Monday, October 10, 2011

Preaching to the choir: Idea management systems bring in a wider sphere of influence

This blog entry is about why it is important to collaborate across your company’s disciplines and divisions while having the support and encouragement of your management. The topic is innovation, why it is important for everyone to come up with new ideas to keep any given company’s product offerings fresh, new and cutting edge. And how great ideas are the result of a collaboration of diverse people.

It doesn’t do anyone any good to “preach to the choir”. In my little group, I’m sure we all agree our ideas and our way of doing things are just great. After all, we all have similar backgrounds, work on the same topics and produce similar results. But to be successful, you need your ideas to get “viral” and leave your immediate sphere.

And to get your ideas to be viral, you firstly need someone to stand up and state their case: “I have a good idea, gosh darn it”. That sort of behavior will get your friends and, more importantly, the friends of your friends to stand up and say, “Whoa, wait a minute here, that can’t be right” or “Yes, that sounds good, but…” You need some contentiousness. You need a healthy argument.

Of course you also need the time to work on it. You need to be told by management that everyone should be working on new ideas. And when new ideas are surfaced, everyone needs to be encouraged. The previous three sentences are euphemisms for monetary rewards: If everyone collaborates (as measured by their collaborative activity) they get a monetary reward. If a good idea surfaces as a result of many people collaborating then everyone gets a monetary reward.

The best ideas need to be turned into success stories. It has to be apparent to everyone that good ideas result in those monetary rewards. “Hey look, this guy spent 10 percent of his time on collaborating toward good ideas and he got a bunch of money”. Why not me?

An immediate result of the collaborative work group would be everyone’s access to troves of valuable data. The mere act of collaboration will enable many people to read the views of others, review the raw material everyone submitted and all this will generate new ideas.

Just as an example, today’s blog entry was influenced by my encounters with a bunch of research into subjects outside my normal realm. Only by collaborating with people in different disciplines was I able to come to some (now) obvious conclusions:

  • I read an article about how the President’s viewers during his speeches are down to just partisans in his favor (preaching to the choir).
  • I read “Dating and Drinking Diffusion in Adolescent Peer Networks” in the American Sociological Review (how our behavior is influenced by our friend’s friends).
  • I noted how social capital promotes safety on the roads (living closer to work allows people to have more time to be friendly and work together).
  • · I saw a study on “Psychosocial Resources, Threat and Perception of Distance and Height” (self esteem yields more confident decisions).
  • I saw an article of how the Harvard Graduate School of Education is involved in the Boston community (how different outlooks into the same problem can allow intersecting influences; how new data can be surfaced).

If you have a ‘think tank” in your company, that is not enough. It does no good if a company’s R&D team is in, but not of, the community. The larger group’s input is what yields greater thought. The pragmatics amongst them can say “Hey that idea is not real world”. The thinkers amongst them can say “That idea is not supported by the data”. The sum total is that compromise, sometimes measured just by the interest generated, that bubbles up to the top and makes innovation managers say “Wait a second I think we have something here”.

Rarely does anyone work in isolation. All of us work in networks. A collaborative environment, especially one wearing a DiBono blue hat, heads down focused on ideas, enables different fields of inquiry to influence each other. These idea management systems present a place for all your smart people to show up and share their ideas. The group-think throws old thinking out the window…no more do members of any given discipline “preach to the choir”. Instead the entire congregation is working together toward a common goal of out of the box thinking and eventually over achievement. Hallelujah!

1 comment:

Melanie said...

Good post but I disagree that people need monetary rewards to give their ideas. Many people are willing to give their ideas just to give them or for the betterment of their own work. For instance if you have an antiquated process that requires 3 long forms to be filled out and mailed in an employee might have an idea to do it online in 1 step. This will make their job easier thus they are motivated to give the idea.

Ideas from customers are even easy to come by. Customers want your product to be better so that their lives are made easier, thus they will freely give of their ideas and thoughts in order to accomplish this.

And now we have many software tools out there like FeedbackRoad that enable idea management to become less of a chore for the business owners and stakeholders.

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