The capacity to Innovate is a strategic asset to any organisation. The rate of technological evolution, the power of increasingly unpredictable consumers and aggressive competition from unexpected new players in the field have companies frantically looking for the next big thing. Tapping into new sources to foster that illusive concept of innovation is important. However, more and more companies are starting to recognise the potential of tapping into their communities of customers, employees and partners as such a source.
Listening to communities around you is, if done right, an excellent source of information and innovation. It is also a strategy that is as old as the concept of doing business itself. The only difference being that the communities have increased in size and the sell-by-date of yesterday’s gossip really is yesterday. One way to quickly tap into that collective genius of communities, capture excellent ideas, and grow them for success is to foster bottom-up innovation within or even beyond organizational boundaries with Social Innovation Platforms. In such a platform stakeholders (employees, partners, clients, etc) contribute and collaborate around ideas, present those ideas to an enabled committee (preferably a P&L holding body of experts) request budget, sponsorship, time or goodwill to further their idea. This process scan be facilitated by tooling and communities or, at its bare minimum, via a “dragon’s den”-like set-up. Key here is “social” and the hypothesis is that collaboration, inherently social, is one of the prerequisites for innovation (Franke & Shah, 2003).
As with any open and social community “motivation to participate is key”. As such the success or failure of an attempt at crowd-sourced innovation lies with the organisation’s ability to motivate such participation. Capgemini research shows that the intention to share and to a lesser extent the entrepreneurial mindset of employees (described as the proactive attitude to recognize and act on opportunities to innovate) are excellent indicators of “motivation to participate”. This coincides with McAfee’s (2006) thoughts that the reward of collaboration through communities is one of the reasons that motivates people to share.
The statement I’d like to make here is that engaging communities for innovation goes beyond merely implementing a technological platform for collaboration and waiting for participation. Insight into the motivations of employees to participate in innovation platforms can be translated into recommendations for success. A such we can claim that motivating innovation communities requires attention to the following triangle of success or basic elements of a conducive culture:
1. Mandate of an innovation board (organisational buy-in);
By coupling benefits (intrinsic as well as extrinsic) to participation enjoyment and thus the intention to share as well as entrepreneurship can be stimulated. This show of intent requires mandate of en empowered (P&L holding) body.
2. Communication of intention, progress and success;
Communication entices participation by displaying intent as well as result and benefits derived from participation. This again fosters entrepreneurship as well as the intention to share.
3. Facilitation of the process from ideation to launch.
Ease of participation and a motivating as well as facilitating organisational climate influence intention to participate. This is closely related to choices made in the actual implementation and technological foundation of the innovation platform.
The results of this research are no rocket-science, nor do they represent shocking new discoveries. they do however once again stipulate the explicit need for a thorough focus on the cultural, organizational and communication aspects as the real determinants of success on top of the actual implementation of the platform itself.
Special thanks to Lucas Baarspul for his patience and excellent research produced whilst dealing with the "at times" difficult customer we were.
Research referenced to in this article:
Employees’ motivation to participate in an innovation platform within an organization, Lucas Baarspul, 2009. Research by the Vrije universiteit Amsterdam for Capgemini Netherlands b.v.
Niels van der Zeyst is a Business Technologist at Capgemini. You can follow Niels on Twitter http://twitter.com/zeyst or contact him directly via email@example.com.
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