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The innovation process should be hardwired into social media and digital communication channels, allowing companies to leverage the insights held within employee, consumer and third-party networks.
It’s difficult to recall, but there was a time in the not too distant past when communication moved at a near-glacial pace. Enter the Digital Age. Freed from the shackles of paper and post, transferring information became instant, transparent and global. And the consumer, once accessible only through focus groups or research, was laid bare by YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and a host of other online meeting places. Even though communication has changed radically, many companies have failed to harness the unfettered flow of insight now available. And innovation—a driving force in this open, fast-paced marketplace—remains siloed within research and development (R&D) functions.
Instead the innovation process should be hardwired into social media and digital communication channels, allowing companies to leverage employee, consumer and third-party networks and the insights held within each. It’s something we call, “enterprise social innovation.” By establishing an open environment that welcomes ideas, collaboration, contribution and evaluation, firms can engage their key stakeholders as active participants in the innovation process; exploding the range of possible ideas, reducing development lead times, and maximizing market impact. In short, enterprise social innovation can help deliver scale and predictability to the innovation process.
How does enterprise social innovation work? Let’s look at traditional methods first. A dedicated team (usually comprising a dozen or fewer people) conducts market assessments, spotting opportunities for innovation. They then cycle through iterations of “safe” strategies to pursue—all without external (i.e. customer) input.
Through enterprise social innovation, the process gets turned on its head. Take networking giant Cisco Sytems’ annual iPrize initiative¹ for example, which invites external contributors from around the globe to go online to submit big-bet business concepts that Cisco can develop further. Instead of having one team working on a single innovation effort, Cisco gathered an army of people working on hundreds of projects. Similarly, for the past decade Procter & Gamble have moved from a “invent it yourself’ product development model to a ‘Connect + Develop’ open innovation approach – one that attracted thousands of innovation ideas and materialized many of those ideas in new products. By collaborating with external companies, inventors, academia and other third parties, the consumer products giant has successfully launched many well-known brands, expanding its range of products to meet and grow consumer demand.
Enterprise social innovation broadens the scope of idea generation and transforms traditional approaches from one-off ideation to a portfolio of ideas handled like any other continuous business process. This makes it possible to scale the innovation process without scaling up a team in the corporate center (with all the associated resource commitments. By taking advantage of the company’s extensive networks, providing open channels of communication and stimulating the innovation engine (multiple brains working together real-time to create and qualify), it improves the pipeline of ideas coming through the innovation portfolio and allows for increases in volume and predictability.
What does it take to move from a one-off project-based linear approach to the collaborative, iterative enterprise social innovation?
Success today favors those companies that achieve innovation at scale. One-off, centralized efforts with questionable payoffs are seen as too risky in an environment where a diversity of offerings and the ability to seize new market opportunities at speed and with scale, separates winners from losers. Through enterprise social innovation, companies can benefit from a great pool of ideas – ones that are aligned more closely with the wants and needs of the end consumer – and a broader web of networks that gives instant access to innovation process enablers. The end game: A continuous, predicable flow of relevant and successful innovations.
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