Monday, January 17, 2011

Do I stay or do I go now?

Yup, it seems it's "do or die" time in the innovation space.

With the New Year here I’ve touched bases with those companies I’ve had discussions with most of last year. We’ve been talking about Innovation and, of course, idea management systems, because that’s my topic. It seems like this is a moment of truth.

Organizations are making the decision either to

Drop the innovation system topic and move on. (There’s no budget and no support).

Or… Let’s get serious, see what’s out there, and get going with an innovation program with teeth.

Those groups that will not embrace innovation this year.

The problem is many organizations are frightened by the state of the economy. And the recession’s longevity is being even more persuasive: requiring senior people to pull in and act conservatively. “Let’s not squander budget”.

These companies recognize they don’t have the resources to run a new collaborative system. There are no “Innovation Managers” out there. The Executive VP of Innovation they hired may not be long for this world because the companies not only didn’t give him any people, they didn’t give him any budget. If that senior person is going to get something going they’re going to have to borrow both people and money from other department heads.

The companies dropping the innovation topic don’t know who on their team should be in charge of the system. Is it HR’s responsibility because it’s a tool on the internet that lets everyone talk? Is it R&D or New Product Development people, meaning mostly engineers that should be in charge of the system, because the breakthrough innovations we want are likely going to be new products that allow us to compete effectively in a difficult economy? Is it the Head of Sales or the Head of Marketing, for almost the same reason: New Products; More Revenue? How about the Head of Operations because we’re looking for ways to operate more effectively and that means we’re trying to figure out how to save money. I’d be kidding if I heard the Facilities guy was in charge because they’re hoping to be more innovative in order to get the company “more green” but I won’t be surprised when I hear it.

It’s even worse for those companies without senior advocates of innovation. They’ll just complain that American children are not getting enough math and science in school and that’s why the Chinese are eating our lunch in the marketplace.

Those companies ready to dive into Innovation this year.

On the other hand, there are just as many companies I talk to making the other decision: “This is the year we’re going to get an Innovation System up and running”. In fact they want it in the first or second quarter of this year.

1. These companies are ready to embrace innovation and are each going at it for different reason. Some can easily cost justify a collaborative tool designed to enable teams with common areas of interest to find a place to communicate and to share. Our manufacturing company has experts with certain chemical compounds. We’re flying them all in once a year from all over the world to talk about their topic. With the collaborative tool replacing travel, our budget can pick up twenty five to fifty thousand dollars in ROI right there.

2. Innovative companies know a collaborative tool for the front end of innovation is required to move forward successfully. They realize they can’t conduct research for new ideas with email. A collaborative idea management system can enable people with common interests (even if they’re in different time zones or company divisions) to assemble, compare information, challenge each other and develop solutions to common obstacles in their work.

3. When companies roll out the collaborative system it will signal to everyone (employees, partners, customers, and the public) that “our company has a culture of innovation”. These innovative organizations can challenge their teams by asking for help when needed; they can set the times required for the responses. They can encourage creativity by rewarding ideas that yield workable solutions and their organization will operate more efficiently.

4. Of course leaders in large companies are inherently suspicious of too much creativity. This is because leaders don’t think that way usually; they require a different skill set. But the best leaders recognize when their team requires the innovation functionality of a collaborative tool; they respect the creative people on their team who are required to collaborate; and they reluctantly accept the serendipitous situations required to produce disruptive (yet productive) innovations.

5. Companies that specialize in chemicals, or metals or plastics or compounds (or, what the heck, raw materials) are always trying to come up with something better. Putting everyone on a collaborative software system they can reach through their browser or their smart phones just makes sense. They’ll be open minded enough to let the user community reach each other and management bets a breakthrough idea will emerge with just a little bit of guidance.

6. And companies who embrace innovative systems don’t worry about adoption either. Most of their employees are on Facebook for ten minutes in the morning and another ten minutes in the afternoon. It’s an easy leap to see them plugging into the collaborative idea management system twice a day to look up something; to find information to help them solve a problem; to find an expert somewhere in the company who can help me with what’s on my desk right now.

7. And it’s a new year, so they’ve got the budget they asked for. And enough people on their teams have been studying the innovation topic so they now want it on their resume. These eager folks will step up to be leaders and Innovation Managers.

8. When those non-social-media-adept people (you know who they are) find out what they need is on the new collaborative idea management system; that the “action” is happening on the new idea system…they’re going to want “in”. They will ask to get on to the new system. Or they’ll get an email invitation into a discussion on the system and that one experience will draw them in for good.

9. Companies will be able to tap into their partners this way too….because they’ve been thinking about how to get these “stakeholders” into the process. In fact the stakeholders keep asking, so maybe this will kill two birds with one stone and they can be invited them in (where appropriate). Their customers can be made aware they’re dealing with a company anxious to embrace a culture of innovation; that they want my ideas; that they’re listening.

10. Employees of these innovative companies will be grateful they are being heard. Instead of “suggestion box” systems where the idea goes in one end and in the trash on the other (OK, not really, but when the guy who gets to read all the suggestions arrives at his desk and there are a thousand pieces of paper sitting there, let’s face it, he has no idea how to sift through them). With the new collaborative system for ideas, unsolicited ideas can yield rapid returns. Employees can have the thrill of watching their fellows comment and shape their ideas. The best ideas and ideators can “win” contests or get a percentage of the revenue or savings their ideas help realize.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid …. Of the Innovation Process.

Yes, it is apparently “do or die” time out there. Half the companies I spoke with in 2010 are telling me the project is now put to bed. “We’re not going to spend the money on an innovation system. We don’t have the resources of the budget to make it happen. We’ve been told we’re going in a new direction; to work with what we have in place”.

And the other half are in “giddy-up” mode. They want to answer any final questions and get pilot systems scoped and scheduled.

I’m not the only one seeing these phenomena. Greg Fraley wrote about it today. And I wrote something very similar a year ago.

And if you’re reading this, you have to ask yourself where does your organization fall on this subject? Is it time to get serious and reach out to talk to your idea management software vendor? Well you can either Google the previous sentence and look at the list of vendors or you can scroll down to my information and reach out to me. But now is a good time to do something.

Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation management system. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here

Ron has written a slew of articles right here on the FEI blog on the subject of idea management systems. You can find a bunch of these entries here You can find an idea management software tool demonstration "check list" here: Ron’s earlier writing on idea management system as published in The Examiner can be found here: . Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (Join Here) .

CogniStreamer® is an idea management software tool. It is an open innovation and collaboration platform where internal colleagues and external partner companies or knowledge centers join forces to create, develop and assess innovative ideas within strategically selected areas. The CogniStreamer® portal is an ideal collaborative platform that invites users to actively build a strong innovation portfolio. In addition it provides a powerful resource for internal and external knowledge sharing. The CogniStreamer® framework is used by industry leaders such as Atlas Copco, Bekaert, Case New Holland, Cytec, Imec, Picanol and ThyssenKrupp. CogniStreamer® represents the best use of adaptive collaborative technology such to harness human skill, ingenuity and intelligence.


Marilyn said...

Ron, you did a great job of providing a concise synopsis of both sides of the innovation investment decision.

Karen Sieczka said...

Blaming the economy or budget isses for the lack of innovation-related activities are just poor excuses for not participating in something that might be "scary" or "uncomfortable". Innovation and creativity in the workplace takes a commitment of time, effort, and managment support rather than big bucks.

The companies that say they can't afford to innovate will probably disappear in short order or be absorbed by a company that does innovate.

Courtney Hunt said...

Thanks for sharing this with the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community, Ron. I think the story would be roughly the same if you replaced "idea management systems" with "social media." Some organizations and their leaders are ready, some aren't.

Courtney Hunt
Founder, SMinOrgs Community

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