Image via WikipediaThere isn’t a CEO alive who doesn’t think more innovation is a good thing and something that their organization needs more of it. The problem is, no one’s really sure how to maximize it in a cost effective manner.
We all have vague notions of where it comes from and there is no shortage of research on this very topic. I’ve spent the last several years combing through the books and research and in a very general way I’d like to summarize what I think most of them are saying.
Increase creative interactions. The general consensus also seems to be that outside influences create better innovation than influences we are already well aware of.
Unlike my previous two capitalism metaphors innovation is not actually the capital. Innovation is the product that is purchased with the capital. The capital is creative interactions.
What do I mean by creative interactions? I believe it is the interactions that people have that pull them out of their current line of thinking and expose them to new possibilities. This can be interactions with people from other groups within the same company. It can be interactions with customers or employees at partnering businesses. It can also be (and more frequently is) interactions with new content.
Web 2.0 technologies enable all of these to happen more frequently and more rapidly.
Social networks like Facebook, allow people to interact with a variety of people they know on varying levels of familiarity. Twitter allows people to be exposed to conversations and often links to valuable content at a dizzying pace.Â RSS and RSS aggregators allow people to subscribe to multiple magazines worth of content a day. Internal blogs and wiki’s allow people to explore what other groups and people are doing and how to learn from their mistakes and innovations. There are even a growing number of tools that enable co-innovation with customers.
Unfortunately, of the three areas I’ve talked about so far measuring the ROI of innovation investments is by far the most difficult. Coupled with the difficulty of measuring the value of creative interactions is the fear that many managers have that employees are just wasting time.
I sympathize with companies and the fear of unproductiveness, social media can be a huge time suck if you let it. But I also believe that the more dependant you are on a person to be innovative in their job, the more you have to trust them to manage their own time and the more of it you have to let them “waste”.
There is another argument for the ROI of social media and like most of my financial arguments, that I’ll get into in more detail later, is that of total cost, or Return On Total Investment (ROTI).
The simple answer to ROTI is that Web 2.0 *can be* cheap, even free.
You can deploy an open source tool or sign up for a social network for no increased cost and decide if it works without ever having to go through procurement (that in itself will speed up innovation at an exponential rate).
Web 2.0 tools and social media allows individuals to fail often and fail fast while others are deciding if something is a good idea. It also allows them to succeed where others have decided to abandon an idea because of uncertainty.
Creating more creative interactions will create more innovation. Nothing I’ve ever seen will create more creative interactions than social media. But like all innovation the value will never be realized unless their is a process in place to feed that innovation into action. This requires that all people involved in the process are familiar and comfortable with the new tools that exist.
The companies that will succeed tomorrow are the ones that enable interactions, create a process for tracking, vetting and realizing the innovations and then feed those learning’s back into the organization.
This post is part of my ongoing effort to blog the book I’ve been working on for too long before the end of the year. These are all rough first drafts that have not been edited or even proofread. Comments and patients are requested. You can follow the whole series through the category The Book