Monday, August 22, 2011

The top 10 ways to get your team to contribute the best ideas.



You want to make certain your collaborative system for the front end of innovation encourages team members to contribute to the ideation process. Practical experience tells us we can lend the following practical guidance.

1. Your collaborative system should employ “persuasive design”. It may sound superficial, but the graphical user interface is an important part of the collaborative system. The users’ eyes and their clicking fingers should be led toward the parts of the screen that yield collaborative contribution. Choice architecture leads people to make decisions based on evaluating choices. You can help encourage people to make their choices with a well presented user interface design.

2. Thorough integration with existing social communication systems will bring collaborators to the party. Your collaborative tool for ideation must be integrated with email. An email generated from a system invitation can bring useful collaborative team members directly to the dialog where they’re needed the most. A twitter feed and a “follow” function integrated with users’ profiles can allow other users to be alerted when topics of interest pop up. Facilitating connectivity with smart phones enables team members to contribute ideas, votes and comments while they’re on the road.

3. The road to ideas is paved with collaboration. A frequent path to getting users to collaborate is to post a tote board of the most contributions. Surprisingly this can be counter intuitive. The average user will see the list of the top contributors and figure they’ll never be able to get to the top. A simple solution exists: reset the list weekly. This provides an even playing field, constantly encouraging users to contribute. Most users will contribute for the sheer thrill of watching their cohorts contribute to their idea.

4. A frequent motivator for contributions of ideas is to hold an idea contest. But social behaviors tell us this too may be counter intuitive. If you hold a 90 day contest, most of your smart people (and best ideators!) will hold back until day 89 for fear someone else will take their idea. and add a small nuanced change to win the contest. The real goal is collaboration. A contest frequently causes a rush of ideas someone has to manually filter. Instead bonus people on their collaborative activity.

5. Picking the right people to be the initial users and then selecting the folks you want to target as those who will fulfill organic growth is a key element to success. If you pick the right people (early adopter types), they will WANT to contribute. They probably know others they can invite to join the dialogs. This promotes the “bottom up” nature of successful collaborative systems.

6. When you challenge your users you should be asking the right people at the right time. A good idea management collaborative system will allow you to assemble users into groups or teams. This way some groups can have ongoing ideation sessions only they will be interested in (perhaps a group of scientists who don’t normally speak but all share an interest in “carbon bonding”; or a group of IT people who need to solve problems unique to data processing architectures). Having these designated groups can also allow you, with a versatile innovation system, to designate who gets asked first for ideas, what group of experts conducts a SWOT analysis on the best of them, and then what financial people or other discipline do the feasibility study on the very best idea. Or you might want to ask your customers first for their new product ideas (and good security keeps them in this one challenge only) then bring it in house for a group of engineers or marketers to evaluate and collaborate on the idea. The point is when you have a system allowing you to set up teams, you get that much more control via social science on generating ideas. And that means more and better ideas get contributed.

7. Sometimes you just need an expert. A good collaborative system will suggest the right person at the right time when a group is stuck. The team working on the idea may not know the expert. The expert might work in a different division in a different time zone. The idea management system should be able to observe users’ behavior and based on their activity suggest experts when various topics are up for discussion. The user community working on the idea at hand can still invite whomever they want into the conversation, but it certainly is an advantage to have the system suggest an expert.

8. You need to have the information you need when you need it. When people collaborate on a challenge to come up with ideas, sometimes they don’t have ideas per se. But users do sometimes have information valuable to the generation of ideas by others. Maybe a user knows of an event coming up that discusses this topic, or a link to an article of what the competition is doing. Maybe they know of an industry journal covering the subject. The idea management system needs to be just as much of a knowledge management system whereby users can post information useful to the imagination of other ideators and therefore to the generation of ideas.

9. It is great to have organizational engagement, everyone collaborating together. But strategic guidance through the use of appealing Challenges is the way to get ideas in the areas in which the organization hopes to accomplish great things. This is where “radical or “breakthrough” ideas come from. Without Challenges your system will likely produce only incremental innovation. Unsolicited ideas can be great (with rapid revenue capture that may end up paying for the idea management system) but if you want to do things differently you need a system that supports Challenges. Knowing your user community and what will appeal to them, you can assemble Challenges that excite the interests of users’ imaginations.

10. A good collaborative ideation system generates a ton of data. The periodic assessment of the analytics the system generates can yield valuable, actionable information. Perhaps you discover contributions are coming more from one discipline than others. Maybe only marketers are making contributions and very few engineers. This discovery can engender a Challenge that appeals to the users from inhibited disciplines. An innovation manager can then push out a Challenge to everyone and the engineers will be anxious to contribute.

The answer to how to get users to contribute ideas is getting them to collaborate. People collaborate when you appeal to their intellectual curiosity and reach them via the communications media they use. The gathering of ideas is about social science as much as anything else. If you do it right, with the right software, supported by the right expert team you’ll end up with a productive environment. And you’ll end up with LOTS of good ideas.

Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation management system. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here http://bit.ly/ac3x60

Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (Join Here) http://bit.ly/dvsYWD . He has written extensively on Idea Management (Read Here) http://bit.ly/b2ZEgU . If you search on “Shulkin” here at the FEI blog web site, you’ll find numerous entries on idea management systems.

CogniStreamer® is used as the backbone for many companies’ culture of innovation. It is the idea collaborative tool to generate ideas. CogniStreamer is both an innovation knowledge management and idea management software tool, available both SaaS and behind clients’ firewalls. 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 Philip Morris International, Vesuvius, Atlas Copco, Bekaert, BPost, 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. Plus it supported by a team of experts who have built best practices and lend guidance based on practical experience.

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