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The Key Ingredient to visionary Open Innovation

14 08 2011

[tweetmeme]“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!

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

20 04 2011

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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 🙂





2011 – The Year of The Social Enterprise?

4 01 2011

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A New Year brings with it many opportunities – and we generally take advantage of the new start every year gives us to make numerous promises and resolutions for change in our life.

For me, Jan 1st 2011 saw me make promises to write more often, get fitter, achieve great things for my clients, and generally embrace what is sure to be a year of great changes for me.

However, another opportunity afforded by the New Year is the ability to look like a right royal fool, or alternatively a prescient visionary genius, by looking to the year ahead to predict what it will bring.

My track record at these predictions is not necessarily to be envied – although I don’t seem to usually be “completely wrong”, my timing seems to be somewhat off.

Had the predictions of my youth come true, we’d all be living in a Star-Trek like world of spaceships, teleportation, and holographic entertainment systems in every home. Heck, even more recent predictions of a global ubiquitous Internet connection seem to be off by several years at least.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to look to the future, and I’d like to think that with age comes a certain realism as to what’s possible in a year – so here goes this year’s effort.

I think 2011 is going to be an especially exciting year – especially if the one big prediction I have for this coming year ends up coming true – that we’re about to embark on a new era of unprecedented collaboration and social interaction, that we’re doing that with a renewed sense of discipline, all-inclusion, and transparency, that we are, in short – on the cusp of seeing the world’s first fully social business.

Companies embracing social is nothing new admittedly – indeed my own work has centered on helping companies to use social technologies to drive corporate strategies for over 15 years now.  So what’s different now?

For starters, I think this year sees companies finally take it seriously – as a corporate competence to be achieved and maintained, rather than a faddish concept to be played with in any of its prior incarnations (knowledge management, collaboration, social media, etc).  I see companies increasingly throwing away the intangible mantle of “social media” programs focused on improved interactions with the consumer – and instead looking for ways to integrate social technologies to produce some very tangibly sized profitable gains. Nothing moves a company to embrace a new way of working more than big profits.

I also think that Social Technology companies themselves have matured more – taking ownership of the need to provide companies with a tangible route to those big gains. The increasing differentiation within the current software market is proof of that as vendors realize that companies don’t (and can’t) buy general “Collaboration” or “Social” tools – because they simply can’t achieve anything (let alone everything) with them.  General collaboration platforms like Sharepoint and Jive will continue to exist – but will continue to become secondary to the applications, (like Spigit, Yammer and others), that are developed to run on top of them and will drive the real value of social tools to the organization.

2011 will see Innovation continue to be the “Gateway Drug” to Social Tool adoption in the enterprise – providing an easy route for large companies to value and monetize the global interaction of the “social populations” (employees, customers, vendors, strategic partners, shareholders, and more) at their disposal.

Once that value is established – I see companies starting to effectively inject “social input” into increasingly strategic parts of their business. We’re already starting to see the first variants of this emerging in Finance (eg Microfinancing), Manufacturing and Design (eg Crowdsourcing), HR (eg Employee Engagement initiatives), and even Management generally (eg Collaborative Decision Making).

All this leads me back to my initial prediction – the emergence of the first true Social Enterprise. That is, a company that has social input strategically injected into EVERY part of their organization. Where every business process includes elements of mass social interaction between people inside and/or outside the traditional company walls. A fully open business that is able to leverage a global knowledge resources pool in multiple ways to achieve its strategic goals.

Is that possible in 2011? It’s a bit of a stretch I admit – and more likely to happen at the start-up level rather than a large global enterprise at this stage – but I believe that even that’s coming in the longer run. In the words of Hamel and late C K Prahalad – companies will eventually be forced to redefine what their true “core competencies” are – and then outsource the rest. Although instead of outsourcing it to an emerging global economy because labor is cheaper, they’ll be outsourcing it to a global social population because the work, the solutions, and the results will simply be better than they can achieve on their own.

The winners in the next generation of businesses won’t be the companies that can come up with and produce the next winning product – but will be instead the companies that can rally the world around to do it for them.

That’s my big bet for 2011 – what’s yours?





Innovation – do you WANT to win? Well, do you?

13 10 2010

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If you’ve never been to the annual Business Innovation Factory conference (#BIF6 on twitter), it’s really quite a trip. More of a mini-TED conference than anything specifically innovation related – it’s all about enabling people to share stories about things they’ve achieved, thought of, experienced, and so on.  The end result is that you don’t necessarily walk away with a series of bullet point “To-Do”’s like you might at other conferences – but you do end up with a simmering pot of interesting thoughts and ideas just waiting to boil over the top.

This year, two speakers said things that stuck in my head and kept me thinking. Such is the way my mind works that unfortunately I can no longer remember who they were – but I’m sure someone will eventually remind me in the comments below this post 🙂

The first of these insights was an observation that, if you have two equally matched sports teams, and one team’s members actively want to win, whilst the other team isn’t bothered – then chances are, the team that wants to win, will do so. Sounds obvious really, but it brings an interesting question to mind when you bring that concept into the business world – which, at the heart of it, has similar competitive dynamics.

If you have two equally matched companies competing against each other, the company that collectively wants to win more – will probably do so. “Desire to Win” is a competitive differentiator in effect.

With that in mind, however – how many of us actively try to instill that desire to win into our employees? How many companies actively engage in “Win Management”? You could even say that what really differentiates a successful innovator/entrepreneur from normal people is that never-ending drive to win “the game” of business.

This is even more amplified in the Innovation world where the risk of failure is ever present and embraced as a part of everyday life. It is a daily competition to beat the odds and win the game of innovation.

Pair that thought up now with another insight from that same conference. Apparently, at any one point in most organizations, only 20% of the staff are actively engaged and enjoying the job they’re doing.  I would personally argue that that number seems a little high to me – and is probably rotating too – that is, we’re not necessarily talking about the same 20% year round, as people naturally go through cycles of loving/hating/being indifferent to their work.

I would also argue that one of the reasons why people don’t get engaged in their jobs, is because their jobs (ie their companies) don’t engage them. They feel like they have no say, no ability to make an impact, no reason to want to win….

So it stands to reason that if a company really wants to win at Innovation they need to both instill a competitive desire to win in their organizations, and to tap into and maintain that desire by actively engaging their population in strategic innovation decisions.

And by “Engagement” I don’t mean just listening to your employees – I mean actually “Doing” something with their input. Business, and especially Innovation – is a team sport – and no one wants to be relegated to being the guy on the subs bench that never gets on the field.

So now you know what you have to do, you have to ask yourself – Do you want to win at Innovation? Well, do you?…





6 Secrets to Corporate Authenticity

25 08 2010

[tweetmeme]“Authentic” is undoubtedly one of most echoed words in the Social World nowadays – applied especially liberally when explaining to companies the means by which they should be conveying themselves to the broader world in order to be heard.

The term seems seldom explained more than that, and yet the implications are deep.  It amuses me to no end that the word “authentic” has staged such an emergent come back into our vocabulary – not least of which when used to describe a media and communication form so recently embraced for its ability to allow people to engage in an almost schizophrenic array of multiple online personalities.

Ironic then, that in the current online world that we’ve created, where it’s so easy to be anyone or anything you can imagine, it’s never been so important to simply be yourself. That in a world of Avatars, Second Lives, and Virtual Worlds – we want to know that we’re communicating with real people who are being their real selves.

Maybe it’s a sign that the Social World is growing up – moving from a prior youthfulness happy to live in a world sporting fake Rolexes and toting counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags; to a decidedly a more mature mode preferring to spend their newfound wealth buying the real thing on 5th Avenue.

The formula for being “authentic” as an individual must surely be simple then: Be yourself, communicate from the heart and be consistent. But how do you achieve that in an enterprise setting?  How does a company made up of thousands of voices come across with the same effectiveness as one? Here are some guidelines for your internal “social champions” to follow:

1) and 2) “Know Who You Are and Live It” – Earlier this year I had the good fortune to go to the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston where Bert Jacobs, one of the founders of “Life is Good” was speaking. In his speech, he relayed the story of how the two brothers started their fledgling business on a street corner selling t-shirts and how they were able to translate that into the marketing empire that Life is Good is now.

During his session there was a comment – one that he repeated during his speech, and then signed along with his name on the Frisbee he flung into the audience and pinged me squarely on the forehead with (there was a ricochet involved from a nearby audience member – honest!).

The comment was “know who you are, and live it”. Now Bert’s no social media guru, nor is he making money from his insight (I believe he donates a lot of his speaking fees to charity – He’s a quiet, down to earth, and confident guy who’s simply figured out the secret to his success.

That secret has helped him translate a feeling, an emotion, and a mission from his heart to his products – and onwards to his customers.

This effect though is multiplied in the social world and the necessity to “know who you are” with ultimate certainty and to consistently live out those values in the social worlds is the real key to success for corporations in what has to be one of the ultimate brand challenges of the modern business world.

Why the “ultimate” brand challenge? Because the Social World has an incredible memory – infinite actually.

What you say, what you do, how you do it, and who you do it with is preserved along with people’s opinions of your actions from the moment it happens, until the end of time. Like an elephant on steroids, your image in the social world is established by your actions, and remembered forever.

If “Knowing Who You Are” is number 1) on the list of things companies must do – then “Live It” has to be number 2).  Consistency is a key element of authenticity  – people want to know that you not only “talk the talk”, but also “walk the walk”.  One communication effort can set an intention, but it takes consistency to set an image.

A positive Social Image is a fragile entity and is re-enforced or recast depending on your actions, engendering strong levels of customer loyalty and advocacy to those who get it right – and equally strong negative reactions to those who trip up on the path. Never mind women, hell hath no fury like a customer scorned in the social world – where one negative voice can sound like hundreds online.

The need for consistency in your actions is then further exaggerated in the current Google-centric world where information is omnipresent and easy to access. In this world, it’s not just your actions that matter, but those of everyone you associate with too.  Nestlé’s well publicized controversy regarding the source of Palm Oil  used in some of their confectionary is just one example of this in action.

3) Be Real – The Social World is made up of individuals – not corporations. Talk to them in the same formal way you approach your PR campaigns and you’ll find the same level of interest and disengagement you probably got from journalists when you sent them that Press Release announcing your new six sigma process (yaaawwwwnn).

Interactions with actual people and personalities are simply more “sticky” than formal corporate approaches. Whilst it’s important to institute guidelines and rules for those interactions, you should, whenever possible,  make sure that your company’s interactions come across as being made on a person-to-person basis and not on a corporate entity-to-whomever-will-listen basis.

4) Be Transparent – Part of the potential poisoned chalice that can be connecting to thousands of people is that you’ll find it very hard to hide information – so don’t bother doing so! Treat your social world as if they’re an integral part of your company. Let them know early when good news is underway, and apologize early when you screw up.  Open up to your community and they’ll reward you with understanding, forgiveness, and loyalty.

5) Cultivate Relationships, not Transactions – Treat the communities you interact with as if they were integral partners in your company’s success and not just simply a transaction source. Care about them, ensure they get value out of the relationship then have with you, and make sure the flow of information and value goes both ways.

6) Do it yourself – This last one is the simplest – you want to be yourself? You want to be “real”? You want to cultivate lasting relationships with your social community? Then do it yourself – don’t hire external partners to do it for you.

Partners have their role in all this – as teachers, thought leaders, and general resources – but you shouldn’t rely on them for execution – that’s just lazy, and in an age of transparency, it won’t take long for the social world to see through you.

Invest in the internal capabilities and expertise to drive and deliver value to and from your communities and the returns will be hundred-fold.

Got more tips on how to be Authentic? Share them below!





Is your Community Contaminated?

21 07 2010

[tweetmeme]This morning I found myself at the W Hotel in Hoboken, accidentally (no really!) listening to an interesting story on one of the many breakfast shows on at that time. On that show, author James Fowler was describing research he had done that showed how social networks surrounding us can impact each of our lives in a much deeper way than most people realize. To make his point, (and the news presumably) he used as an example that divorce can be “contagious” amongst friends – mentioning that having a close friend experience divorce, increases the chance of your own divorce by 147%. Needless to say shock and horror ensued from the hosts and other assorted pundits on the show who naturally dislike the idea of someone asserting such high correlation to such a dreadful outcome.

Yet when I thought about it, I don’t think I was really surprised. After all, it kind of makes sense. Your social circle represents more than just a group of people you like to get together with for a beer. Your social circle represents the segment of society (or community) with whom you most closely identify and associate.

As with any society, the activities of one affect the activities of the many – word of mouth campaigns are one of many business efforts to capitalize on this effect.  Communities and Societies have social norms and unspoken rules that govern membership – and it’s only natural when an outlier emerges (say, the first of your group goes bungee jumping on holiday, learns how to scuba dive, or, god forbid, gets divorced) that the community takes a moment to reflect on whether that new behavior or activity is a true outlier or simply a leading indicator of something they too should be trying/considering/experimenting.

The elements of peer pressure and groupthink are not new either – it’s well known that many people get into/stay in gangs, or conform group actions against their natural wills because of the innate fear of rejection/fear of social stigmata/fear of ridicule/fear of the unknown that we all suffer from. Humans are inherently social creatures, so why would we be surprised that the social actions of someone we know, like and respect would also impact our own decisions?

Take the divorce case – the first person to get divorced in a social group of couples challenges the group norms. All of a sudden the group has to decide whether or not they approve – whether or not to maintain the two separates in the combined. Once that norm has been broken, it’s only normal for the rest of the group to question their own commitment to what they had considered a societal norm of marriage.  I daresay that if the author had dug further (and he may well have by the way, I haven’t had a chance to read his book yet, and it was a short segment on the program), he would’ve actually gone on to find that whether or not other couples in the group started to consider divorce would also have been impacted by the relative happiness exhibited by the two singles that initiated the first divorce. Did the initial sadness give way to euphoria commensurate with a perpetual trip to Hedonism III? Did the two newly single people now face a miserable existence akin to that of a lonely penguin in the Sahara?

Our understanding of alternative realities in the communities to which we belong influence our own decisions by opening up an understanding of what those alternatives actually look and feel like in real life. If we find our close friends being happier single than married, then it’s only natural for us to consider a similar move.

There are implications of course, for the Social Business World in all this of course (I bet you were wondering when I’d get to the point of all this, eh?).

Social communities maintained (or not) by businesses are fickle things – more akin to organic creatures than to mathematical formulas (which adds to my confusion as to why so many companies seem to be lumping in the Social Media functions with their SEO functions internally – but that’s a different discussion) – and the analogy of new societal norms spreading through a community like a virus is just as accurate, if not more so, in the social world.

Engender a strong goodwill and feeling within your community, and you’ll find that it’ll be resistant to negative vibes. Take the iPhone 4 – despite all its difficulties and problems, people are still buying it – not because it’s that much of a better phone than anything else on the market (nor even its previous version the 3GS) – but rather because Apple’s conditioned its community to be resistant to negative viruses by ensuring that they not only respond, but also try to over-satisfy the customer whenever possible. As a result, the community of Apple buyers continues strong, and continues to grow in number.

Cross your community though, and that bad feeling will spread far and wide like wildfire. You only have to look at the many Facebook faux pas of the likes of Nestle and others to see that at work.

It strikes me then, that we might well start seeing a new type of competitive behavior showing up in the future – that of setting up deliberate social viruses to attack and/or convert the social networks of competitors.  I can certainly envision ways in which companies could manipulate a few key individuals to enable them to corrupt a competitor’s user community for example – sowing seeds of discontent, and setting up the consumers to be virally vulnerable to the possibility of alternative realities.  Could we then be on the verge of a new weapon in the Corporate Strategic Arsenal?

In many ways we need to nurture a new skillset in corporations – that of the Social Doctor – Able to diagnose potential viruses prior to them taking effect and injecting the corporate social world with the virtual equivalent of vitamins to re-enforce it.

Part strategists, and part social scientists, this new breed of business executive will need to show a sensitivity and concern for customer communities that is currently alien to the majority of companies who still treat their social networks as a sales and marketing tool rather than a living, breathing symbiotic organism.

Mix that social awareness and responsiveness with corporate strategic ability though – and you get the ability to build and maintain a Social World that will drive unrivalled competitive advantage in your direction. What do you think?





4 people to avoid at your next Innovation Conference

7 06 2010

[tweetmeme]It’s conference season again, and I find myself in the enviable position of being able to attend many of the top conferences on Innovation, Collaboration and Social Media and just soak in the rootin’, tootin’ and high faluttin’ knowledge that pervades the atmosphere at a good conference.

This week (June 8-9th) is no exception –  I’ll be at the World Innovation Forum in New York City (#WIF10 if you’d like to follow that conference on twitter), a conference with superlative speakers, and an equally interesting attendance – and if I’ve learnt anything from nearly a decade of going to innovation conferences, it’s that you can learn just as much from the people attending a conference as you can from the speaking panel. Yet, in the same way that a speaker can turn out to be a bad penny at a conference, so can your interactions with fellow attendees.

Over the years, I’ve started to realize that I’m now able to process who’ll be interesting, and who won’t, pretty quickly and thought I’d share my observations with all of you, so that you can tell the “Makers” from the “Fakers” at the conferences you go to.

Innovators come in all shape and sizes, so pointing out physical attributes to look out for won’t work – that guy dressed in the 60s suit with the bell bottoms in front of you could end up being Kodak’s leading patent holder. The sharply dressed young lady with the expensive looking briefcase, could be the newbie software salesperson for a start-up populated by teens only just learning to spell the word “innovait..innovato…inovatii”…ah, you get my point. So the only way to truly figure it out is by listening to them and watching for certain key phrases that indicate it’s time to lace up your running shoes and head to the auditorium door for a quick getaway.

1. “Sammy Satisfied” – If anyone comes across as being too smug, too sure of themselves, and too happy with their own achievements in innovation, it’s time to back away. Why? Because Innovation is driven by a lack of satisfaction in the status quo.

Top innovators are always looking to change things because they know that taking time to sit back on their laurels is just giving the competition time to catch up. Find someone who’s satisfied with what they’ve achieved, and you’ve found someone who maybe used to be an innovator. Test them – ask them “Yes, but what are you doing that’s new, now ? “ and watch them nervously start to sweat.. The good news? If you find yourself talking to a Sammy, you can probably just wander off whilst he’s in mid-sentence – he’s unlikely to notice anyway.

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2. “Tommy the ToolMan” – usually leads with “so, what kind of tools are you using internally?” or words to that effect. Even worse is when Tommy can’t stop talking about the tool he’s using – the back end, the front end, the features and functionality…urrghhh! Treat potential Tommys with the same suspicion you would if someone randomly asked you “so what car do you drive?” as you stepped out the door of your workplace. Why? Because tools don’t really matter.

Let me clarify – tools are important, having the right tool will turbo-charge your innovation program (especially if you have ambitions to embrace collaborative innovation processes), and having the wrong tool can just as easily sink it. But let me now tell you the secret of successful tools from someone with over 7 years of experience with one of the leading software companies in the field, and had a big hand in developing the innovation management software market to where it is today…….. Tools don’t really matter. Processes do.

Ultimately there are only two things that a good innovation tool really needs to do (feel free to copy this into your next RFP):

1) Be flexible enough to support whatever collaborative process you are trying to put in place to meet your business goals

2) Stay out of the way (be reliable, embrace good collaborative practices, not force you to work around the software to achieve your aims, etc)

It’s not a long list, but you’d be surprised as to how few vendors can fulfill those two basic requirements – mainly because a lot of vendors develop software that is technically excellent and/or visually pretty, but overlook the intricate ways in which humans actually want to and need to interact with each other. My former software clients weren’t successful because of the tool the sales guy sold them – they were successful because of the way they used it. If you’re talking to someone who suggests to you otherwise – run.

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3. Peter Private – Peter talks in short phrases, measuring his words and being careful with what he says. He thinks he’s like a corporate James Bond, protecting the secrets of his company by sharing little, and listening intently. Peters are inherently worried about letting the “cat out of the bag” – about saying too much and getting into trouble. Talking to a Peter is not only frustrating; it’ll be fruitless too, as you’ll get no benefit from it.

You see, innovation is all about sharing – it’s about openness – it’s about embracing the world as a potential knowledge source – but to get, you need to give too. I’ve found that people who are truly successful in the innovation field embrace this principle across all of their interactions with people. Being open is like a bug or a virus – once you realize that the best ideas are frequently elsewhere, you’ll be on a mission to find them everywhere all the time.

You don’t have the time to establish trust and sign an NDA in the short time allotted at a conference – so if you find yourself speaking to a Peter, then it’s time to make your excuses and fake a bathroom break to relieve that irritated colon of yours.

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4. Christopher Clueless – With a subject as increasing in popularity as Innovation, it’s no wonder that conferences are filling up with charlatans jumping on the bandwagon to try and make a quick buck – and Chris is no exception. Having probably read one or two books on the subject and with no practical experience at all – he comes to the conference armed with a series of “innovation catchphrases” to give you advice with and lull you into a false sense of security/trust/interest.

My favourite of these: “Innovation should be everyone’s job” – probably one of the dumbest things ever said on the innovation circuit – usually used to eschew the presence, or need for, innovation leadership. Whilst true, to an extent, that innovation should be a part of every employee’s business life, it still needs to be someone’s responsibility in order to ensure success.

Hear that, or any of a myriad of well known phrases (you’ll usually know if they turn up during the conference by the stifled giggles coming from the bloggers’ gallery above you) and it’s time to excuse yourself from the proceedings to search for that 7th cup of coffee to take you through the rest of the afternoon.

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The trick to getting the most from the speaker panel is easy – listen carefully and glean insights that you can take back to your business.

The trick to getting the most from the attendee panel though is to talk openly and talk to a lot of people – spread yourself out, meet new people at every break, collect a ton of business cards and build a network . A network that will probably not include Peter, Tom, Chris nor Sammy though.

What other types of people do you find at conferences? Share in the comments below!








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