Idea Experimentation: Putting Your Ideas to the Test

Once you have advocated, screened, and funded ideas, the next step is to engage in experimentation. To experiment is to try something new. It allows you to observe the interplay between cause and effects—i.e., it is the application of scientific methods to generate actionable knowledge. Simply put, experimentation can be considered the sum of all activities we engage in to test the feasibility and elasticity of an idea. On the feasibility side, we are normally looking at the cost, benefits, effort, resources, and risks involved in transforming the idea into a viable product and/or service. In addition to feasibility, the experimentation process will also unearth the elasticity of an idea. Idea elasticity focuses on the reach of the product and/or service. Elasticity tries to see how far you can stretch ideas, both in terms of the number of products and/or services that you can develop from them, and also the domains in which you can deploy them.

It is through the process of collecting data through the conduct of experiments that we can find support for the ideas. Data collected during the experimentation process will help us gather the necessary evidence to support decision-making. Today, there is a big movement in medicine called evidence-based medicine (EBM), which demonstrates that a move towards more scientific and data-driven decision-making can prove to be valuable, rather than purely relying on gut instincts. Dr. Dave Sackett, a pioneer in the field states “EBM is saying rather than just rely on tradition, expert opinion, wishful thinking, let's try and find the evidence and apply it.” [1] To build a culture of experimentation one must focus on the following principles: 1) do not just discard ideas without adequate evidence, 2) do not support or move ideas ahead without adequate evidence, and 3) always look to exploit data from experiments.
While at Amazon from 1997-2002, Greg Linden prototyped a system that would make personal recommendations to customers as they checked out. Linden commented, “I heard the SVP was angry when he discovered I was pushing out a test. But, even for top executives, it was hard to block a test. Measurement is good. The only good argument against testing would be that the negative impact might be so severe that Amazon couldn't afford it, a difficult claim to make.” [2] Linden’s experiment showed how much the customer liked the feature and it won praise – the end result is that this has become a signature design feature for Amazon, and most online web marketers have introduced a similar concept. This illustrates the value and capabilities of organizations to test incremental ideas and achieve innovation through “continual tiny experiments in such areas as business processes and customer relationships rather than a single, company-transforming idea.” [3]

Experimentation needs to be made part of every employee’s work and has to move beyond the R&D Labs. The R&D Labs have natural constraints that leave a lot to be desired in terms of experimentation. For example, most of the R&D personnel are detached from the day-to-day running of the business and hence are not the best people to experiment on the problems and solutions of interest for today. In addition, these labs are often physically secluded from the operational centers of the business. This separation leads to difficulty when you try to transport (mobilize) ideas from the lab in order to address problems that are happening on the ground. Finally, you also have a numbers issue. The number of individuals working in an R&D lab is minimal compared to employees who are involved with the day-to-day running of the business. As such, no matter how brilliant your R&D lab personnel are, you will be at a loss if you cannot find ways to tap into the 85-90% of your organization’s employees who do not work in the lab. At the Engaged Enterprise, we had a R&D lab, the Institute for Engaged Business Research (IEBR). IEBR was focused on working on applied management problems that had value propositions to our clients. We determined upfront that simply relegating experimenting and innovation to the labs was not optimal. We needed to find a way to blend the experiences of those working on the consulting side with the R&D side. In addition, we needed to find ways to take knowledge that was being generated on the consulting side (as experiments were conducted “live” while projects were being done – i.e. as we tried to install a new service or strategize with a client – we were in essence engaging in experimentation) and move these into the R&D lab. We did this by having people share their time between consulting and R&D. Also, we had our R&D folks develop a method and handbook that could be used for experimentation which explained the basics of experimentation and how to capture and store results. We also encouraged sharing of results from experimentation efforts so that others might use the results, or provide their reflections on the experiments.

The effort to move experimentation beyond the R&D labs needs to be a conscious one. Both, organizational (management) and employee level interventions need to be in place to promote this concept. Managers should not only encourage their employees to experiment with their ideas, but even go so far as making it a requirement when ideas are being developed and proposed. In addition, employees should take responsibility to engage with the experimentation process, and be aware of methods and practices for conducting experiments.

please stay tuned for my new book or send me a note via email…

[1] Sackett, Dr. Dave. (October 30, 2009). Interviewed by André Picard. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/when-we-began-we-were-almost-pariahs/article1344833/
[2] http://glinden.blogspot.com/2006/04/early-amazon-shopping-cart.html
[3] McCann, David. (March 15, 2010). Testing, Testing: The New Innovation Game. Available at: http://cfo.com/article.cfm/14482988?f=search

Conference on Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation: Threat Identification, Policy Formulation and Decision Making, June 3-5, 2010

I will be speaking at the Conference on Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation hosted by the Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London in June. Kristen Lau and I have authored a paper that examines how information management failures led to an inability to adequately assess and detect nuclear threats in recent times. Lack of adequate information management capabilities have led to numerous international crises surrounding nuclear non-proliferation. For example, the inability to predict nuclear tests by India in 1998, the colossal failures surrounding assessments of Iraq’s WMD capabilities in early 2000, and today, the challenge of addressing Iran and North Korea.

Intelligence and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Programs: The Achilles Heel?
Intelligence is a critical component of all counter-proliferation activities. It allows us to assess and determine what makes up the current threat environment in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. When informed with an accurate assessment of the situation, policy makers are better suited to counter the proliferation threat. However, success and failure hinge upon how well information is managed during the intelligence process. The intelligence process as it relates to estimating nuclear capabilities or intentions is wrought with many challenges and complications. The denial and deception techniques employed by states running covert weapons programs and the dual-use nature of many weapons components create many difficulties for intelligence organizations. Additionally, illicit transnational networks obscure the situation further by serving as a source, for both nation states and non-state actors, for acquiring dual-use commodities and technologies. These challenges can lead to the miscalculation of a state’s capabilities or intentions. As was seen with the case of Iraq in 2003, western intelligence services grossly overestimated the capabilities of Saddam’s regime. This paper presents a comparative analysis of three cases of nuclear proliferation: India, Pakistan and Iran. Drawing from the analysis, the authors examine the lessons learned and propose recommendations for future counter proliferation policy and strategy.

To read prior papers published on this topic, please see:
• Desouza, K.C., and Lau, K.A.* “Managing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Information Management Perspective,” International Journal of Public Administration, 31 (13), 2008, 1457–1512. [LINK]
• Desouza, K.C. “Information and Knowledge Management in Public Sector Networks: The Case of the US Intelligence Community,” International Journal of Public Administration, 32 (14), 2009, 1219–1267. [LINK]

Speaking at Microsoft: Intranets for Collaborative Innovation: From Failed Promises to Emerging Potential: April 29, 2010

I will be giving a talk to Microsoft’s Enterprise Content Management team on the role of Intranets in fostering collaborative innovation. Since their initial debut, Intranets have been touted as a platform to promote collaboration within an organization. Most organizations have invested serious resources in developing viable Intranets. Despite the significant investments, only a handful of organizations will claim that their Intranets are anything more than glorified document repositories. In this talk, I highlight key reasons that Intranets have failed to deliver on their original promises. I will also point out how users have had to build work-a-rounds to avoid interacting with Intranets when engaging in collaborative work. My talk will conclude with key recommendations for designers of next generation Intranets that can support collaborative innovation.

Shh! It’s Vive La Résistance…A Case Study on Underground Resistance and Change Management

Nicholas D. Sweers II and I have authored a case study on the complexities of change management when underground resistance is present. The case study will appear in the Journal of Business Strategy.

This case study highlights the challenge of dealing with underground resistance when leading organizational change. Underground resistance has deterred many change management efforts. Moreover, strategies to address underground resistance are still at a nascent stage of development in management practice and literature. The case tells the story of Sam Bridgeport, a Senior Partner at a major consulting firm in Seattle, who has been charged with leading a restructuring effort that will significantly affect the everyday operations of the organization. Unlike past change management initiatives, which often failed, Sam was wise to encourage employee participation from the start. As a result, Sam was able to mitigate most of the opposition against his plan, but he soon finds out that he gravely underestimated the natural human tendency to resist change. Sam discovers a covert, underground resistance effort is quickly gaining steam, and he must put a stop to it before it’s too late.

Executive responses to the case study from Mark R. Jones, CEO, The Sunyata Group and George Head, Senior Vice President Broadband Services for Stratos Global will also be published.

Building Sustainable Collaborative and Open Innovation Programs – University of Ljubljana

I will be giving an invited lecture at the Raziskovalni center Ekonomske fakultete (Faculty of Economics) of the University of Ljubljana on February 15, 2010. My talk will focus on how organizations can design collaborative innovation programs.

Organizations cannot innovate in isolation. Ideas, knowledge, expertise, and processes needed for innovation are often distributed in the marketplace across a wide-assortment of actors from business partners, to customers, government agencies, and even competitors. Organizations have to find ways to collaborate and develop open, rather than closed, innovation programs. Collaboration calls for the ability to share required artifacts from ideas to knowledge and expertise, and even processes, with external entities. Being open requires an organization to unlock, and make available, its innovation process to external entities. Developing Collaborative and Open Innovation (COI) programs can be a daunting challenge. Issues such as ensuring trust, governance structures, rewards and incentives, and mechanisms for rent sharing from innovations can seem insurmountable. In this presentation, I will share actionable knowledge on how we can build sustainable COI programs. I will draw on research and consulting on designing organizational innovation programs in over 50 global organizations. I will share a framework for organizations that want to collaborate on innovation. This framework will outline methods for collaborative idea generation and mobilization, idea advocacy and screening, idea experimentation, idea commercialization, and idea diffusion and implementation. Examples will be used to illustrate how leading organizations collaborate with external entities for innovation and build open innovation programs that external entities can plug-into.

Business Process Outsourcing: A Case Study of Satyam Computers

I have a new paper accepted for publication in the International Journal of Information Management.

Abstract: The prominence of business process outsourcing (BPO) continues to intensify in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace. Engaging in BPO can help an organization focus on its core competencies, while gaining specialized knowledge, skills, and processes in auxiliary spaces. The literature is laden with evidence that engaging in a BPO will help organizations secure financial, operational, and even strategic advantages. While there is little doubt that organizations can attain these benefits, few BPO arrangements work out as planned. Managing risks in BPO arrangements is paramount. In this case analysis, we describe a significant failure through chronological description of scandals that took place at one of India’s largest outsourcing vendors, Satyam Computer Services. In describing the study, we draw attention to the fact that organizations need to (1) improve their sensing capabilities and keep abreast of strategic transformations at their outsourcing vendors, (2) be able to plan for and execute contingency plans, and (3) balance the risks and rewards of BPOs in terms of knowledge and capabilities dependencies.

Bhagwatwar, A., Atesci, K., Deo, T., Desouza, K.C., and Baloh, P. “Business Process Outsourcing: A Case Study of Satyam Computers,”International Journal of Information Management, Forthcoming.

Information Management and Environmental Sustainability: New Article in Business Information Review

Peter C. Ellis and I have a paper published in the current issue of Business Information Review.

Abstract: Attempting to merge the topics of environmental sustainability and information management, this article works towards defining both fields and constructing a viable framework that creates a strong relationship between the two topics. Reviewing literature on information management and environmental sustainability, the authors argue that the two topics must become inseparable — the work in one discipline must inform and advance the other. The need to do so is further underscored by the evolving nature of both disciplines.

To access the article, please click here [LINK]

Reference: Ellis, P.C., and Desouza, K.C. “On Information Management, Environmental Sustainability, and Cradle to Cradle Mentalities: A Relationship Framework,” Business Information Review, 26 (4), 2009, 257-264.

Information and Knowledge Management in Public Sector Networks: The Case of the US Intelligence Community

The current issue of the International Journal of lpadAdministration contains a paper that I authored on collaborative information and knowledge management. The paper is titled "Information and Knowledge Management in Public Sector Networks: The Case of the US Intelligence Community."

Abstract
This article contributes to the public management literature by exploring the critical challenges that underpin the construction of robust information and knowledge management strategies in networked settings. The ability of the network to sustain itself, thrive, and achieve its objectives depends on the success that the network has in organizing and coordinating its constituent organizations. The network's collaborative information and knowledge management strategy is critical to the functioning of the network and the achievement of objectives. A robust information and knowledge management strategy will bring organizations in the network together, help them share resources, collaborate on efforts, and further their objectives in a holistic manner. An inadequate information and knowledge management strategy might lead to disconnects in organizations due to lack of information sharing, poor collaborative knowledge generation, lack of coordination, leading to a fragmented network. Drawing on a multi-year, multi-method, and multi-organization study of the United States Intelligence Community (USIC), the article puts forth a comprehensive framework to examine information and knowledge management challenges within the USIC, as well as other public sector organizations.

Keywords: information management; knowledge management; public sector networks; intelligence agencies; intelligence community

To access the paper, please click [LINK]

Speaking at the Washington Technology Industry Association: Securing Organizational Knowledge – Human Intelligence Operations

wtialogo_intI will be giving a talk for the Washington Technology Industry Association based on my recent book, Managing Knowledge Security (Kogan Page, 2007). The talk will take place on December 7, 2009 at Seattle University. For details, please click here [Link]

Based on his recent book, Managing Knowledge Security: Strategies for Protecting Your Company's Intellectual Assets (Kogan Page, 2007), Desouza will describe how human intelligence operations are conducted to ascertain competitive intelligence. Warning his audience of business practitioners that most organizations fail to understand that their core resources intellectual assets are constantly under attack, and that protecting these resources is as important as any other part of the strategic agenda. Desouza, gives advice on how to recognize dangers of human and technological breaches, hazards of outsourcing and business alliances, implementation of breach prevention measures, and the necessity of working with disaster scenarios. He illustrates his advice with cases from his personal experience working in the fields of competitive intelligence, knowledge management, crisis management, and security operations.

On Information Management, Environmental Sustainability, and Cradle to Cradle Mentalities

default_coverPeter Ellis (http://www.petercellis.com/), a graduate student at the University of Washington Information School,  and I have authored a new paper on Green IT. The paper, “On Information Management, Environmental Sustainability, and Cradle to Cradle Mentalities”, has been accepted for publication at Business Information Review.

Abstract:
Attempting to merge the topics of environmental sustainability and information management, this paper works towards defining both fields and constructing a viable framework that creates a strong relationship between the two topics. Reviewing literature on information management and environmental sustainability, this paper argues that the two topics must become inseparable – the work in one discipline must inform and advance the other. The need to do so is further underscored by the evolving nature of both disciplines.