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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!

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

20 04 2011

[tweetmeme]
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 🙂





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!





The 4 Laws of Enduring Innovation Success

7 04 2010

[tweetmeme]Always an avid reader of the Financial Times, (one of the few decent news sources in an otherwise barren information landscape here in the US)  I came across a great commentary/review by the FT’s always fabulous Lucy Kellaway on the “Money-Honey’s” (CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo) recent book “The Ten Laws of Enduring Success”.

Lucy does amusingly short work of debunking the 10 laws that Maria came up with, and proposes a few laws of her own instead.

Lucy’s Laws were so much better formulated (in my opinion) that it got me thinking about the “Laws” of successful Innovation programs – not least of which because I think the first couple would be the same as the ones Lucy came up with.

So, here are my 4 Laws of Enduring Innovation Success:

1) Be Lucky – no matter how many different ways you squeeze it, Innovation is about luck.With your typical long term program “failing” 75% of the time, there can be no doubt that it takes a certain amount of luck to be successful – especially over the longer term.

You are in essence, shooting into the dark with most innovation programs – trying products and processes that haven’t been tried before in your company, your industry, or sometimes even the world.

That’s not to say you can’t improve your chances of getting lucky though. Unlike with the Las Vegas casinos, no one will kick you out of the game for learning the innovation equivalent of card counting techniques. Indeed, in this game, cheating of any form is encouraged; and banding together in casino-busting style innovation teams with other individuals and companies is heavily rewarded.

By setting up and executing robust innovation strategies and processes you are in essence increasing the predictability of the Lucky Breaks you get – And in Innovation, Luckier is most definitely Better.

2)  Be Ambitious – There’s an old saying: “Fortune Favors the Brave” – and nowhere else is that truer than in the Innovation game. To score big, you have to aim big.  If you only look for incremental ideas, then that’s all you’ll get.

During my time at Imaginatik, we used to make the bold claim of being able to consistently achieve “a 10x ROI on your investment”.  How did we make sure that happened? By making sure that the problems being targeted by the client’s innovation strategy were big enough to achieve at least that. And you know what? It worked.

3)  Stay Focused – Running an Innovation program at a big company is kind of like a subscription to a “Shiny-New-Toy-Of-The-Month” Club.  It’s easy to get distracted by the current toy sent to you. It’s easy to forget to go to the mailbox for the following month’s toy because you’re having too much fun with this month’s toy still. And after a while, it’s easy to forget the reason you shelled out so much money to get the subscription in the first place.

To that end, maintaining a laser-like focus on what you’re trying to achieve is imperative for an innovation program.  Your Innovation strategy needs to be revisited constantly and attacked with the same brutality for embracing change as you’re demanding from the organization with the innovations that you are introducing.  Your strategy needs to be a fluid structure with one constant– “How can I best drive significant business results and organic growth for my organization?” – and you should make sure that your processes and actions are targeted at achieving that goal.

4)  Embrace Everyone – not in a “creepy guy who keeps looking at me funny” way – but rather in a “let’s talk to, and get input from, as many different people as possible” in your quest to solve your corporations problems.

Innovation, more so than any other business discipline is leading the way in the upcoming socialized business revolution. That revolution will herald a new era where a company’s potential knowledge-base of solutions is no longer limited to the company walls, nor even close collaborators, but will instead embrace a global audience of potential participants.

To do this, you’ll need to begin to develop new skill sets that will involve learning how to identify which communities of people provide you with specific types of input; learning to set up and drive Social Teams to turn subsets of those communities into useable and active groups that will help you achieve your goals; and learning how to make those groups self sustainable so as to make sure they’re constantly available to you as a resource.

That’s it – 4 simple laws for ensuring that you not only become successful, but also stay successful. Keep these 4 on a post-it on your desk, on a poster on your wall, or as the screensaver on your laptop – whatever works for you – just do them!

Do you have any other Laws to Enduring Innovation Success?[tweetmeme]






The Need for Variety and the Innovation Quiver

16 03 2010

[tweetmeme]Innovation, like writing, is a fickle mistress really – easy to find one day, hard to find the next – but always around somewhere.

At the recommendation of my good friend, fellow Bostonian and business author extraordinaire Steve Shapiro, I’d begun to use a local Starbucks as a place to go and get inspired and avoid the typical distractions that keep popping up in my office.

However, this last week or so, my Starbucks was failing me; it simply wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Whether it was  the constant parade of chatty college girls passing through the doors, releasing a blast of cold air to all inside; or the large trimmed windows reminding me of the yucky grey day I was trying to avoid outside , I just couldn’t find the inspiration I needed to begin writing anything useful. My trusty “innovation tool” simply wasn’t working for me anymore.

It occurred to me that something needed to change, so I got up and walked out the door. I ended up walking into the cavernous interior of the Boston Public Library, and found a desk and chair nestled somewhere within the US History section – that for whatever reason seemed to call to me. Surrounded by books on George Washington’s military career on one side and books on  Thomas Jefferson’s political career on the other and before I knew it, the floodgates had opened and off I was writing again!

As I wrote and reflected upon my inner creation demons that I was struggling to overcome just a few hours earlier – I was thus reminded of one of the most important lessons in innovation – the need for variety in an innovation program. Let me explain:

Whilst you should strive to make innovation a repeatable, sustainable process, that doesn’t mean it should be executed like an automaton. I’ve seen too many clients ultimately fail because they don’t understand that they simply can’t rely on a single trusted process to last them forever. There are 3 main reasons for this, in no particular order:

1)   Innovation is about problem solving – identifying, defining, and solving problems that will drive new growth opportunities for your company to be precise.  Problems have a tendency to be unique, to offer individual challenges that need to be understood and overcome – and whilst most can frequently be tackled in more than one way, to rely on one single methodology to tackle all of them is foolish.

2)   Modern day innovation is a highly human intensive process, relying on creative and constructive contributions from a variety of sources – employees, suppliers, customers, and more. As such, we are subject to the subtle whims of the human creative conscience.  In other words – people get bored.

They also can just get creatively exhausted. Keep asking the same subset of people a continuous stretch of questions and you’ll notice participation slowly, and sometimes dramatically, fall off. No matter how important the topic, people reach the limits of their creative thought endurance.

3)   Modern day Innovation is also no longer the domain of a few, but rather the expectation of the many. You’re now expected to run an innovation program that is no longer confined to one part of your company like R&D, but reaches out across all aspects of your business in search of the next big thing that will eek out a few more points of competitive advantage in the market.  And that reach doesn’t stop at the traditional corporate walls, but extends to a global audience with the understanding that the best solution to your problems will frequently lie outside of those walls.

What that means is that you’re now talking to a variety of people – some internal, some external, some trusted, some unknown – each of which should be handled in a different manner to obtain ideal collaborative input from them.

I’ve frequently told my clients that they should think of their innovation program as a quiver of arrows – the more arrows you have, and the better aim you have, the more your chances of coming back home with a nice venison dinner rather than a shot-up turnip.

Each arrow in the innovation “quiver” is designed to offer a different way to bring in a solution to the innovation problem at hand; and by using a variety of arrows in your innovation program, you not only become a better and more well rounded “hunter”, you also become more adept and understanding how best to overcome the environmental conditions at hand.

Ask a cross sectional group of employees for their ideas on how to solve a specific problem. No success? Then ask a different cross section of employees in a different manner. Maybe your internal staff has reached exhaustion point, or maybe they’re just too close to this particular problem. Look outside then! Maybe we invite specific suppliers and partners to have a go at the solution in our Idea Lab. Maybe we invite the local entrepreneur community to show their potential solutions in an Entrepreneur Day at our offices.  Have we found several solutions now? Maybe we bring in interesting entrepreneurs from inside/outside the company to a “Dragon’s Den” (“Shark Tank” in the US) type of event. Or how about setting up a virtual idea market to tap into the wisdom of the crowds instead?

Each of these methods and many more should be developed as innovation arrows in your quiver that can be reused multiple times to ensure an active, engaged and efficient innovation program that will drive the achievement of corporate growth goals.

It’s an interesting paradox though how many in the innovation industry, an area where we endeavor to bring a state of constant (but controlled) change into our organizations, don’t consider the necessity for that same state in our very own innovation programs.

In other words, we decide upon one arrow to use, and we keep on using it until it fails to work anymore before we begin to look around our bare quiver for further possibilities.

How many arrows do you keep in your quiver?…





Defining the “Social Team”

9 02 2010

[tweetmeme]If you’ve been following me online on Twitter or elsewhere, you’ve probably heard me mention the concept of “Social Teams” more than a few times recently.

It is, in my mind, a powerful idea that has the ability to change the way companies and individuals view online collaboration efforts – with the potential to achieve dramatic results.

I’ve always believed that people want to interact online in a similar structure to their interactions in the offline world. The fact that we’re not usually able to doesn’t mean that we don’t want to.

In the real world, we associate ourselves with communities to find people of similar interests with whom to interact. These communities are important to define the overall population of socially connected people; but they’re useless as a way to actually get anything done.  When we set out to actually achieve something, we abandon the broader “community” concept in favor of focused subgroups of active individuals that are more motivated and able to get things done.

For example, in my sport of choice, rugby, we talk about a wider “rugby community” around the world. When we go out, we socialize, drink, and have fun as a community – it’s a bond that ties rugby players around the world. But we don’t compete as a community, we compete as individual teams. We don’t govern the sport as a community, but rather using an elected “team” of individuals picked from the community.

In other words we “exist” as a community, but we “achieve” as a team.

The same concept is true in the online world. Technology has given us the methods by which to define and connect to, our own communities.  Each of us “exists” within a multitude of communities with which we  associate – with differing levels of interest. However, to actually achieve a specific aim/goal, we need to tap into a subset of that group to create a “team” to help us achieve that.

It’s important to understand that whilst I use the term “team”, these sub-groups of people don’t exactly conform to the standard idea of what a “team” looks like or acts like – we’re no longer looking at working groups of enlisted employees in a corporate environment, nor the familiar images of a band of 10-15 athletes playing a game “on any given Sunday”.

These “Social Teams”, can be massive groups of hundreds, or even thousands of people in an online setting. They are teams on a scale never seen before, and on a playing field of incomprehensible proportions.  Team members may never have met each other, but nevertheless choose to work with each other to achieve a mutually desirable goal or function.

Social Teams are not top-down, nor bottom-up; they can be purposely set-up, or self-formed by team members; they can exist in purely social settings or as corporate sponsored groups.

They are a collection of individuals who have a common understanding of the “game they’re playing” (ie the team’s purpose); know in which goal they’re trying to score in (ie have a shared understanding of what ‘a win’ looks like); and are collaborating together to achieve that aim.

They incorporate the structure of a traditional team, with the social contract of a community.

Although Social Teams differ from the physical world in terms of the actual method and depth of their social interaction – many of the same rules for success in the offline world, hold true in the online world.

For example, if we use a typical amateur sports team as an analogy; we can define roles that need to be fulfilled by in order for the group to be successful:

1) A good Captain – someone to lead, motivate, organize and drive participation and effort from the team.  The best Captains are charismatic leaders who drive from the front; which entails being seen as a valuable contributor to the group; garnishing respect from other team members, and being effective networkers who are able to gel and glue the team together.

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2) An astute Manager/Coach – someone to define and drive what is success for the team. To co-ordinate the team’s efforts, to let them know what game they’re playing when they get to the field, and in what direction they need to advance. To provide them with a strategy, a formation, and to provide the team with the tools required to succeed – whether it be drafting in new players to bolster the squad, or providing appropriate training aids to keep players sharp.

3) Superstar Goal Scorers – people who might not always be the most active or hardworking on the field – but nonetheless are able to provide that spark of brilliance that will provide you with a large percentage of the goals, (or commercialized value) produced by your team.

4) A group of Creative Midfielders –ball/information distributors who make connections, provide links, and drive the conditions that create opportunities for goals to be scored.

5) A Solid Defense – the building blocks and foundation of the group – providing a core level of input, and information that gives the team a platform from which to build an attack.

Unlike the real world, in a Social Team, it’s important to point out that most of these positions are not usually assigned by anyone to anyone, but rather assumed with group permission by team members on their own.

This is not about imposing a hierarchical structure on a group of people, but rather about providing the team with the basis needed to work efficiently together towards a common goal.

Using this model, you can see how so many companies fail in their collaboration efforts. By relying, as so many companies do, on simply “enabling a community” to exist, they’re essentially doing the equivalent of sitting on the sidelines of a soccer field waiting for 11 random people to find the field, collectively decide that they want to play the same game, and then set out to beat Arsenal Football Club with no organization at all.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s folly – it’s time to let go of that folly and get a good game going!

So how do you use all this information to drive results within your collaboration efforts? I’ll discuss that in my next post – in the meantime, as always, your comments and thoughts are gratefully received!








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