Wired Magazine's recently issue talks about radical transparency as a new trend in the industry. However, I think this is more of a buzzword-rallying-piece rather than more well-known customer-driven innovation business concept. Industry congnoscenti, Patricia Seybold aptly describes some of the goals, issues and processes involved in her book last year Outside Innovation (see my book list). I stil have to find time to finish reading the last chapters of it but I think it does a great job presenting the topic in a more useful manner.
Community and social computing
with Tags: innovation X
After about 4-5 hours of sleep the previous night, I was still in reasonable shape to do my presentation at the 3rd Developer Relations Conference hosted by Evans Data Corp. This is a gathering of the folks who run developer programs at different technology companies, with speakers from Sun, Nokia, BEA Systems, Eclipse, Motorola, Yahoo!, HP Software, Intel, Borland, AMD, and many more (and of course ourselves from IBM). It seems an anachronism to have an event where all these companies that are competing for many of the same developers to share knowledge but I think it opens minds and views all the same.
My presentation was Extending your developer network with Web 2.0 communities, discussing what you need to know about communities to pick the right kind of Web 2.0 tools for yours. For all the organizations that may go headlong into setting up blogs, wikis, etc., and even multiple competing instances, without really understanding the communities they are trying to create, I hope this talk gives provides some food for thought. (The powerpoint works best in slideshow mode: F5).
I attended a few of the other sessions but the one I found refreshing was Chad Dickerson's talk about Hack Day at Yahoo! Chad's a Sr Director at Yahoo and responsible for organizing the internal Hack Days, and more importantly, the external Hack Day last June. I had missed this event entirely (busy with my then-8-month pregnant wife). They essentially opened up the Yahoo campus to 400 developers from all over who agreed to come and spend 24 hours developing new projects and mashups using Yahoo's many APIs. The format was what intrigued me:
I came across two interested reads in the last two days well worth thetime. The first is the cover story on Newsweek magazine ("Putting the 'We' in Web") titled The New Wisdom of the Web. Ittalks about the new trend on the Web towards user-generated content asa way to drive more interaction on the Web, and to let your users leadand drive your communities.
The other interesting article is in BusinessWeek (requires registration) Innovation: The View from the Top,which is an interview with our own CEO, Sam Palmisano, on a recentsurvey about where the areas for innovation lie. Sam talks aboutbusiness-model innovation as the source to look for to gain acompetitive edge. In comparison in this day and age, many competitorscan catch up on product-level innovation.
Continuing my thread on knowledge workers, and how to get them to share their knowledge...
Davenport indicates that knowledge workers value their knowledge skills, but often do not share it easily.
The former part indicates that knowledge workers are proud of the ideas and knowledge they produce, and of the fact that they were able to come up with it. They see value in them. Therefore, one idea to increase productivity of knowledge workers is to give visibility or accolade to their ideas.
Unfortunately, the latter part is oh so true: if a knowledge worker does not feel secure in their environment or community, they are unlikely to share it, especially if it means that by sharing that knowledge, they may even be helping someone else take over their job.
Im an optimist in this area, and with the rise of open source and a more open worldwide environment (especially in our industry), we may be able to trust others enough to break down this barrier.
Take a look at this earlier post on a sort of universal meme about communities. This suggests that to get towards innovative ideas, you need to progress your community of people from the earliest stages of first getting them to interact to create a level of understanding and familiarity between the people in the organization. With a level of understanding you then have a platform that allows people to build trust between the community-members, and with that trust, some can explore and experiment on ideas and thereby develop a greater entrepreneurial spirit. Finally, once you get that level of mentality, you can finally succeed in innovation through your community.
Obviously, with Davenports statement, the sharing of knowledge lies in the very first few stages. If you cant get people to trust each other--even in a contained environment--you wont get knowledge sharing in action.
If you have a strongly-connected employee base, you have developed that level of trust or at least a level of understanding amongst the people in your organization. You still need to encourage others to experiment, as in our Think Fridays in IBM. For a small organization it is easier to distribute new ideas, but to achieve knowledge sharing of those ideas in anything beyond a few hundred people, you really need to consider a common tool to collect, rank, sort and share all those ideas.
That kind of tool is exactly what we have in IBM right now in the form of our ThinkPlace tool and system. The IBM Innovation team offers this tool whereby any of the 300,000+ people in IBM could share their ideas; these ideas are then sorted or ranked by popularity (by software and also by hand). Not only does this do great justice to enabling knowledge workers in our organization but it is also leading a lot of our own innovation, not just for new product ideas, but also for company-internal improvement.
In its simplest form, it is a sort of open discussion group with many threads that anyone can start up around their idea. This is more than a 21st century version of the old "Suggestions Box" found in many companies yesteryear which was a closed box only viewed and analyzed and action taken on by management.
Thinkplace is a more open process whereby your peers can look over the ideas and weigh in on its merits, rather than someone in management dealing out commandments. In fact, it is also a way for employees in other divisions to mine this idea database for things that might relate to their work. The managers from the Innovation team, in this respect do exactly as their titles suggest: they manage the flow of this output in useful channels to find the best ideas.
We have ThinkPlace in operation already, but now consider the next step towards integrating community.
As I mentioned in a previous post, you can use your blog to implement free-thinking time (e.g., Think Fridays in IBM), since many bloggers use this tool to share their ideas and knowledge. This certainly provides a useful business case to retaining and supporting knowledge workers.
Now consider how to export some of those ideas from your own blog into a community tool like ThinkPlace. Each blog post which is specifically is an idea should probably be tagged and then "pushed" (through software preferrably, or via manual copy) to the ideas database.
The reason to do this is because blogs are part of the new Web 2.0 mentality of a model of participation. In other words, people who are bloggers are starting to embrace a more open and willing stance on sharing their knowledge.
An experienced blogger is used to the idea of posting to their blog on a regular basis. All we are talking about here is categorizing particular posts and make it easier to export that into a public space like the ThinkPlace tool. This reduces the tool-usage time to transfer knowledge into a tool where that can be considered by a wider audience. In fact, for bloggers thats also a good thing: more exposure to your ideas on your blog, and possibly even showing some real outcome of your ideas.
Thus, the knowledge workers can create their ideas and contribute for a mass audience to consider and analyze; the organization behind that audience can create an idea pool that is self-defining and self-directed to produce new innovations; and both the members and the organization can benefit from discovering and implementing these innovations.
For the knowledge worker, this suggests not only building a regular practice for participating in communities but also offers a reward mechanism in seeing some of their ideas appreciated and maybe even implemented by the overall organization.
So, unless you think you dont really need innovation out of your organization, this suggests a useful business case for different kinds of community tools, for the growth of the organization as well as the happiness of your knowledge workers. And, oh by the way, in doing this, youve just created a knowledge sharing and capturing process.
On the last two points that Davenport made in his book: to get commitment from a knowledge worker, it is important give freedom to experiment and work on ideas rather than to always dictate or direct them to work on specific things. Also, just as it is difficult to describe the job, it is also often hard to describe the knowledge output; for that matter, knowledge workers may not even seemto be in their best interest to share their knowledge.
The concern is that if you do not provide the correct supportive environment for your knowledge worker, they are quite likely to move to another organization that does (i.e., jump ship to a potential competitor who does offer the right environment).
This has direct relevance to a number of activities in IBM. For one, we now have Think Fridays. Basically, Fridays of every week should be freed up so that you have some peace of mind to consider, experiment, or talk about new ideas. Each person should apply that to their job as they see fit. I hear that 3M has something similar in that engineers should put aside 15% of their time to this kind of free-thinking.
For me, this tends to free up my regular weekday packed with phone calls with different groups, and sit back and think of the issues and changes to our project, or new ideas that have emerged. Others in our division use this time to experiment with new technology. C.J. and Peter on our team have even extended this to Think Friday-Build Saturday-Test Sunday, which I agree is certainly going beyond the call of duty, and very applaudable.
Now, consider Think Fridays on a different level across all IBMers. In particular, think of what people do in blogs and different community areas: discuss, digest, or produce new ideas. In fact, if youre an avid bloggers, you probably have Think-Mondays, Think-Tuesdays, etc., but in less than a full days time. Thus by blogging, as a knowledge worker, you are very likely and effectively using that free-thinking time.
So my advice to bloggers in IBM (and even beyond): Consider using a portion of your Friday to blog, because by blogging you are in effect implementing the spirit of Think Fridays.
Obviously, not all the ideas that you have are something you would want to discuss on a public blog. In that light, for IBMers we have an global intranet system called BlogCentral, which is a safe environment to discuss ideas with other IBMers. This quickly points to the necessity of having a blog system not just for an external audience but also one for a company-internal audience. Therefore, for knowledge workers within an organization, it is important to have an organization-wide blogging platform.
So for those looking for a business case for why you need a blogging system inside an organization, this is one good example. Blogs allow an expression of Think Fridays (or your organizations equivalent) which many companies think is an important aspect of encouraging, supporting and keeping happy their knowledge workers. I would generalize that to any number of other community tools, not just blogs.
Laptops are the ubiquitous tool of Networked Man. It's also how you identify them in the wild.
I'm a very heavy laptop user. I take it with me almost every day when I leave the house. Hence, I need something that won't drag me down in terms of weight. I've been using one kind of Thinkpad or another for years, honestly, because this is what they provide me at work. It seems to do the job well and isn't too heavy (current one is about 5 lbs).
On the other hand,I really like the idea of convertible notebooks or Tablet PCs where you can flip the screen over
and lay it flat on the keyboard and then write on it. IBM's PC division (before Lenovo) had one for a brief time together with a notepad, but that went away. In fact most Tablet PCs were similar size (12" screens), which was a little too small for me.
The one I see out there now is Gateway's 14" widescreen version. However, they haven't made a good docking station for it, just a port replicator.
I'd like to a tablet PC with a docking station you can just plug into vertically to turn the unit into a sort of
all-in-one monitor-PC. There'd be a keyboard, mouse and cabling connected to the dock of course. But the core idea would be to have a dock that works like an adjustable monitor base (turning it, raising it, etc.)
When you're on the go, you could simply suspend, unlock and lift it off and put it into a locking hard case/shell rather than having to strap into a laptop bag.
Honestly, the five minutes it takes for me to hibernate my computer, undocking, and pack it; then do the reverse when at my location turns out to be about an hour a week I've lost. That's 40-50 hours a year; i.e., a whole week of work.
I'm not sure if you've seen this meme but I've come across it in several books both about online and offline communities:
Interactions in communities -->
Creates Understanding --------->
Develops Trust ----------------->
Allows Exploration & Entreprenuership ->
Sets stage for Innovation
The most recent place I saw this meme again, in a slightly varied form was near the last chapters of The World is Flat (ok, maybe I make references to this too often these days :)
Now these are "grand" notions that often follow in a sequence like this above. You need to have one stage happening before you can really reach the next stage. Thus you don't really jump ahead and ask "How do we innovate?" but need to ask "What are we doing to set up an environment such that innovation can happen?"
It's important to realize that the arrows in the diagram above are not trivial. In other words, when you have one stage, you need to do something to progress it to the next stage. That something could take a whole lot of effort. But in terms of managed innovation, it gives points where you can measure how your population is doing and how you can recognize if you've reach that stage.
There are many books out there describing how to innovate and get others to innovate, and I certainly have not read nearly enough of them. I still wonder if some of them consider going through that meme sequence above.
The somethings are also where the opportunities lie. Many innovation and leadership management trends have come and gone, and still many exist in parallel. I'm no certified expert at it and there are likely some really good sources out there too. (Okay, maybe people like Steven Covey)
Right now, I'm just trying to develop an idea for the early stages of this meme, those focused on the developing the community. Hopefully more smart people will come along to explain what to do next.
We just ended our weeklong meeting with the infrastructure, applications and design teams of our developerWorks. We have them once or twice a year bringing all the members of our distributed organization into a single physical location to talk about their projects, brainstorm, and engage each other in coordinating efforts.
This is our own internal community of developers and designers that help maintain and improve the extensive network of sites that is developerWorks, supporting over 5 million members, dozens of acclaimed topics, and many sites for other countries (locales). We call this collective "Scott McAllister's team" refering to the multiple teams and managers that report up to Scott. The event is our own Geek Week.
We have a whole other team of folks who do the great work behind creating our content on the many sites. That team is meeting at the end of February.
For my part, I talked extensively about our planned Community strategy, and the involvement of these teams. The plan is a holistic look at the evolution of communities, predicting what the next stage of evolution is, what that means to us in terms of future opportunities, what we should build, and even the next stages of what we could do.
Needless to say, Web 2.0 played a large part, but rather than in bits and pieces, I mapped out the overall solution that brings Web 2.0 to our whole site. I'd like to tell you the plan, but it's a secret. ;)
I can say that I get a number of people coming up to me and saying they really liked the presentation (gives me warm fuzzies :), some also wanted to know how they could get involved.
What I should say is that I had to consider what projects and experiments we were already considering and how it might relate to this plan. There are many smart people in our organization and many ways to interpret ideas. My strategy (behind the strategy) is to consider the many ideas and see if we can make good use of it in the overall plan. I like to be inclusive wherever possible.
That's actually much harder than it seems. For one, while we have a such a structure, we are not a strongly hierarchical organization (i.e., siloed) and have many cross-teams across the functional teams. This is not an unusual situation for many companies these days. One person may have different roles in several teams, so part of the time I'm trying to consider which role I'm talking to. We are also distributed across at least six different states in the US (not including the international teams), that makes it hard to just get appropriate time with people.
It's events like this week that greatly reinforce the "wholeness" of the team, as well as help spread ideas. It is a great offline community that most of our readers never hear about. It's when people connect that innovations--small or large--happen.