Monday, October 31, 2011

Collaborative Ideation is a lot like the show Survivor. There are winners and losers.


Collaborative Idea Management Systems are mini experiments looking into human behaviors that result in out of the box thinking. They’re not just electronic suggestion boxes.

When you get a bunch of smart people posting ideas and then invite others to comment, you invite chaos and disruption. If you’re lucky, the serendipitous discovery of great (breakthrough, revenue producing, cost saving) ideas pop up.

Collaborative Ideation is a little like the show Survivor: When you log into the dialog about ideas you get to see who prospers, who gets double crossed, and who gets voted off the island.

The communities that form in a collaborative idea management system are complex. With hundreds of users from different disciplines, interests and locations, an exponential number of viewpoints are boiling in that ocean. In some companies one negative comment can kill a (good) idea but before the inventor even notes that comment, a dozen different positive ones can smother its effect.

New words get created in this dialog. And suddenly people are remarkably “frank” with this new found anonymous organizational engagement. Management may be frightened by what they see. Innovation managers might be rapidly adjusting different users’ permissions as a result. But there is a beauty to this madness enabling constant surprise. After a thorough discussion a word meaning “bad” might start meaning “good”. You say two rights don’t make a wrong? I say: “Yeah, yeah”.

Even if one doesn’t know it when they type a certain idea… it may prove to be a giant risk for the author and the company. By the time new voices pick it apart, the organization may have changed its outlook sufficiently where the new idea is not only acceptable but easily embraced.

With different outlooks comes different ways of looking at things.

  • People who live in countries where the women wear headscarves probably pay more attention to facial features.
  • Polite societies are hesitant to talk about private topics.
  • Engineers look at the company’s ability to manufacture the new product someone suggested.
  • Financial people look at the idea’s ability to generate cash.
  • Marketing people think about how their customers will look at the new product idea.

Each different contributor sees the world through their own particular lens.

Rewarding people in a collaborative environment is tricky. It is not a one-to-one relationship. First off you have to reward people for behaviors that are constructive. Sometimes it’s indirect. So for instance it’s better to reward people for contributions not necessarily for ideas. Because if people submit lots of contributions you’ll end up with lots of ideas.

And it’s not usually just one person who is responsible for a good idea. It is usually a bunch of people submitting similar ideas that get clustered together into one superior concept. In fact one criterion for automatic idea promotion should be “the most similar ideas suggested” (not just votes). So how do you reward all those people? Do you give the reward to the strategist? Do you give the reward to the one who put in the most work (comments, invitations, analysis)? Each has (different) value.

Failure to reward properly can cause people to leave or merely have their heart leave their work. When an effort is complex, rewards must be complex, too. Rewards take many forms like communal values such as dignity, compassion and mutual respect. Money and other tangible items (t-shirts, cars, iPads) are too simplistic and easily monopolized which inevitably fail to do justice to everyone’s varied contributions.

Lastly you can best encourage participation by asking people what they’re likely to want to do anyway. No point asking for a financial analysis from a marketing guy, no point asking for marketability from a quant. A select group of challenges that appeal to the mindset of the community will get clicked on. A spirited discussion on a topic where everyone has an opinion will stimulate collaboration. And once again, collaboration leads to ideas.

(Sidebar, don’t bring up the famous arguments that will never get resolved. I don’t participate on Facebook when the issue is Republican vs. Democrat, Pro-Life vs. Women’s Rights, nor the most violent of arguments….Mac Vs. PC.

The point is collaborative idea management systems have a life of their own. Groups of people with common areas of interest find each other in order to work on a project. Behaviors are noted and experts become apparent.

You just have to be risk taker enough and willing to create Eden. Then watch hopefully to see if anyone takes a bite of the apple from the tree of knowledge. It might be painful, your idea shot down, but you never know: Your best ideas sometimes bubbles up to the top with everyone’s agreement. It’s worth the risk.

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 .Also search on "cognistreamer" here on the FEI blog site and you'll get a list of my weekly guest blogger entries.

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, Philip Morris International, Picanol, ThyssenKrupp, Vesta and Vesuvius. CogniStreamer® represents the best use of adaptive collaborative technology such to harness human skill, ingenuity and intelligence.

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