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Deploying IT for Organizational Innovation: Lessons from Case Studies

Along with several colleagues, Jaka Lindic (University of Ljubljana), Peter Baloh (BISOL, d.o.o), and Vincent Ribière (The Institute for Knowledge and Innovation (IKI-SEA), Bangkok University), I co-authored a paper for the International Journal of Information Management.

Organizations must innovate if they are to survive in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace. In this paper, we explore how leading organizations are using emerging technologies to enable novel forms of ideation that can radically increase the sheer volume of ideas they explore. In addition, we outline how organizations use technologies to cost effectively manage this increased volume of ideas by optimizing generation, mobilization, advocacy and screening, experimentation, commercialization, and even the diffusion and implementation of ideas. Critical to this is the management of knowledge during the innovation process.

Lindic, J., Baloh, P., Ribière, V.M., and Desouza, K.C. “Deploying Information Technologies for Organizational Innovation: Lessons from Case Studies,” International Journal of Information Management, Forthcoming.

What kind of a management consultant are you?

On a fairly regular basis, I am asked, “What kind of a consultant are you, Kevin?” I admit that my typical response has been to take the easy road by responding, “It depends.” For the last several weeks, I have begun to think more creatively on the nature, type, and roles of management consultants in organizations. I have served in various capacities as a consultant to a myriad of organizations; reflecting on what I do in the various situations can only help me get better. During these reflections, I have come to the realization that there are archetypes of management consultants.

Lawyers: Management consultants often are called in to act as lawyers. These engagements occur when an organization is need of specialized, strategic, decision-making advice. When done correctly, the consultants are called in to help an organization evaluate strategic options before they choose a major course of action. When done incorrectly, consultants are called in to help mitigate damage from actions, or even to address public relations disasters.

Engineers: One of the most popular role for management consultants is that of an ‘engineers.’ Most graduates take on this position as their first job after completion of their  studies. In this role, the consultant helps an organization to ‘build’ something, most commonly an information technology solution or a human resource process. The management consultant builds a new organizational artifact and helps an organization make it a part of its operational fabric.

Designers:  Consultants who act as designers, or architects, oversee the work of engineers who might later build something. Designers are involved in the process of architecting organizational re-designs, system integrations, and even process improvement projects. The major element that differentiates designers from engineers is that designers need to have broad knowledge about the business and industry in which the organization operates. Engineers, on the other hand, have deeper knowledge about their particular too lsets.

Doctors: There are management consultants who are called upon to work as doctors. They deal with specific organizational problems, when management knows that either 1) the organization needs a routine check-up, or 2) the organization is suffering from an ailment and needs a medication (fix) to remedy the situation. Management consultants that work as doctors have deep knowledge within specific domains and are often experts in these spaces. Doctor-like management consultants are common for issues such as employee morale boosting, global innovation team management, or assisting in managing organizational change programs.

Artists: The most eclectic of management consultants function as artists. These individuals bring innovation into an organization. They bring new ideas that the organization did not know were there and are meant to stimulate fresh thinking and reflection. Like Picasso or van Gogh, artists rarely come up with creations to meet specific needs of an organization. It is more common for organizations to recognize the value of their work and then bring their ideas into the organization. Like hanging a painting on the wall, the ideas are meant to stimulate the organization to fresh and invigorated thinking.

Coaches: Management consultants who have a track record of working with senior executives and organizational leaders are often called upon to take on the role of coach. This also happens to be my favorite role as a consultant.  In this role, the coach serves as a confidant and mentor to an executive. Executives use their coach to help them improve their skills (from building effective business plans to creating effective teams).  In turn, the coach puts executives through a series of "exercises" to train them on how to become effective leaders.

How do you feel about this classification scheme? Have I missed any other types of consultants? What kind of management consultant do you want to be and why?

Innovation Reflections from Thailand

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Thailand. During my visit, I had an opportunity to give a talk at Bangkok University on Designing the Innovation Process. The talk was sponsored by the Institute for Knowledge and Innovation - South East Asia and Thailand's National Innovation Agency (NIA). During the event, I had a chance to dialogue with over 60 distinguished managers and executives who represented Thailand's leading private and public sector organizations. I had the opportunity to discuss research collaboration with the Thailand Productivity Institute, and Bangkok University, among other organizations. It was a real treat to meet University of Washington alumni in Thailand.

I was impressed by the breadth of knowledge management programs in various Thai organizations. In addition, I learnt how Thai organizations are tailoring standard knowledge management approaches to meet the cultural and economic realities of the country. Thailand is an up and coming Asian economy. While, still highly dependent on tourism, the Thai government, through agencies such as the NIA, are supporting the development of innovative and highly entrepreneurial organizations in areas such as green technologies, and biofuel, among others.

My host, Dr. Vincent M. Ribière, did a marvellous job organizing the event. I look forward to my return trip back to Thailand!

Keynote Presentation – Center of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation and Process Control, Slovenia – Ten Rules of Leveraging Ideas for Innovation

On November 10th, I will give a keynote presentation for the annual conference hosted by the Center of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation and Process Control (COBIK) at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. The conference is titled: Slovenska visokotehnološka MSP na prepihu inovativne in razvojno tehnološke prebojnosti: Slovenija x.0 ?

The Slovenian government has supported the development of Centers of Excellence. Each Center of Excellence focuses on creating efficient relationships between public and private research institutions, technology driven firms and their global market positioning. The Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana, is one of the partners in the Center of Excellence (COBIK) and is responsible for enabling the research and technology driven firms to gain business knowledge and helping them in the process to market their innovative products and solutions.

The program is available here [LINK]

Ten Rules of Leveraging Ideas for Innovation [LINK]

In this keynote address, I will discuss how leading organizations are building robust processes for leveraging ideas within their organization and across their networks. Ideas are critical ingredients for innovation. Designing robust innovation processes calls for great care in the handling of ideas. To this end, leading organizations are designing, and deploying, a portfolio of mechanisms to help their employees seek out, share, experiment with, commercialize, diffuse, and implement, ideas. I will highlight emerging technology solutions. In addition, I will outline how smart organizations are capturing knowledge about their innovation process and employing it for continuous refinement and renewal.

Winning the Business Case for Knowledge Management

If you have ever struggled to write a business case for a knowledge management effort, I encourage you to read my recently published article in Business Information Review. Without a sound business case, securing resources for knowledge management is difficult. When organizations do not devote the necessary resources to knowledge management efforts, it is often not due to a lack of resources, but rather because managers have not made an appealing business case. In this article, I outline guidelines on how to tie knowledge management efforts to an organization’s goals, objectives and key performance indicators.

To access the article, please click here [LINK]

Optimizing Idea Generation for Innovation

I have spent the last few days meeting a number of executives from technology giants like Microsoft, to smaller, yet highly innovative firms, such as biomedical research institutes. During my meetings, I engaged in very interesting conversations, most of which centered around helping organizations design sustainable innovation programs. A key question that kept coming up is how organizations should get their employees to be more effective, and efficient, in generating ideas that can advance the business cause.

One challenge for organizations is directing their employees’ energy toward spaces that need ideas. Deciding whether the focus is domain-specific (perhaps limited to engineering, sales, or accounting), or cross-domain is a first step. Another option is identifying the future areas that an organization would like to enter. For example, if the organization is thinking of entering a foreign market, it should solicit ideas about entry strategies, clients to work with, and finding the markets that are ripe for investment. The ideal organization will update its focus areas on a regular basis as conditions in its internal and external environments change. Of A.G. Laughley’s leadership at Proctor & Gamble, Tim Brown comments “He seems to see his role as constantly reminding teams of what they should be focusing on, rather than telling them whether they've got the right idea or not.”[1]

In addition, the organization should appoint key personnel to govern the ideas being generated in each area. These individuals can serve the role of contact points for employees who would like to submit ideas. They can also champion the focus areas and develop specific guidelines on how to submit ideas, specify what kinds of ideas are needed, and determine how ideas will be evaluated when submitted. The contact personnel is also important in transferring ideas between domains.  An idea submitted to one focus area may be more suitable for another one. In addition, there might be opportunities that are submitted in one domain which should be pursued as cross-domain collaborations. For example, CEMEX, the highly innovative cement manufacturer, has an Innovation committee composed of three directors, three VP’s, and one outside consultant. The team is responsible for defining the broad themes for innovation and structure for the innovation process.  Often, the committee considers strategic areas that are outside of the core product; recent focus areas included “integrated construction solutions for affordable housing, ways to support regional development, and making it easier for customers to do business with CEMEX.”[2]

Once focus areas are defined, it is equally important to communicate them to employees and inform employees across the hierarchical levels and functional divisions that they may contribute to these focus areas. It should be clear to employees that the work they do on a daily basis is related to at least one of the focus areas. Some organizations erroneously think that their mission statements are the best guide to how employees should focus their idea-creating. But if you asked a sample of employees in your organization to repeat the mission statement, by my estimates, less than15% would be able to give you a half-baked recital. Most employees do not see the relevance of these glorified statements as they have not been translated into terms that matter to their daily work. One useful strategy that I have seen work is to build archetypes that resonate with employees of what an idea contribution might look like in each of the focus areas.

To learn more about how to design innovation programs at your organization, or to optimize your current innovation processes, please send me an email.


[1] Brown, T. (2009, October 24). Corner Office: He Prizes Questions More Than Answers. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from Interview by Adam Bryant of NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/business/25corner.html

[2] Sull, D. N., Ruelas-Gossi, A., & Escobari, M. (2004, January 26). What Developing-World Companies Teach Us About Innovation. Retrieved March 2010, 22, from HBS Working Knowledge: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/3866.html

Speaking at Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Global Knowledge Management Leaders Meeting – September 13-17, 2010

I will be flying to NYC to speak at Parsons Brinckerhoff’s (PB) Global Knowledge Management Leaders Meeting. I have collaborated with PB since 2005. During this time, I have had the pleasure of seeing, influencing, and designing components of their knowledge management strategy. My presentation will focus on strategies for enhancing tacit knowledge transfer within engineering firms. Specifically, how do you design robust mechanisms and incentives to promote exchange of tacit knowledge across global and functional boundaries.

On Questioning Questions in Organizations

Reflect on how much of your day is spent asking questions and answering questions. How many questions do you ask a day, what kinds of questions do you ask, and why do you ask the questions you do. Try having a conversation with a colleague, or a friend, without asking questions, how long might you go without asking a question? The simple answer: not too long. Questions, and questioning, make for an integral aspect of our lives. Yet, how many of us take the time to be mindful about the questions we ask and how we answer questions. Within organizations, the asking of, and responding to, questions, makes for a critical mechanism through which we elicit information and construct dialogues. Managers that ask good, and hard, questions of their employees in an efficient, and respectful, manner are respected by their employees. Conversely, managers who ask ‘dumb’ questions (yes, there are things like dumb and stupid questions), and do not following basic etiquette when doing so, are more likely to be dismissed by their employees as being incompetent. Similarly, employees are perceived as smart (or foolish) based on the questions they ask and their ability to respond to questions. For the last few years, I have been fascinated with the concept of questions and the mechanics of questioning.

Questioning plays a critical role in organizational discourse. We often hear statement such as: ask the hard questions, question the status-quo, or there is nothing like a stupid question, among others. These statements give lip service to the concept of questioning. Managers are some of the most poorly trained questioners. Students in disciplines such as psychology, medicine, and law, are explicitly taught how to question. Business students almost never examine the art, and science, of questioning in a thoughtful manner. As a result, one of the most cited reasons for organizational failures (such as corporate scandals or committing to a failed course of action), is the inability for those who were observing the disaster unfold to be courageous enough to ask the right questions (and seek appropriate answers). Just imagine what would happen if a psychologist did not ask questions appropriately or if your physician did not ask the right questions to diagnose ailments. Would we tolerate this level of incompetency? Probably not!

Organizations need to urgently embrace the art and science of questioning. I believe that organizations will be healthier if individuals knew how to ask the ‘right’ questions and how to respond to questions. Being deliberate about the concept of questioning will lead to organizations expelling less effort in achieving their goals and objectives. I am currently beginning to write a few articles on questioning. While most of my writing will be for a business (management) audience, they are relevant to fields such as engineering, new product development, and education, among others. I want to encourage all readers to share their experiences with me on the topic. What do you think about questioning? How do you differentiate a good question from a bad one? What kinds of questions do you ask and why? Do you know of people who ask the ‘right’ questions, if so, why do you think they are successful in asking questions? These are just some of the questions that I would love to get answers to. If you have other reactions to the issue of questioning, please do share them with me.

If you would like me to come to your organization and conduct a workshop on the topic, please do not hesitate to contact me. I guarantee that if your organization gets smarter at the art and science of questioning, it will be a more ‘intelligent’ and ‘mindful’ place.

Rewards for Idea Generation and Mobilization: Good/Bad Idea?

A question that I often get from managers and senior executives is should the organization provide rewards to encourage idea generation and mobilization?

I have seen a wide array of tactics deployed to encourage idea generation and mobilization. In my forthcoming book, Intrapreneurship, I explore how leading organizations foster entrepreneurship by employees by enabling them to leverage their ideas. In this blog post, I draw on material that I put together for my book to answer the question of whether rewards should be given for idea generation and mobilization.

I believe that no rewards should be given for the generation of new ideas. By rewards, I am referring to extrinsic rewards such as bonuses, American Express gift cards, or even recognition as “Idea Generator of the Month.” In my experience, extrinsic rewards do not work because they set the wrong precedence and can be easily gamed. Employees should not be rewarded for a required activity (you do not reward employees for coming to work on time!). Contributing ideas needs to become second nature and part of the work fabric, and employees should not be rewarded for the same reason that they are not rewarded for carrying out their regular job responsibilities. I might even suggest that for those employees who do not contribute ideas, disincentives and negative reinforcement be used. Similarly, managers who do not foster employee creativity and build a constructive environment should be coached or moved out of their management position.

The other reason that I think rewards do not work for idea generation is simply that they can be gamed. For example, when a reward is given for the most ideas submitted, employees might submit a large number of low quality ideas in order to get a reward. Here, you may get employees contributing worthless ideas in order to get gift cards or to get a leg up on their peers. This may have the opposite of the desired impact, as Alcatrel-Lucent discovered. They offered new car for best idea for part of a “Stretch Your Mind" event. As Guido Petit, senior director at Alcatrel-Lucent commented, “It was a big event, but a bad practice…It created more negative energy than positive energy because there was one happy person and 149 unhappy people…And although the contest tripled the ideas generated, none of them became products.”[1]

I do believe that rewards play a vital role in fostering the mobility of ideas. Employees who take time out of their schedules to communicate ideas to their peers need to be rewarded. Simply put, this behavior is not natural and cannot be expected. Moreover, employees’ actions to look beyond their own interests and collaborate with their peers needs to be recognized and rewarded. In some organizations, employees are polled regularly for the names of the people from whom they received the most ideas and the most valuable ideas, and asked to describe how they furthered the idea. The employees then write a personal letter of thanks and appreciatio,n which goes a long way in showing their gratitude. In some cases rewards will be given across departments, where one department will use part of its budget to reward an employee in another unit who has helped the department with its ideas. Such peer-to-peer recognition of the value of idea mobilization is energetic and vital.

A case in point: Whirlpool convened a research team in the Alps for the sole purpose of creating exciting new products, but the team returned with only non-starters. David R. Whitwam, Whirlpool’s recently retired CEO, didn't give up. Instead, he decided innovation could occur along with normal work, with every employee’s contribution. The first successful step towards an innovative scale-up was convening an Innovation Team to examine every department and ask employees for ideas—and no idea was outrightly rejected.[2] The team included employees from almost all departments and almost all functional areas.[3] They created a screening process to review every idea, focusing on customer needs, not existing technology or skills.[4] Every idea was graded and recorded. The review board persists as a crucial component of the innovative effort, and is still in place to this day. The grading scheme focused on customer needs and Whirlpool core competencies to maximize the possibility of finding the very best ideas.[5] Quickly, Whirlpool created internal courses on innovation which focused on two components of creating good ideas: product development skills (such as emphasizing customer needs) and venture capital skills (such as marketing and implementation concerns).[6] Whitwam demanded that employees come to him with ideas—any ideas—if their managers won’t listen.

Those who complete the company’s internal course on innovation skills (a five and a half day process) and then oversee the generation and advocacy of a few products can become I-mentors, or Innovation Mentors.[7] These mentors are key figures in the Whirlpool innovation process because they serve as innovation managers: their role is not to control or oversee, but to support and advocate for those with ideas, and to connect ideas with departments or people who might benefit from them.[8],[9] Mentors nurture the beginning stages of innovation. The role of mentors is not limited to seeking ideas, but also includes actively generating them. I-mentors lead team meetings in which employees reflect on customer knowledge, business trends and their own experiences, and “insights” are developed and recorded.

Whirlpool supports employees who act like entrepreneurs, and funds their ideas, not just by providing time, but also investing in employee business notions and allowing them to open businesses within the organization.[10] For instance, one employee, Josh Gitlin,  dreamt up in-home cooking classes across the country, using Whirlpool’s KitchenAid® line as well as other Whirlpool products. The generous budget for innovations also has a carrot for managers: managers’ pay is linked to revenue derived from new products and services.


[1] Dutton, G. "Innovation Acceleration." Training, January 15, 2010.

[2] Warner, F. “Recipe for Growth.” Fast Company, Oct. 2001, 40-1.

[3] Arndt, M. “Creativity Overflowing.” Business Week, May 8, 2006.

[4] Warner, F. “Recipe for Growth.” Fast Company, Oct. 2001, 40-1.

[5] Arndt, M. “Creativity Overflowing.” Business Week, May 8, 2006.

[6] Dolezalek, H. “Imagination Station.” Training 40, no. 6 (2003): 14.

[7] Cutler, G. “Innovation Mentoring at Whirlpool.” Research Technology Management 46, no. 6 (2003): 57.

[8] Melymuka, K. “Innovation Democracy.” Computerworld 38, no. 7 (2004): 31-2.

[9] Cutler, G. “Innovation Mentoring at Whirlpool.” Research Technology Management 46, no. 6 (2003): 57.

[10] Arndt, M. (2002) “Whirlpool taps its inner entrepreneur.” Business Week Online, Feb. 7, 2002.