Advocating and Screening for Ideas

If you have ideas, what should you do with them? How do you know which ideas to pursue (and which to abandon)? As an idea creator, how do you know which ideas will get the attention of managers or how to present ideas for consideration? As a manager, how do you screen the numerous ideas you get from your staff? These are not simple questions to answer. Unfortunately, this stage of the intrapreneurship process represents the Achilles' heel for most organizations. Too many organizations spend a lot of time, effort, and resources to get ideas from their employees but then do not know what to do with them. Equally discomforting are cases where employees spend too much time creating ideas for which there is no organizational interest or need. The end result is a lot of waste – from the individual to the organizational level.

Consider the case of a global technology organization. The organization, founded in the mid 1990s, had seen unprecedented growth during the Internet boom days. As one senior executive remarked, “we were not only running on all cylinders, but were actually borrowing cylinders and fuel rods to keep up with demand.” The organization grew from humble beginnings (3 students!) to just under 200 employees in five years. It now has 10 clients in US states and 3 international clients (based in London, Brussels, and Amsterdam). As soon as the glory days came to a screeching halt with the bust, the organization, like many of its compatriots in the industry, had to do some hard thinking to redefine business strategies. To this end, the organization solicited ideas from its employees concerning the company's direction for the future– the slogan – 10 for 10: 10 big ideas for the next 10 years! The goal was to get the firm to think big and to identify 10 broad areas that 1) they would want to invest and build capability in, 2) they would want to build collaborative capacities by reaching out to start-ups and established firms, and 3) they would require re-tuning (or complete obliteration) of their current strategic focus. The company did what any other organization would do; It solicited ideas from employees across all ranks. The company commissioned online “idea drop boxes.” Employees could send in their ideas via filling in a brief online questionnaire. Within a week, the company had over 500 ideas (about 2.5 ideas from each employee!); and by the end of the four week idea solicitation period they had captured over 1200 ideas (a little more than 6 ideas per employee!) As one executive remarked, “we underestimated the whole [idea solicitation] thing…employees were scared…their friends were losing jobs, companies like ours were closing, venture capitalist were getting tighter with the purse strings…all of this contributed to fear…employees wanted to help the company, and themselves, by sharing their best ideas that would not only keep us afloat but secure a better future…” This was the easy part-- getting ideas-- the big challenge ahead for the organization was what to do with these and how do to go about screening them. Over the course of the next five months, the firm tried its best to bubble up the best ideas through applying various screening procedures, getting comments and feedback on ideas from internal (i.e. employees), as well as external (i.e. board of directors, collaborators from academia, venture capitalist, etc), sources.

Unfortunately, the organization did not have a robust process for advocating and screening ideas. The end-result is best summarized by a statement made by the CEO – “absolute disaster…we ended up pissing off more staff than those we appeased, lost good employees who felt their ideas were not duly considered, and what hurts me most, is employees lost faith in the organization as a place that valued ideas…front-line programmers and system designers who are our most important assets felt ideas get promoted based on ones political network and clout…we all lost, I will never do this again…we might never recover the trust and camaraderie that we had prior to this undertaking.

The bad news for organizations is that the advocacy and screening stage of the intrapreneurship process is fraught with difficulties.

To learn how to build sustainable processes for idea advocacy and screening, please contact me (or wait for a future posting…or my new book)

Blogging and Writing: Keeping me Honest

It has been a while since I actively blogged. I have engaged in “passive blogging” over the past few months. This has involved posting snippets of upcoming speaking engagements and papers that have been published. This has been helpful in getting the word out and networking. For the next few months (or years, if I stay disciplined!), I am hoping to engage in active blogging. I will share my thoughts on two major topics: 1) innovation – leveraging ideas for innovation, and 2) managing intellectual assets – how organizations are building and deploying intellectual assets. I will also share thoughts on other random issues from entrepreneurship to terrorism and government information policy. I will do this for two reasons: 1) to engage you, my reader and /or website visitor, into a dialogue, and 2) to keep me honest on my writing projects. Over the last few months, I have built a huge backlog of writing projects. Blogging will help me share notes, musings, and ideas, as I draft concepts, papers, or even get close to completing two book projects. Stay tuned for more details...

Patterns and Structures of Intra-Organizational Learning Networks: Forthcoming in Journal of Information Technology

jitI have co-authored a paper with Miha Škerlavaj (University of Ljubljana) and Vlado Dimovski (University of Ljubljana) that examines network-based learning. The paper will appear in a special issue of the Journal of Information Technology. I hold a five-year honorary visiting professor appointment at the Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana.

This paper employs the network perspective to study patterns and structures of intra-organizational learning networks. The theoretical background draws from cognitive theories, theories of homophily and proximity, theories of social exchange, the theory of generalized exchange, small-worlds theory, and social process theory. The levels of analysis applied are actor, dyadic, triadic, and global. Confirmatory social network analysis (exponential random graph modeling) was employed for data analysis. Findings suggest: (1) central actors in the learning network are experienced and hold senior positions in the organizational hierarchy, (2) evidence of homophily (in terms of gender, tenure, and hierarchical level relations) and proximity (in terms of geographical and departmental distances) in learning relationships, (3) learning relationships are non-reciprocal, and (4) transitivity and high local clustering with sparse inter-cluster ties are significant for intra-organizational learning networks.

Customer Managed Knowledge Factories


Jongmin Moon and I have authored an article on Customer Managed Knowledge Factories. The paper will appear in Business Information Review.

Most organizations spend millions, if not billions, on knowledge management. There is no doubting the fact that organizations must manage knowledge if they are to be successful, or even survive, in the marketplace. While this remains an accepted fact, one thing has changed over the last few years – the role of the organization in how knowledge is managed. This transformation is especially visible when it comes to managing knowledge from external sources. The most important source are the customers (users), both current and future, of an organization’s products and services. Organizations need to relinquish control over customer knowledge management. Customers will, and in many cases, already are taking on a more active role in managing knowledge for the benefit of the organization. The organization should not try to duplicate this nor try to force the customers into a top-down mode of knowledge management. Instead, the ideal organization will find ways to leverage the grassroots, and customer driven, knowledge factories that emerge around them. In this paper, we develop the concept of customer managed knowledge factories and share examples on how the concept is implemented in leading organizations.

Paper: Improving Data Visualization for High-Density Information Transfer in Social Network Analysis Tools

Chris Rivinus (Parsons Brinckerhoff), Peter Baloh (University of Ljubljana) and I have authored a paper for the itAIS VI Conference -  Toward Fusion in the Interconnected World: Exploring the Connection between Organizations and Technology (October 2-3, 2009). The paper titled, “Improving Data Visualization for High-Density Information Transfer in Social Network Analysis Tools”,  examines highlights from the last 30 years of dialogue about visualization as a basis for decision making in urban design, and suggests three areas in which SNA software designers should focus efforts to evolve more effective tools for organizational and IS design: realism, detail and changes over time.

One of the core issues in data and knowledge transfer is the appropriateness of transfer mechanisms. Often, understanding of problems and decision making by knowledge workers, can be improved by appropriate information and knowledge visualization. As businesses turn towards collaboration and innovation for competitive advantage, Social Network Analysis (SNA) tools have provided means of understanding existing employee network dynamics including the pathway of information shared between individual members. However, these tools have not been widely adopted for the purposes of organizational and information systems (IS) design. Possible explanations as to why SNA has not been more widely adopted as a design tool can be found in literature focusing on visualization as a modeling and decision making tool for urban design. This paper examines highlights from the last 30 years of dialogue about visualization as a basis for decision making in urban design, and suggests three areas in which SNA software designers should focus efforts to evolve more effective tools for organizational and IS design: realism, detail and changes over time. This discourse not only furthers applicability of SNA as a tool on its own by proposing how to design improved technological solutions, but it also suggests areas of exploration for IS product development generally

Sustaining Innovation: Challenges for Incumbent Firms


A paper that I co-authored with Ashley Braganza (Brunel University) and Yukika Awazu (Bentley University) appears in the current issue of Research-Technology Management.

In today's competitive environment, the ability of an organization to innovate is paramount. While most organizations have flashes or spurts of innovation, only a handful have been able to innovate on a continuous and sustained basis. This paper surveys the challenges faced by firms when trying to build sustainable innovation programs. These findings have been derived from an examination of innovation programs in over 30 organizations in North America, Europe and Asia.

Braganza, A., Awazu, Y., and Desouza, K.C. “Sustaining Innovation is Challenge for Incumbents,” Research-Technology Management, 52(4), 2009, 46-56.

To access the paper, please click here [LINK]

Paper on Information and Knowledge Management within Public Sector Networks accepted at the International Journal of Public Administration


I have a new paper accepted for publication. The paper, “Information and Knowledge Management in Public Sector Networks: The Case of the US Intelligence Community” will appear in the International Journal of Public Administration.

This paper 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 paper puts forth a comprehensive framework to examine information and knowledge management challenges within the USIC, as well as other organizations.

A New Work Force Wave: Managing Millennials (See beyond the stereotypes of the ‘Me Generation’ to harness creativity)

I was recently interviewed for an article on innovation by Colin Simpson of the Bellingham Business Journal. To retrieve the article, please click here [LINK]. As I continue to study innovation practices in high-technology organizations, I continue to be amazed by the innovative capacities of the ‘Me Generation’….