game – The promise of Gamification in the Enterprise

15 03 2012

You’ve probably started hearing the terms “Gamification” or “Game Mechanics” in increasing frequency in your corporate hallways of late. This is especially so if I’ve been working with you, as Gamification theory and practice (not to be confused with the Economics based “Game Theory”) is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the next generation of highly engaging collaborative Innovation programs.

I probably get asked about Gamification (aka the application of Game Mechanics/Game Design to a particular system, process, or program) at least once a day now – Spigit has quite the reputation for incorporating Gaming Mechanics into its product design – and the Collaborative Innovation consulting practice I run at Spigit has now also pioneered the development a host of new techniques and methods to apply Game Design techniques into the successful design and execution of various types of challenges, communities and collaborative competitions with some quite astounding results.

Done properly, it’s probably one of the greatest tools in a Social Strategist’s arsenal – giving great insight into that hallowed (and much overused) word “Engagement”. Yet as a topic it’s rarely understood – and even more rarely applied – properly by most including those claiming to be in the field.

First and foremost, let’s tackle some of the misconceptions:

-       Gamification is NOT the same as Social Gaming.  Whilst popular games like Farmville, Cityville, etc incorporate gaming techniques and could in themselves be the end result of the Gamification process – Gamification itself is a much bigger subject matter.

-       Gamification IS a Social process

-       Gamification IS a design methodology – it’s about how you incorporate Game Mechanics into a system to make it more ENGAGING .

-       Gamification is NOT about specific technology features and functions. Buying Bunchball, Badgeville, or any of a host of new companies cashing in on the Gamification trend and blindly incorporating their software into your website does not make you a Gamification King.

The key to comprehending why Gamification is so important to businesses in the future – is understanding that that there is something incredibly and intrinsically addictive about a well-designed game that engages us as humans at the very core of our beings.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all been deeply engrossed in board games, video games, or what have you – looked up at the clock, seen it was 1AM and uttered the words “Crap, how did that happen?”

A good game not only engages us, but it physically and emotionally satisfies a part of us.  Left alone we will create games from whatever we have around us (“I spy with my little eye…”).. We actively WANT to, and some might even say need to, play games.

Given options, we will choose to spend time playing games above all other activities We will even PAY to play a good game – and we have whole cities designed to cater to our desire to play games!

What if we could capture the mechanics that make a good game so addictive to us, so engaging, and bring those into a business system that actively creates value for the company? THAT’s the real promise of Gamification.

Games come in many forms though – some very obvious (Monopoly, Blackjack, World of Warcraft. etc) , and others not so (political games, dating games, etc).

In fact, if you think about it – we are actually surrounded by games all around us everyday, although most of the time we don’t necessarily perceive or think of them as being games.

For example – take your morning commute – you get up and leave the house with the aim of getting to work on time.  There’s a path to follow, and there are choices along that path:

–      Do you decide to drive or to take the train?

–      If you drive, which route do you take?

–      Do you go the direct route over the hill that can be slower but has less traffic or do you go around on the main road that can be quicker but is more prone to traffic jams?

–      How fast do you drive – do you increase your speed when you hit the highway to make up for your lateness but also increase the risk of getting a ticket that would make you even later? (and poorer financially..)

–      And so on…

You make decisions and take actions to beat your fellow competitors (other commuters) to get to your ultimate goal – getting to work on time. It is, in essence, a game.

Of course, we don’t associate it as a game because it’s not structured and presented to us as a game – but essentially it has the same structure: A goal, a story, a reason to act, and multiple actions and decisions to get to that goal which ultimately delivers you a reward – in the example above, not getting told off by your boss for being late to work.

Almost everything else you do during your day could also be reframed as a game:

–      Lunchtime: When do you leave your desk to avoid the lunchtime rush/get the best grub?

–      Airport Security: Which queue do you join to get through as fast as possible and not miss your plane

–      Travel – Whom do you fly with? Do you go with the most direct flight, or do you go with the one you fly the most in case you can pull off an elusive upgrade?

–      Sales Reporting: What percentage certainty do you report that elusive deal you’ve been working on in your CRM system? Do you raise your boss’s expectation and hope not to disappoint? Or do you low-ball it and aim to surprise?

–      At Work: Which order do you attack your workload to be the most efficient with the least amount of pain (and most acclaim from your peers and bosses!)

–      At Home: How do you get your child to eat the brussel sprouts that they hate?  Cue the airplane game!

Consider that all of these activities you choose to engage in during your day have the same elements as a good game:

-       They have a clear start and end to it

-       There’s a pay-off for “playing” it well and achieving a “win”

-       There’s a clear storyline/reason to play that’s clearly communicated

-       A good activity isn’t repetitive

-       A good activity doesn’t throw complexity at you all at once, but rather in stages with mini-pay-offs to keep you interested and wanting to “throw the dice” until you finish.

And so on.

We play these games, and we “game” these games (incidentally – people “game” every game out there – given the option of two routes with an equal reward, we will always pick the shortest/easiest route to the prize – maximizing the prize wherever possible), and ultimately we win/lose the games we play.

The problem (or opportunity) with most business systems though, is that, as we don’t envision them as games, we don’t design them as games. That doesn’t make them any less of a game; it just makes them “crappy” games that no one wants to play!  

They’re “crappy” for the participants because they’re tedious and unrewarding to play/participate. They’re “crappy” for the business because participation is low or non-existent, compliance to the task at hand is minimal, and because ultimately the system is being gamed for the participants’ benefit and not the company’s benefit.

Instead by building and designing business systems with the mindset that we’re really creating a game, with a specific outcome, and incorporating the same rules and mechanics that naturally engage us in games – we actually end up building a system that is a win-win for all.

The net effect? Imagine creating systems that are so addictive that people will gladly spend their own free time to participate in something that is adding value to the company – and enjoying the challenges involved in doing so.

That they will even give up their own time on the weekends to submit ideas into your innovation system.

Sound impossible? It’s not – we’ve been able to achieve this effect at companies like Citi, Cisco and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as we applied these new design techniques to the practice of Collaborative Innovation at each of them. More on this to come…





The Key Ingredient to visionary Open Innovation

14 08 2011

“Go forth and Innovate” – whilst I have yet to hear those immortal words actually uttered by any senior executive (at least not without tongue-in-cheek) – it is the virtual call to arms that many Innovation execs receive nowadays.

The resulting rush to show action prior to thinking that action through is probably one of the greatest contributors to corporate malaise around the expectations for a fledgling innovation program.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in corporate innovation programs where, in a bid to emulate their own version of a P&G-style “Connect & Develop* program, Innovation exes rush in to embrace ideas from the outside without stopping to think about whether or not the audience they’re asking is actually capable of the answers they’re looking for…

For example – let’s look at what’s probably the most obvious place for a company to start  – existing customers.  Even better – let’s choose our long term customers with which we already have good relationships – surely that will lead to some synergistic big ideas that will result in big sales down the line…it sounds like a good idea, no? And it continues to sound like a good idea until you realize that, whilst prolific with ideas for your company, the vast majority of ideas you get from your customers seem to always end up being iterations on your existing product lines… new colors, new flavors, new add-ons – but primarily minor changes – why aren’t they delivering on those big ideas I was looking for?….

The Answer: Because they lack one vital Innovation ingredient… Unhappiness.

In order to be able to innovate – in order to even want to innovate – you have to, be default, be in a motivated state to look at/consider new options and solutions – you have to be unhappy with the current status quo.

After all, your customers are already buying from you – you’ve already satisfied the “job they’re trying to get done” (to borrow a Clayton Christensen-ism) – so why would they even consider any radical alternatives?

And the bigger the ideas you’re looking for – the higher up the “unhappiness-scale” you’ve got to go up to stand a chance of finding it.

So let’s go up that unhappiness scale – next up are groups known as “lead users”. Lead users (not to be confused with Lead/Early adopters) are people who are only buying your product because it’s the closest darn thing to what they really wished you’d made.

They use and adapt and do all sorts of crazy things to your product in order to satisfy their real need.  Get them to open up those real needs to you, and you unlock the potential to find the next generations of your current product lines as you uncover tangential markets, brand extensions, and new applications of existing/modified product sets that satisfy new niches and customer segments.

Want an example of how powerful this can be?  I had one former client of mine go out to all his customer facing staff to ask for “all the crazy, wacky, and abusive things that our clients are using our products for, that we never envisioned them being used for”.  After searching far and wide, they found a small company in New England that was using a product they made to waterproof new housing, to waterproof boats instead. Why? Because it was a quicker, easier, and simpler method than the traditional way they’d done it before.  It took my client all of a few months to repackage the existing product to target the boating community and create an entirely new market for themselves that added an additional $7 Million in its debut year – not too bad, eh?

What if we want to go for the really big ideas? Well then we have to go to the most unhappy person of all – the people who aren’t buying your product at all because the product you make don’t even come close to what they are looking for. Listen to these people and you might just find the future of your company.

These last two groups represent the “fringe” of the populations available to you – the edges of where your company is, and where it could be. Engage those and bring them in to reinvent your core business, and you’ll find the way to ensure your company lasts the next 5 years.

In the meantime, keep in mind this mantra I give to my clients:

Customers give you Iterations…

Lead users give you Generations…

Non-customers give you the Future…

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments below!





The Next Evolution of Open Innovation – What’s Next?

20 04 2011


This last week I was at the Marcus Evans Open Innovation Conference giving a presentation on “The Next Evolution of Openness” – Getting back on the speaking circuit finally gave me a little thinking time away from building a rapidly growing consulting practice at my new company Spigit and I wanted to share with you some of the key points of that talk over the next few blog posts.

Things change quickly in the Innovation world – and as I was writing the title of the presentation I was struggling whether the word “evolution” was quite the right one – maybe “Revolution” would’ve been a better word to use in the circumstances.

There’s supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse that goes along the lines of “May you live in interesting times” – and I don’t think that times get any more interesting than the business environment we currently find ourselves in.

We live in a time of massive change – both in terms of the size of changes we’re asked to take on, and the frequency with which change now happens.

The recent financial depression has had profound consequences on the businesses that survived. We’ve come out the other end to a world that demands greater accountability, greater participation, and greater transparency than ever before. We’re in the middle of a social revolution where the strength is slowly moving away from corporations and moving into to the hands of the consumer. Where power is moving from the Core of a company to its “Edges”.

As a result, businesses are waking up (rudely in some cases) to a new way of working, a new way of organizing, and a new brand of leadership. Innovation, as a corporate discipline is no different.

Indeed, if we look at the history of Innovation over the years, there are definite trends to be seen:

We started with the lone inventor, working alone to build an advantage that no one else could copy.

If one bright person could achieve an advantage, it didn’t take rocket science to realize that maybe we could put several bright people in the same room and multiply the effect – so we built R&D labs to take advantage of that.

R&D labs worked well, so we started wondering if anyone else in the company had useful input too – so we invented the suggestion box as a corporate tool.

The advent of technology brought with it the ability to ask a broader range of employees than ever before – reaching out across business silos and traditional geographic boundaries to grab ideas wherever they lay. We started putting effective processes around the use of the technology and Idea Management came about.

Innovation Management came along when we then figured out that ideas without execution were worthless – so we changed to focus on an end to end process that drove the ideas we were collecting all the way through a formal pipeline to execution and thus started creating an engine for creating new value for corporations.

Collaborative Innovation brought in the concept that people could add value even if they didn’t have an idea themselves. We started using leading edge social technologies to allow people to work together on building ideas together and driving new levels of value creation.

Open Innovation brought in the idea that the best ideas didn’t necessarily (and probably didn’t) reside solely within the corporate four walls.  So we started to look at sourcing ideas from anywhere and everywhere outside of our  own organizations.

We then reevaluated the innovation process – realizing what was really at the heart of our activities was a robust problem solving process and so collaborative problem solving became the big focus.

When we started considering Innovation as a problem solving process we also then realized that the applicability of what we were doing became broader – we could now push a flow of new ideas across the entire enterprise, building a cultural shift of not just reacting to, but actively driving massive continuous change at all times – We created Enterprise-wide Social Innovation.

So, what’s the next step I hear you ask? For me – it’s realizing that maybe even problems aren’t the right focus – that maybe, just maybe, we need to embrace the larger social revolution and realize that we’re on the brink of a new future for business as a whole.

That future sees companies using Innovation as the gateway drug on their route to incorporating broad level social feedback and input across every aspect of the enterprise.

That future sees us bringing in and co-creating with the masses to create the ultimate engagement model with would-be customers – that of a conspirator or co-owner in the very business they helped to create.

Maybe then, it’s not Innovation that should be Open – but rather Business as a whole.

If  we just follow the trends from the timeline above, we see that there has always been value in building our companies outwards. That there has always been value in continuously increasing the number of people in “the room”, in increasing the transparency of the organization, in pulling the outside in, and ultimately in the engaging, at scale, the broader world around us.

That the leaders amongst us are those who are continuously exploring the boundaries of their companies and learning how to embrace the fringes and edges to drive value at the core.  

Could this be the Open Business revolution at last?

I look forward to reading your thoughts :)








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