Collaborative Innovation Optimization

{I wrote this for a term-paper - so, please excuse me for the pedantic tone.}
The growth of internet and increasing usage of social web for sharing knowledge has completely changed the way people view the role of collaboration in business and life. Of late collaborative culture has also started playing a pivotal role in innovation. Online collaborative tools have not only empowered internal resources of a company to collaborate more efficiently but also made it possible for companies to harness the creativity of outside world for innovation.

To utilize the power of collaborative innovation, many firms have implemented internal and external online collaborative networks without understanding how these initiatives align with their business goals. The key is to understand that different kinds of collaboration models suit different needs. Two important aspects of a collaborative network are governance and participation. Governance can be hierarchical (H) or flat (F) and participation can be open (O) or closed (C).  A 4-model collaborative innovation framework proposed by Pisano and Verganti in an HBR article (link1) can be very helpful for firms looking for guidance in this area. A firm can use this framework to identify suitable collaboration channels that align with its business objectives. Depending on a firm’s expertise in knowledge domain, ability to pick up experts, willingness to share intellectual property etc., one of the four models from the framework can be applied. The 4 models are – Elite circle (H+C), Innovation Mall (H+O), Innovation Community (F+O) and Consortium (F+C).

One of these models, Innovation Community is especially interesting. It represents open-flat network where anybody can propose problems, offer solutions and decide which solutions to use. This is the model that gives the maximum power and freedom to firms in harnessing ideas from anywhere in the world. However, because of its free-for-all structure, it has the potential to generate massive volume of data and is expensive to manage. It’ll be more difficult to extract useful ideas from innovation communities in near future when the amount of data on internet starts doubling every 72 hours (link2). This trend has far reaching implications on the future of collaborative innovation since the data generated by collaborative web will constitute a large part of this massive volume of data. One of the implications is the emergence of content curators (link3), who expertise in facilitating collaborative innovation.

Looking at BIG’s (Big Idea Group) business model in this light, we see that BIG, in some ways, is actually a content curator for collaborative innovation. It curates data from people who have ideas to share but do not have skills to make their ideas presentable and maybe do not know how to connect with firms that might find commercial value for their ideas. It’s not that the firms looking for ideas are not available on collaborative web to network with individuals. It’s just that removing noise and getting to valuable innovative ideas on collaborative web is itself a difficult task. BIG has positioned itself as an expert in this field. The expertise to extract innovative ideas from tetrabytes of data is an industry in itself and BIG is uniquely positioned in this space. Additionally, BIG’s 6 step process of taking an idea from its draft version to concept selling involves collaboration with idea owner at each step - perfect collaborative innovation in action.

I think one of the most challenging tasks in making collaborative innovation successful is finding creative ways of attracting and motivating right set of participants. We need to evolve a set of guidelines for “Collaborative Innovation Optimization” something on the lines of “Social Media Optimization” (link4 - Rohit Bhargava’s blog). Taking a cue from Rohit’s guidelines for SMO, a few items for CIO could be:
  1. Provide mechanism for different levels of collaboration (for instance people who do not have time for writing elaborate blogs do participate on micro-blogging and tagging sites; collaborative innovation networks can benefit from similar approach)
  2. Evolve structure as the network grows. (It makes sense to have an open-flat innovation community initially to generate traction but this same strategy could be detrimental in retaining experts when the community grows. Network should adapt as the volume grows)
  3. Get communities connected (make it easy for participants to leverage their contents across different innovation communities and help them build their individual microbrands)

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