CEO Challenges Part I: Rallying the Troops to Solve a Common Goal

11 06 2014

maxresdefaultThe recent convergence of social technologies in the CEO bag of tricks is great to see, bearing in mind the advancement of these technologies over the years. Nowhere more can we see the growing acceptance for social technologies and business practices than in the emerging trend and desire for CEOs to finally see their world expanding beyond their direct reports, and straight down to the grassroots level.

The emergence of social tech platforms like Facebook, Yammer, and Mindjet SpigitEngage have flattened the modern-day organization like nothing has ever been able to do before. This flatness and increasing democratization of knowledge-sharing across organizations has led to the creation of more nimble, more effective, more robust, and more customer-centric decision-making business entities — whether in the innovation space or otherwise. And, this effect hasn’t been lost on the CEO — the ultimate change agent in any organization.

Top-Down Innovation

The reality of it is that, whether or not you know it, your CEO is either currently planning or already conducting some sort of CEO Challenge –- that is, one that is led from the very top of the company, likely global in nature, and aimed at solving a problem right at the very apex of the organization. But why?

Why would a CEO open themselves up to this kind of transparency? After all, transparency and engagement are not typically at home in the CEO suite at most companies. Yet with changing times come changing attitudes — and changing methodologies.

There are several reasons why CEOs want to engage in a CEO or global challenge. The first is to share and mobilize the workforce around the company vision.

confused_9597033Med-360x240A recent Forbes study found that, on average, about 70% of the employees in any given organization don’t know or don’t understand their company’s strategy. That lack of understanding translates into a lack of focused and coordinated action — something the modern-day business can’t afford in a world that demands ever-increasing speed in the way a company creates and recreates itself to meet the needs of its customers.

A CEO challenge gives the CEO a chance to share the company vision. It allows them to engage employees at all levels to both understand that vision and help create and act on it. Very few modern-day vehicles in the organization can deliver that as effectively as a collaborative challenge, where people are not just communicated to, but are also engaged with the messaging coming from the top level.

Leveraging the Grassroots of Your Company

If there’s one thing that social technologies have taught us during their adolescent years, it’s that valuable knowledge, and the ability to form action around that knowledge, is not restricted to the realm of an elite few. Rather, the collaboration of many minds, with many different viewpoints, can lead to truly wondrous things.

As a result, it’s no wonder that CEOs have started seeing and wanting to leverage this, too. By breaking down traditional barriers, CEOs are able to glean insights and ideas from the people actually doing the work and interacting with customers on a daily basis, providing a more customer-centric view of the world, and one that is unfiltered by layers of management. That untapped community of employees also represents a fountain of new ideas unfettered by the self-perceived barriers of what “can’t be done,” that unfortunately, management and experience sometimes brings along.

Increasing Employee Engagement

The third reason CEOs run global challenges is to drive employee engagement — a rising concern for those in the C-suite who are coming to grip with the challenge of getting employees to be emotionally invested, as well as focused on creating value for their organizations on a daily basis. You may consider that to be a very soft subject, but it represents one of the bigger opportunities available for the modern-day enterprise.

employee-engagementA recent Bain & Co study found that worldwide, only 13% of a company’s employees are actively engaged at work at any one time. Activelydisengaged employees outnumber engaged employees at a rate of nearly 2-1. That represents a huge opportunity cost for most companies.

A further study from Polling company Gallup found that companies with higher engagement levels reported significantly higher profitability, customer ratings, decreased employee turnover and absenteeism, and even fewer safety incidents at work. Allowing disengagement to affect your most experienced staff and those who conduct the most valuable interactions in your organization is not lost on CEOs around the world. According to Bain & Co, active disengagement costs businesses approximately $450-500 billion every year.

Inspiring Big Changes

change_newsThe fourth reason CEOs take part in these types of challenges is to set a stake in the ground and inspire big change. There are few people in the company that can create the necessary momentum for an organization to actually change — but the CEO is, without a doubt, one person in the organization who is entirely capable of doing so.

The CEO is the ultimate change agent when it comes to inspiring cultural change, forcing innovational change, or even impacting industry-wide change outside of the organizational boundaries. And, whether it’s setting a big, audacious, X-Prize-like challenge or engaging in silo-busting collaborative challenges, the CEO Challenge is increasingly becoming the ultimate way for CEOs to express intent in the marketplace — to employees, customers, and investors alike.

Choosing the Wrong Methodology

Yet, many CEOs attack this strategy in the wrong way. For example: last year, Tim Cook was in the press for a CEO Challenge he issued to frontline retail employees using his communication vehicle of choice — email. Marissa Mayer issued a call for big new ideas, too. queues-007Her forum? Knocking on her office door. And, since Yahoo! has more than 11,000 employees, that’s one heck of a queue. These and other inefficient methods result in overwhelming workloads, underwhelming response rates, and often, one-way, incomplete, ideas that haven’t had the benefit of collaborative input.

Instead, consider what the leaders in this field — companies like Citibank, Intel, Bridgepoint, and others — are doing. These organizations use a focused, collaborative approach that not only solicits input, but also engages employees at the core to drive actionable results and real change.

In my next blog, I’ll go into greater detail about executing collaborative challenges, particularly when it comes to solving significant strategic problems and issues to consider — such as globality, legalities, incentives, and cultural hurdles. In the meantime – feel free to post your experiences with these kind of challenges in the comments below!

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. 


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! 

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 🙂

The Mad World of Innovation…

8 04 2009

alberteinsteinI believe it was Albert Einstein who once said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. So I feel I’m in good company as I observe the sheer insanity of companies and the way they “embrace” innovation.

I’ve been watching several people I know Twittering and Blogging their observations from several innovation conferences recently and it finally dawned on me what’s been missing: anything at all new.

All the “big” takeaways, “noteworthy” points, and otherwise shareable insights have quite simply all been seen and done before. They’re all rehashed observations and reinvented wheels – some of which have been out for over 10 years – Which brings up the question – Is there a lack of innovation or originality in the innovation practice itself?att34707

Maybe – maybe not – but I refuse to believe that there aren’t areas of innovation thought and practice that are still ripe for exploration and innovation of the core processes themselves. Instead, let me point the finger at a different potential culprit – organizational ignorance in picking their leaders.

As someone who’s been in the job market for senior innovation roles for a while now – it’s been interesting to note that most job opportunities that have crossed my desk seem to end in one of two ways:

1) The company decides to hire someone internal despite a lack of any internal innovation skills or experience, believing that the right person will simply learn the necessary process expertise quickly enough to make it all work.

2) or otherwise the company decides not hire anyone at all due to budgetary cuts/changes in corporate priorities.

The second option implies a serious lack of understanding as to the power and importance of innovation – especially with regards to making sure the company has a future – or even a present for that matter. Even in a downturn as bad as the one we’re experiencing now – one would expect for companies to shorten the time horizon for innovation processes to deliver results – but not to eliminate them altogether – that’s just crazy. To be fair, most of the ones that have ended like this have ended with an intention to revisit this “innovation concept” again in the future – but that’s still pretty dumb, as the situation won’t get any better until you make core changes, until you change the rules of the game to better suit your strengths, until, in short, you innovate your way out of it.

wrong way sign

However – I put to you that the first option is just as bad if not worse – as it implies that there is little or no value in innovation process expertise – despite all evidence to the contrary as to how tricky it can be to balance the rapid achievement of organizational goals with the engagement of social and human capital needed to fuel the innovation process. They would rather take someone who “understands the company” and attempt to teach them how innovation works than the other way around. I don’t know about you, but outside of certain government entities who don’t understand themselves how they get anything done – I don’t know of any company that is that complex that you can’t pick it up in a few weeks – are they trying to say that learning how to put together a comprehensive innovation program that engages the value chain and social networks as a whole to driving new sources of value that will generate results for the organization is easier than that?? Doesn’t make sense to me – but then again, I’m not the one making those kind of calls. For now at least..

The result then, is a continuous stream of new innovation “leaders”, making the same mistakes over and over again – and coming up with the same results (or lack of them) and “insights” repeated over and over again. There are plenty of good innovation people out there – plenty with the knowledge, expertise, and ability to not only make an innovation program work – but to make it excel and deliver massive results. It’s no wonder that the companies that invest heavily in innovation are the ones who thrive and survive – they’re the ones who value the process expertise over industry expertise.


So here’s my wakeup call Corporate World – industry expertise counts for little or nothing in the innovation game! In fact – it can even frequently be a hindrance. It puts walls up where they might not need to be; tells you what you “can and can’t do”; what “will and won’t work”– it can be, and frequently is, in short, a barrier to innovation – the very thing you’re trying to achieve.

As a result, we get what we’ve been seeing on the conference circuit – a steady stream of people relatively new to the subject who are trying to assimilate the complexities of innovation and social networks from scratch – and as a result –progress in the innovation industry has been handcuffed – and corporate results with innovation have been mediocre at best as these people make the same mistakes all over again that the previous generation made – reinventing the wheel over and over again…

As Gary Jules sang: “I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take, When people run in circles it’s a very very…Mad World, Mad World”…please stop running in circles everyone..

comments, as always, are very welcome.. 🙂

Could Information Flow spell the End of the “Great Recession”?

24 03 2009
Back in Boston

Back in Boston

It’s good to be back in Boston after 3 months of travelling around the world– finally back in my own bed, back with my friends, and back to being able to write on this blog.

I’m not sure what I expected to happen to the business environment whilst I was away, but I think it’s safe to say that no one would’ve expected the deterioration that’s happened over the last few months. Since I’ve gotten back, it’s been interesting to see the various different viewpoints I’ve heard on what the current recession is, and how long it may last – everything from a very doom and gloom “10+ years of darkness” from Mark Turrell, my former CEO – to rather more optimistic visions of “over by this summer” from one of my former clients.Credit Crunch

All we ever really know about recessions however, is that they very rarely conform to the timelines we predict for them, with things getting worse quicker than expected, and likewise businesses recovering faster than we expected – no one ever comes out with an accurate prediction (that I know of– by all means let me know if any of you find a reliably accurate source!). One would think that with the pace of change still at breakneck speeds however, that the pace of change/recovery within the markets would be equally quick – with the effect of information flow and arbitrage essentially magnifying the classic economic indicators – on the one side magnifying the negative effects of the banking problems we’re currently still facing – but then probably helping us to come out of the other side that much quicker too…

It was then with interest that I read a blog post by my friend, Donald Smith on his “Perspectives on Connected Innovation” Blog. The post, entitled “The Race to the Top – Information Arbitrage” – details a new goal in organizations as they embrace social media to both save money at the bottom, and look for value-adding advantages from unique information sources at the top.picture-3

As he puts it:

“Today, value comes from the following statements:

“Did you see?”

“I found…”

“Check this out…”

Information is driving a “race to the top” in terms of value. Each newly discovered tweet, story, or theory could be the nugget that wins recognition, fame, or accomplishment. So we mine Twitter and read RSS dumps trying to identify the tidbit that will be most valued by the organization. ….. No longer do I need to spend hundreds of dollars on professional groups to network in my industry or thousands of dollars to bring in consultants. The web makes this information more accessible and in most cases free. The challenge for employees is to make the information palatable for the organization to devour.”

Don, and I say this with unabashed extreme jealousy, has the enviable situation of being on a paid sabbatical to explore the whole world of innovation and social media for his company – to essentially develop and disseminate a flow of information on this subject for the corporation’s benefit. There was a time, not that long ago, where a company doing something like this was not that alien (pre-2001 for example..) but now? During a recession?

Combine that then with my experience on a recent job interview with a large company (and former client) for a role where I would be leading a team to drive a flow of innovations into the organization to solve problems 3-4 years out. Based on my previous experience, companies generally expect roles like this to generate some form of identifiable value every year in order to justify budgets and also as a prime measurement of performance amongst other things. But this company was different – it seems that they see value in simply establishing a flow of new insights, innovative thoughts, and information even if it doesn’t lead to actual executable implementations. Again, in a so-called massive recessionary environment – this is either incredibly progressive – or incredibly reckless – thinking.

Unless, of course, we’re all wrong about where we are in the economic environment. Could actions like the one exhibited by Don’s company and the one I interviewed with be a sign that the market has bottomed out?ist2_5267850-volatile-stock-market

As I commented on Don’s Blog – the point at which companies stop looking at the bottom line and start valuing input other than cash is typically only seen when a company is growing and prospering. Could the development and recognition of information flow as a source of value be a sign that the recession is beginning to finish? Some may think of that as optimistic – but it’s not the only signs out there – and the ramifications for a business world that embraces the massive information flow that is driving the social world at the moment is quite…interesting to say the least.

Has anyone else had similar experiences? – if so – please share!

Out with the Old? – Not on your Nelly!

2 02 2009

happynewyearBelated Happy New Year from the land of Oz everyone! Apologies for the long absence, but as some of you know, my first post-Imaginatik act was to strap myself onto a plane and go off to the other side of the world to follow my other passion – exploring.

Boris and Uluru

I’ve spent the whole of January in Australia, and New Zealand beckons me for February before I return to the cold and snow of Boston (it’s currently around 40C/110F where I am in 

Australia…quite a change!). However, with a little time off over the next day or two away from my Lonely Planet Guides, I thought I’d post some thoughts on innovation – which is always on my mind – and indeed, I’ve even met some really interesting innovation people on this side of the world too – and I’ll try and post some of the interesting thoughts from those meetings a little later.

I hope you’ll give me a bit of slack then, as I go off on a slight rant in my first posting of 2009 – I promise you it’s not a sign of things to come 😉 speakers-corner-20

The end of the year, always brings people – and pundits in particular, be they journalists, bloggers, or consultants – a chance to reflect on the past, rationalize the future, and for some, to press the “reset” button as they start new chapters in their lives – “out with the old, in with the new” as they say.
It seems that the innovation world is no different – even from my mini-retirement from Imaginatik, it’s been hard to notice the trend happening recently typified by the recent blog posts Bruce Nussbaum, of Businessweek fame, who has now joined a growing list of pundits, wannabe gurus, and consultants proclaiming the “death” of innovation. Could “Innovation” really be dead? tombstone

Of course, on reading further into any of these people’s arguments, they’re quick to admit that the core values, missions, and processes that innovation has embodied these last few years continues to be solid ones. What they’re really complaining about is that the term “innovation” has become overused – and thus from Bruce Nussbaum’s perspective and other consultants – less profitable for them. In its place of course – they suggest new words – words that they will try and coin and in the process become the new gurus of the “Transformation” (in Bruce’s case) movement. And this is where I have a pet peeve with the management world. Increasingly, management thought and theory has become more Chanel than Champy, more Dior than Davenport, more Prada than Porter, in short, more fashion than academic and business discipline, rigor, and accountability. 23issa

Bruce and his ilk, as well as consultants, software vendors, and the rest of us (I’d even have to include myself in that list!) survive on the basis of being different in order to be either interesting enough to be read (for journalists) or interesting enough to be bought for a premium price (consultants and vendors). I admit that it’s a necessary and wise move for many markets and for most times – after all if you were in the screw business, the common wisdom is that you need to innovate to change your value proposition in the eye of the consumer so that they will pick your screw over those of your competitors. It’s no longer just a screw – it’s now a “galvanized, rust resistant, all-in-one joint re-enforcement device – now with extra threads!”….screw_tk

There’s a part of me that doesn’t blame Bruce et al for wanting to change the paradigm in order to keep fresh and keep readers interested – hell, there’s a part of me that hopes he’s successful in pushing a new term that takes some of the inevitable armies of substandard consultants that tend to follow these trends off the business journals. You know who they are – more salesmen than bone fide business advisors and gurus – more interested in making a quick buck by rebranding to fit a trend that to actually care about the long term health of businesses and their clients.

But here’s where my problem lies with this specific change – the world NEEDS innovation right now. With a global recession not only looming but already in full effect (even in Australia, GDP is down, unemployment rates are rising, downsizing occurring, etc) – the one discipline that will change the way things are going is innovation. The World, as a whole, needs to learn how to systematically and predictably manage their ability to change everything about their business – their products, their processes, their business models, even their customers. Call me biased if you will – but I strongly believe that. I’ve seen first hand what innovation can do for companies that are able to embrace a wide vision of possibilities and unleash the power of what Innovation can do.

It’s not a new topic or a fad – any company with any serious longevity has had to embrace major changes in the past – the business environment of our times just demands those changes to be more frequent and faster. It’s not a flawed topic – failures are either caused by companies not fully embracing what needs to be done (which is usually not easy) or not getting proper help and advice choosing instead to go with a cheaper consultant or choosing someone internal to “go out and learn” believing it to be a simple and easy game to play. In short – it’s not innovation that’s flawed – it’s how companies have gone about it that has been flawed. They haven’t understood what’s really possible – they haven’t understood the impact that it could have – and as a result they handicap the process from the outset.

The headline grabbing attempts of a few wannabe gurus proclaiming the death of innovation isn’t going to help anyone. It just leads to confusion in the corporate world and ultimately will lead to companies stalling or abandoning innovation-type efforts altogether for fear of failure or a lack of understanding of the importance of innovation to the business.

Bruce et al – I won’t be backing down from this! Innovation is of key importance to the US, to the West, to the World and you know it! There are times to be different and there are times to band together and push what we all know is in the better interest of the world. There are times, Bruce, when you just need to let a screw be called a screw. It may be boring for you to keep on writing and lecturing on company after company embracing and succeeding with innovation efforts – but success is success – and right now America, and the World, needs to believe, to embrace innovation, and to succeed.


The One Big Thing…for Innovation

9 12 2008

one_finger_350oIn my last few days now at Imaginatik, a lot of contemplative questions keep getting asked at me by team members and colleagues hoping to glean one last bit of knowledge from me before I leave – but probably the best was from a colleague who asked me, if I could only pick one thing that made or broke an innovation program – what would it be.  My response – had I been better prepared and more dramatic in nature would’ve been – should’ve been – to just put up one finger and say “This!”.

The reason why that would’ve been perfect comes from a scene in one of my favorite movies, City Slickers, in which a fantastic Jack Palance (as the weathered cowboy, Curly) shares the secret of life with a weary and overwhelmed Billy Crystal (as the city boy, Mitch):


Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?  (holds up one finger)  This!

Mitch: Your finger?

city_slickers_movie_image_jack_palance__1_3Curly: One thing. Just one thing.  You stick with that and the rest just don’t matter…

Mitch: But what is the one thing?

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

For me, this quote has always inspired a good deal of thought and contemplation – and for a piece of deep thought to be thrown into a comedy like City Slickers, even more so – but when it comes to innovation – it’s also the key to remembering one of the most important things that gets ignored by companies.

I so often have seen programs fail because they didn’t take this into account. I’ve seen innovation initiatives go nowhere because they never thought to ask the big question.  And more recently I’ve seen Social Networking and other Collaborative applications achieve nothing because they were too enamored to tick a box and say “yes we can” than spend the time to think about “why they should”.

You see – whilst there are tons of ways in which to make a collaborative application succeed, there’s one sure fire way to make it fail from a corporate perspective, and that’s to ignore (he says, holding up one finger) “This!”.

What is “This” I hear you say? The one thing you stick with that makes it all tick?  Purpose.

What humans need in life, strive for in life, require in order to be happy and motivated – is a purpose. It is what gives our lives meaning, makes us feel like we’ve accomplished, and ultimately makes us want to do more. People spend their entire lives looking to find the purpose in their lives – and whilst it is different for everyone – the need for it is just as strong for everyone.

Now I don’t mean to come across all evangelical – and I certainly don’t have the meaning of life all sorted out – but I do know what makes people tick – Purpose. So why is it then that so many companies ignore that when trying to engage their workforce in any kind of initiative. So many companies are rushing out there to tick a box, to implement a tool, to start a new collaborative initiative so as to be able to claim to shareholders, customers, and the outside world as a whole that they’re on top of things – that they don’t stop to think about ensuring that there’s a purpose to it all.

When at Imaginatik, and we developed Idea Central and idea management as a whole – what really set us apart from the old school Knowledge Management practices was that we gave people a purpose to actually participate – a reason to make it worthwhile.  Facebook is successful because it fulfills a purpose in people’s lives – to more easily connect with their friends. LinkedIn – to more easily keep in touch with the people with whom we do business and to enable us to leverage that to our benefit in the future – whether that be sales, getting a new job, or even as referrals. Pick any kind of successful social networking tools (and there are, contrary to popular belief – PLENTY of failed and failing ones out there) and you’ll find they all have one thing in common – they’ve given/provided people with a (good) purpose to participate. 

Yet I still see companies running innovation programs without a clear set of goals or purpose. I see companies distributing social networking tools, without making it clear why, what for, or how it will benefit the end user. It is of course then, no surprise when I see these programs fail.

It’s not enough to just know the purpose for yourself either – you have to live, breathe, and communicate that purpose with passion in order for it to be felt and responded to by the rest of the community you’re trying to tap into – but when you do – the response and value created can’t be underestimated.


Now if I could only find a way to go back in time and repeat my answer to my colleague with a little more flair, I could leave Imaginatik looking as cool as old Jack himself….


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