Monday, May 13, 2013

Strategies for negative collaborators

How To Deal With Negative Contributions
One of the most frequent questions I get when we talk about collaborative innovation systems, is “what do we do with negative input?”.  Those responsible for the collaborative innovation environment, (whether it is a simple idea management system, an electronic suggestion box, or a full blown social network dedicated to ideation) worry about contributors who submit negative comments that can potentially kill good ideas. 

In the innovation world, we always note there is a place for some negative thinking.  If someone pokes holes in an idea with the hope that those negative attributes once noted, can be “solved”, then the negative input is truly constructive.  For instance, “here’s where I see a problem with your idea” followed up by others responding with “fixes”, e.g. “thank you for pointing that issue out, here’s how we’re going to get around that problem”.  The negative input stimulates additional contributions, more intense collaboration, includes more people and results in a positive outcome.

But what worries the innovation management team are the folks who “kill” ideas. 
  • “That idea is terrible” which can imply you’re stupid for posting it.
  • “We tried that two years ago and the idea went nowhere” even though the circumstances two years ago could have been completely different.  What was a bad idea back then might be a good idea today.

The best practice response we always share is to make certain the collaborative environment is closely curated.  The community managers or moderators need to pay attention and either edit or delete those comments.  Or a private message asking the contributor to frame their criticism in a more constructive way.

Walk A Mile In My Shoes
New studies point out other approaches can yield success.  Here’s a new tack and is based on a novel premise.  Intense polarization depends on ignorance.  Drawing attention to how little the team knows about any given topic can actually help the collaborators to “get along”.  When researchers asked people to indicate their position on a particular topic and then asked them to explain the mechanics of the new idea, contributors took a more moderate position.  You’re not asking the “Negative Nellies” to provide a reason for their negative position (which won’t have a positive outcome); instead you’re prompting the mechanistic explanation which can apparently enable empathy and a more open mind.

Standing The Test of Time
If you want a new idea to enjoy some sustainability, you need to give that notion initial wide exposure.  If a contributor’s post has a minor initial “splash”, it’s percentage of mind share amongst the community will drop back off the radar fast.  To get lasting notoriety, you need to debut with wide coverage so that the new idea “locks in”. 

So the “marketing attributes” of the collaborative system needs to be tapped into in a big way. 
  1. The new idea should be placed obviously in the innovation social network’s news-feed;
  2. It should be posted in the “spotlight” area on the initial dashboard;
  3. The idea can be posted in the weekly innovation newsletter (“here’s what’s hot this week”);
  4. Perhaps the idea has an “editor’s pick” graphic alongside of it;
  5. It can be posted in multiple, different communities beyond its initial placement.
Taking this type of extra effort for a struggling, yet worthy idea may yield an idea that “has legs”, standing the test of time.

Benevolence versus Mercenary
Generally playing games to gain support for one’s idea is frowned upon.  Usually the mechanics of a Challenge helps prevent users from gaming the system.  (The winner isn’t for the “best idea”; the winner is for the most “contributions”).  You don’t want people to vote for your idea because you want to win the iPad for your kid; you want people to vote for your idea based on the idea’s merit.

One ethical approach to reduce polarization surrounding a worthy idea; a way to overcome the “gridlock” surrounding its promotion, is to tap into a strategy well proven in the political arena:  Pork Barrel Politics.  If an idea has attributes that appeal to a variety of different groups within the collaborative space, it is possible to garner wide reaching support.  When describing an idea, the inventor should probably consider how it can impact all the different parts of an organization.  Marketers should think about engineers; people in one geography should think about how it impacts users in other geographies.

If an idea can provide benefits to MY area of the organization, it gets much easier to add my support.  This method of framing one’s idea helps reach compromise.  This appeal to others doesn’t necessarily garner “support”, but it does act as “bait” for convincing others.  It can stimulate other users to join a coalition amongst collaborators who might otherwise spurn an idea.  People need to see the value of an idea in their wheelhouse.  This approach can even enable others to claim credit for the parts of the idea that aids their cause.

The trick is to remember the collaborative space is populated with humans.  The user community is subject to all the foibles of any other group of people.  Staying aware of the psychology can enable a smoother, more successful collaborative effort.

“Greasing the Wheels: Using Pork Barrel Projects to Build Majority Coalitions in Congress”, Diana Evans, Cambridge University Press (June 14, 2004).
Van de Rijt, A. et al., “Only 15 minutes?  The Social Stratification of Fame in Printed Media,” American Sociological Review (April 2013).
Fernbach, P. et al., “Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of Understanding,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Post Script:
I write frequently on the topic of Adoption and Engagement surrounding Collaborative Innovation other words, how to get people to use the new Idea social network.  Here's a smattering of recent blog postings covering the same topic:

Which Innovation News do you want first? The Good News or The Bad News? 

Last lesson learned: Ideation for Innovation is a social networking activity 

Everyone wants to be one of the cool kids in the “In(novation) Crowd”. Don’t you?

When is the best time to ask your team for ideas?

It's a little like teaching your Mother to use email: How to get older users to collaborate!

Keep Your Ideas Fresh! Adoption & Engagement in Collaborative Systems


About the Author

Ron Shulkin blogs researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on social media, innovation, voice of the customer, marketing automation and enterprise feedback management.  Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation ecosystem.  CogniStreamer serves as a Knowledge Management System, Idea Management System and Social Network for Innovation.  You can learn more about CogniStreamer here .  Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (Join Here). You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group.  You can connect with Ron on LinkedIn.

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