Ideas social networks. Taking the brakes off innovation
Five years ago already (an eternity in this sector), when we began our activity, we had to evangelize the management of some companies when they heard us speak of management concepts and paradigms as bizarre as “wikinomics” or “open innovation”. These are paradigms that have made it possible for teams of volunteers, who do not even know one another, to develop something as complex as an operating system equal to Windows (Linux) or a database (MySQL) capable of competing with Oracle. We would speak of Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, who tried to explain these mechanisms in their book Wikinomics and of professors like Chresbrough, who coined the term.
Today, we are pleased to observe that most companies we visit have an innovation department, where they are already familiar with at least the theory behind the pillars of wikinomics and open innovation. The people in charge of these departments are very familiar with these “referential” books. In theory.
In theory, our potential clients know that these paradigms are about openness, interaction between equals, a sharing philosophy and global action. And that one of the tools that can bring about this new way of working is precisely an ideas network (ideagora). And that is why they turn to us.
But, as a quote goes (I can’t remember who said it) that I always repeat:
“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is”
The fact is, the word “openness” still inspires fear.
In an ideas network, based on open innovation and the principles of wikinomics, there is space for multiple actors: our clients-prosumers; our employees, who are prosumers of our processes and the source of our products and services;our partners and suppliers and, lastly, also our competitors.
Yes, our competitors. No need to be afraid, let’s simply try to see things as a positive opportunity, being capable ofchangingour minds and maintaining ourselves exposed to as many sources of information as possible. We need to be sharing instead of reinventing the wheel. In practice, if we give more, we’ll end up receiving more. We’ll find our competitive advantage, specializing in whatever it is we do best. But, in everything other than that advantage, let us share, positioning ourselves as a reference and lead a revolution that will take place anyway, with or without us. Let’s make the most of it. Let’s trade with our internal knowledge. It may well be that our competitors can take advantage of something we don’t know how to use, and vice versa.
Let us not forget that there is more talent outside our company than within it. If we become a reference, talent will come to us.
But “openness” is not the only term that makes us nervous. Another concept that sends shivers down spines is “democratization”.
At ideas4all, we have also learnt that democratization is essential in intra-corporate ideas networks (in another entry, I will soon speak of the fears provoked by democratization in extra-corporate ideas networks). As Suroviecky pointed out, the crowd is not always wise. Certain conditions must be in place such as diversity and independence (we must create groups that go beyond hierarchy). If everyone has access to other people’s ideas, true synergy can take place, which manifests itself in the following ways:
- Inspiration: through the ideas of others.
- Self-training in the community: participants enter an enriching debate and point out weak and strong points in the proposals advanced by others.
- A bad idea can become a good one: sometimes an idea is unfeasible or unprofitable because of an obstacle that another person in the network has found a way to overcome.
- Talent detection: it is normal for talent to be concealed behind an assigned role (or a middle management position). Through democratic participation, talent cannot remain in hiding.
- Extended vision: A good idea, locally, can be a bad idea globally. When ideas are public and are put forward for discussion, it is the community who extends partial visions.
- Employee motivation: they know someone is listening, someone who understands the reasons behind certain issues, because they have a global vision of the “machinery”, of which comments left by colleagues make up a “cog in the wheel”.
- Detecting problematic situations: sometimes we aren’t given a solution, perhaps not even a good idea, but we may detect apossible improvement.
- More value with fewer resources: the community develops a degree of self-management; managing communication requires far less work than with obscure systems.
- Aborting an innovative idea is not free: an idea that has been recognized as good by the community cannot be aborted by someone in middle management, or by ourselves, without paying a price. If the idea is good, we will put it into practice. Otherwise, it may be a good idea for others, but not for us (in which case, why not trade it?). If we are transparent, the reasons will be understood (even if they are merely implementation issues).
These are a few brushstrokes of what we ourselves have witnessed. Sometimes, innovation flows and what we need to learn is to take off the brakes.
Lastly, a piece of advice: technology is there to help. Let’s use it, but don’t let it become an end in itself, much less a problem. Don’t get lost in the detail of a function inside a social network. Focus on the creativity of people.
Fernando J. Echevarrieta