Using the theory behind existing technologies to change the way organizations manage innovation.
Organizations are constantly struggling to maximize innovation; to achieve this they typically focus their efforts on innovators. How can innovators be more productive? How can they be more innovative? What can we, as an organization, do to help them innovate?
But how can organizations expect to radically change the quantity and quality of innovation without radically changing the techniques used to inspire it? Without a change in organizational methods for managing innovation, there is a glass ceiling on innovation we are unlikely to surpass.
By absorbing three key lessons from elements of social media and crowdsourcing initiatives we can leverage this information to break the glass ceiling. Innovation would no longer be limited by a lack of ideas; rather, it would be limited solely by an organization’s capabilities for product development and manufacturing.
Social media campaigns have the potential to be hugely impactful for organizations. One reason for this potential is that customer input increases a feeling of community with an organization. Instead of viewing an organization as “them,” customers begin to view themselves as part of that community, changing their viewpoint from “them” to “us” and “we.”
Social media avenues such as Twitter and Facebook not only give the customer a voice, but also allow that voice to be heard by the organization. The companies most successful at leveraging social media seem to be those that are best at channeling these voices into a give and take conversation.
Key Lesson: Create a conversation between the end-user and the organization
Crowdsourcing is a great way to maximize innovation and creativity. For instance, the website Kickstarter follows a model where projects are proposed and then funded via crowdsourcing. Backers are rewarded in various ways, depending on the project and the level of funding offered. Crowdsourcing initiatives such as Kickstarter allow a way for backers to easily find creative ideas they would like to support and eventually, with enough backing, those ideas will be realized. By allowing a forum for projects and backers to connect, Kickstarter is able to produce projects much more creative than your typical business plan.
Key Lesson: Create a forum where the general public (a.k.a. the customer) can propose innovative ideas and connect with the appropriate backers.
Facebook has developed an ingenious method of allowing people to express their support for something. One simple click of the mouse over that thumbs up icon and the user’s support, or “like”ing, for a concept is noted.
Key Lesson: Provide the general public with a way to express support.
Organizations are beginning to understand the importance of these ideas, but in very segmented ways. They set up Facebook and Twitter accounts both to create a conversation between the end-user and the organization and to provide the general public with a way to express support.
Seperately from those concepts, organizations also understand the benefits of having a collaborative forum where innovative ideas can be proposed. Where organizations typically falter is in tying these ideas together. Organizations that have collaborative forums where ideas can be proposed typically make those forums available in-house. This is a clear deviation from the crowdsourcing model.
Instead, what if within organizations a technology platform existed where the public or customers could both propose ideas, and express their support for those ideas? After all, who knows more about what they would like to see on the market than the customer?
I have certainly had moments when I thought, “I wish they would invent this.” In most things, however, I recognize that I do not have the expertise to actually create that invention. Nor do I have the time or energy to find the people who do. Now, imagine what could happen if these ideas were able to reach the experts who could make them a reality.
I propose using a public forum to inspire innovation. Much like a crowdsourcing website, a customer could post a more or less innovative idea. The public could then express their support for that idea, thereby rewarding (theoretically) the most innovative, useful ideas.
Ideas accumulating the most public support could then be slated for development and, perhaps eventually, production. If produced, the innovator would of course be compensated in some way.
By, (1), creating a conversation between the end-user and the organization, (2) creating a forum where the customer can propose ideas and connect with the appropriate experts/backers, and (3), providing the general public with a way to express support, we can create a public forum that will maximize an organization’s capability for innovation.
By focusing on interacting with customers, an open forum for innovation would develop and/or strengthen the relationship between organizations and their customers. I would expect this stronger relationship to create a greater feeling of involvement for customers.
From an organizational perspective, creating such a forum would require a large investment in terms of seeing both social media and an open forum for innovation as tactical players in an organization’s strategy. This might require a major change in both actions and attitudes on the part of the organization.
Finally, there are two natural outcomes of such a hack. First, through the diversity of backgrounds and ideas available in a public forum, an increase in innovative ideas should be realized. Secondly, by only selecting for production the innovations with the greatest degree of public support, issues with new product ‘flops’ should be minimized. After all, customers expressed support for the innovation in the pre-development phase; they already bought in.
This hack would be most beneficial in conjunction with a social media campaign. First steps, therefore, would be to:
- Develop a social media campaign, if one does not already exist.
- Have a web developer set up a crowdsourcing-style forum and connect it to the corporate website.
- Allocate the resources, and hire the people, to run and maintain such a forum. If there are not already employees responsible for running a social media campaign, those should be hired. Additionally, any forum such as this would need, at the very least, one dedicated referee whose job it would be to monitor content posted.
- Get the word out! Publicity, publicity, publicity.
If an organization wanted to test this idea in a small-scale setting, they could set up the forum and use a ‘soft opening’ so to speak. Perhaps pre-releasing to small communities of customers, college students, etc. This might give an organization a better feel for exactly the type of innovation that would come out of these communities.