Open Innovation From A Practitioner's Perspective


Engagement In Innovation Networks

(The following post is an excerpt from a Global Innovation 50-page report I wrote for the University of San Francisco. It focuses on  engagement in social networks, but I believe that these same exact principles apply when building innovation networks).

Before any company attempts to leverage an existing network (or create a new one), they must understand the various levels of engagement found in online networks.  This is important knowledge that will help a company develop the right tactics to get the most out of a network strategy.  When launching a new network (internal or external) opportunities for participation should be focused and maximized.  By understanding that there is more than one way to participate (and contribute) in these networks, an appropriate strategy that utilizes all levels of contribution can be implemented.  In addition, it is important to select platforms and tools that are designed to make it easy for people to understand what is being asked of them.  Simplicity and clarity are key to entry participation at any level.  Too often companies will shut down what they consider to be an unproductive network without setting appropriate goals for engagement and contribution from the network participants at all levels.[1]

These levels of participation are often described as a ladder of contribution (Forrester) or a pyramid of participation (Altimeter Group) as illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 below.  Both models describe the various steps and stages of participation.  It is important to recognize that valuable contributions take place at every level of the ladder or pyramid.  Too often in social networks, organizations focus on the very top level of contribution.  But because these kinds of contributors represent a small percentage of the overall number of participants, many social networks are prematurely deemed failures because the majority of participants did not edit a Wiki, publish a blog, or write an article.  Regardless of whether it’s a ladder or a pyramid, the percentage of users who actually create this kind of content is smaller than anyone thinks.  Take this example:  using the engagement pyramid to assess Wikipedia, less than 1% of the user community is considered active contributors. The actual ratio is 85,000 (out of over 11 million registered users) who create content.[2]  Even with this tiny group of active contributors, Wikipedia remains an explosive example of an open innovation community.

In addition to nurturing participation at all levels, the other lesson here is that companies need to understand how their target audience wants to interact with social media.  It is important to consider that the media your audience interacts with also determines their level of engagement.  Some people may be active readers and may occasionally comment on what they read while others prefer to upload videos on video sharing sites (e.g. YouTube) or pictures on photo sharing sites (such as Flickr).  While value can be derived from all of these forms of engagement, it is important to understand who is in the community and what their social media interests are before assessing the “success” of the levels of network engagement.

   Figure 1.  Forrester Ladder of Engagement

              Figure 2.  Engagement Pyramid in Social Networks

[1] Most companies tend to focus only on one level of contribution, such as a blog post or wiki entry.


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What Went Wrong With The Crowdsourced Ideas For BP Oil Spill?

BP has received a lot of criticism for failing to respond adequately (or in a timely manner) to the thousands of ideas that it received, both solicited and unsolicited. If they (BP) would have followed a few key elements of open innovation and crowdsourcing, perhaps this would have had a better result. As of this post, I am aware that BP is currently reviewing the submissions and hopefully they’ll glean something of value to prevent future disasters of this scale.

Where did they go wrong?

1) Asking the Question: Trying to present a single solution that addressed all of the challenges facing BP is like trying to cure cancer with one experiment. What BP should have done is break the challenge down into various key categories (containment, recovery, clean up, etc) and posed a series of requests in each category. That would have directed the crowd to focus on one area or another.

2) Collaboration: To my knowledge, both the solicited and unsolicited ideas were brought forward by individuals and/or companies, with no ability to see each others ideas and build or improve them. A more collaborative process would have gone a long way to improve the quality of ideas and perhaps even reduce the total number of ideas (since people would find other ideas to build on before entering their own).

3) Filters: clearly with this number of ideas you need filters. Again, with a truly crowdsourced and collaborative process the crowd can act as a filter. Not sure how BP is filtering / analyzing the ideas submitted but I’m pretty sure that at this point the crowd isn’t involved.

Perhaps one thing they did achieve (not by design, I might add) was diversity. It looked like they were getting ideas from all over the world and from a diverse group of participants. What a wasted opportunity.

Lastly, perhaps there is a chance for BP to open up these submissions to the global community and see if they can salvage some ideas to prevent this from happening again in the future. I’m sure there are a few diamonds in that pile of information.

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Getting to the Right Question

(I posted this originally in the Clorox Open Innovation Site). As companies prepare themselves to enter this new world of open innovation and bringing in the best ideas from the outside, they need to become proficient in several new skills (at the company level and the individual level). Let’s start with individual skills, two of which I’ll highlight here. The first is developing the ability to properly frame questions. Individuals need to remove all unnecessary jargon, acronyms, application(s) of the technology, in order to provide a diverse group of solution providers the ability to solve the problem. Many times I have seen people rush directly to problem-solving mode without pausing for a minute to think about what question they are trying to answer.

The second key skill set for individual contributors to develop is perhaps more difficult to achieve, and that is the shift from being a problem solver to a solution finder. We were trained and rewarded on the basis of our ability to solve problems. In the new open innovation paradigm, your value should be determined equally between your ability to solve a problem yourself and/or your ability to find the solution.

And, of course, the better you become at framing the question the easier it is to find the solution in an open innovation environment!

Two points I left out intentionally (which I will address in future posts): how can/should companies re-work their reward/recognition programs to encourage these new skills and how will these new skills help/hurt in managing confidentiality/IP?

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Google’s Project 10 to the 100

All in all, I think it’s a good idea. They presented a very simple framework for what they are looking for and how to submit your idea. I’m a little worried about how the finalists are chosen (why not open it up to the general public to vote?), and it’s not clear at all what they will do with the idea (other than fund it). Maybe they could take an approach similar to the Vine Project (which I talk about in a earlier blog) and open up the finalists to a round of open submissions where there’s another open call for people to contribute ideas to help those finalists reach the next round. The other interesting thing is that this project is not about a specific challenge (such as the Lunar X-Prize) but rather a call to identify those problems (and solutions) that can change the world.

I submitted an idea to the project website.

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“It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” – Clay Shirky

I came across this very interesting blog on Web 2.0 and scientists. It deals with how to get scientists to participate in social media, Web 2.0 sites, etc. They  are a quirky bunch, to say the least. In my InnoCentive experience, three things matter:

* reward

* recognition

* real world challenges

Here’s the link to the original blog (written by Timo Hannay, Nature Publishing Group).

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