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.
Innovation depends upon consistent communication. Yet different stages of the innovation process require different kinds of communication. Companies who have recognized the different elements of the innovation process are able to target their communication mechanisms to encourage the strongest possible results from organizational innovation. Ideas can be brand new and relatively unconsidered or rather mature and half-implemented, and understanding clearly the distinctions between those types of ideas and communication mechanisms around them can inform organizations about how to best discuss and encourage innovation.
Consider the stage of idea generation and mobilization: One example of a company that has successfully created numerous channels for communication of ideas is Whirlpool. One strategy used by Whirlpool explicitly for idea generation was having an Innovation Team (people conversant with desired business goals and objectives as well as current operational capacities) go to each department and solicit ideas from employees. The Innovation Team included a cross-section of the company, including members from many functional areas and levels of hierarchy. During the idea collection process, all ideas were recorded and listened to without evaluation. By having a team composed of people from across the company and having that team travel to each department, normal rules of hierarchy and ordinary routines were disrupted sufficiently that employees could communicate without needing to find a way to communicate across the hierarchy. Ethicon Endo-Surgery conducts team events encouraging cross-team functionality. For instance, the "battle of the masterminds" allowed employees to collaborate in teams to solve a particular problem. This may not necessarily be a medical problem, but it instigates analytical thinking and cross-team collaboration.
Mars, the candy company, hosted a conference for its employees, and gave each one a nametag with RFID components that lit up when the employee was near someone they didn't know. Social networks were mapped out on a huge overhead projection that changed in real-time as employees met new people. This project was backed by social network analysis done with academic researchers, who interviewed employees to find out their current connections and devised this plan to increase the networking for the entire organization. The technique of social network analysis can provide a way for organizations to see whether or not collaboration across hierarchies and divisions is happening, and if so where--thus allowing them to analyze why. Social network analysis can illustrate pockets of communication that could be particularly ripe for idea generation. Peer-to-peer networks which have been derived from this concept are deemed the best forms of communication are now getting popular day by day.
The next stage is the advocacy and screening of ideas. The joint processes of advocacy and screening involve the bubbling up of ideas and the filtering out of ideas into separate categories. Advocacy leads to increased communication about potential innovations, as well as encouraging the refinement of scope and intent of ideas. Screening is the process of identifying which ideas are suitable for development at a particular time, with particular capacities in mind. These two processes must occur together, as a communicative endeavor. At the end of this stage of the innovative process, high priority and high probability ideas have been identified. More extensive screening processes will also include categorization of ideas for the future, high-risk but high-gain ideas and ideas for mobilization.
Creating groups of advocates can be a challenging process. At Boeing, when executives decided to support radical process innovation they chose to create a specific team designed for the sole purpose of finding and advocating for big, radical innovations -- the group was called Phantom Works. The goal of Phantom Works was not to be the sole source of innovations, but to inspire change throughout the organization by asking questions, supporting ideas and demanding radical changes. In effect, Phantom Works is an advocacy group, supporting the idea generation and advocacy stages of the innovation process. Phantom Works also helped with communication between departments and sought ideas and technologies that could be applied in new areas of the organization. The creation of a business unit for purposes of radical innovation demonstrates organizational commitment as well as creating an advocacy body that can help incumbent organizations develop and sustain advocacy and idea generation.
These are just a few examples of how to communicate the business value of innovation. To learn more about how to communicate the business value of innovation within your organization, please contact me…
Understanding the barriers to communication in these discrete phases of the innovation process allows executives and organizations to make rational choices about what types of communication to pursue. These stages of innovation each have particular challenges, but anticipating those challenges and taking steps to minimize them can significantly increase the success of long-term innovation in an organization. When discussing the business value of innovation, organizations must be sensitive to the current stage of the innovation process. A newly hatched idea simply cannot be talked about in the same way as an idea that has passed through advocacy, screening and experimentation and is currently being mobilized for use in a new area of the organization. Innovations have differing levels of maturity, and communication must reflect those levels. Furthermore, creating an open and collaborative culture can assist communication at all levels of the innovation process.
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.”
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. The team included employees from almost all departments and almost all functional areas. They created a screening process to review every idea, focusing on customer needs, not existing technology or skills. 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. 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). 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. 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., 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. 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.
 Dutton, G. "Innovation Acceleration." Training, January 15, 2010.
 Warner, F. “Recipe for Growth.” Fast Company, Oct. 2001, 40-1.
 Warner, F. “Recipe for Growth.” Fast Company, Oct. 2001, 40-1.
 Arndt, M. “Creativity Overflowing.” Business Week, May 8, 2006.
 Dolezalek, H. “Imagination Station.” Training 40, no. 6 (2003): 14.
 Cutler, G. “Innovation Mentoring at Whirlpool.” Research Technology Management 46, no. 6 (2003): 57.
 Melymuka, K. “Innovation Democracy.” Computerworld 38, no. 7 (2004): 31-2.
 Cutler, G. “Innovation Mentoring at Whirlpool.” Research Technology Management 46, no. 6 (2003): 57.
This blog post is not meant for those who are content to let their $110,000 MBA diploma hang on the wall as an indication of a job well done. Nor is it designed for those persons who feel that now that their education is complete, they have all the necessary tools for success. I encourage managers and executives to read and participate in this posting if they feel that there is a next step in the educational process...one that is more critical to success than showing off that graduation tie!
We are bombarded with information at a near constant rate. Managers face information overload challenges at their organizations. They have to contend with information that is emitted from a wide assortment of agents and objects, and this information might arrive through various information channels and devices. Consequently, it is impossible to inspect and process all the information one receives. Some information nuggets receive attention and are carefully considered, while other nuggets might get lost (or are even purposely ignored), and yet others, might be acted on without enough consideration.
What is troubling to me is how frequently managers assume that information that stems from the external world is right or appropriate for their organizations. Often this gets exhibited as follows: a manager gets his recent issue of Harvard Business Review and skims through it during a business trip (of course, only after the manager has exhausted the batteries on the laptop). The manager reads a few articles, finds one or more them to be interesting, and then without much questioning begins to think about how to duplicate practices or approaches described in their own organization. Most managers take a lazy approach when it comes to evaluation of information from external sources. Consider the last time that you really took the time to evaluate information coming from an external source (e.g. a consultant or a recently released business book that touts the next buzzword) with the same amount of care as information that comes from your direct reports. Much of this lazy approach, in my opinion, can be linked to the MBA mills. During MBA programs, degree candidates are rushed through the fundamentals of accounting and finance, given tours of the latest practices in human resource management and information systems, and spend their time working through team and trust building exercises. These are all nice, but do not teach managers the art and science of questioning. Moreover, in some course and management approaches, questioning, especially, the questioning of authorities and authoritative sources is frowned upon. This is common in disciplines such as accounting and finance, where students are made to drink from the fire hose in terms of the terminology and techniques. Student learn to marvel at external information, especially information published in the so-called authoritative sources, rather than to critically evaluate it.
Most managers with whom I speak admit that they have a long way to go in terms of harnessing their questioning capabilities. Key aspects of a questioning capability include:
1. Knowing how to develop questions for a given context
2. Knowing when to ask questions
3. Knowing how to evaluate and process answers to questions
4. Knowing how to develop an effective, and efficient, questioning process that is refined, and optimized, on a regular basis
Being busy, or overworked, or just being fearful of consequences, are not legitimate reasons for questioning. To retain the human and intelligent aspects of organizations, one must question. Questioning prompts us to seek clarification, act intelligently and mindfully, and promotes constructive discourse.
I would like to hear your thoughts on questioning. Do you ask difficult questions of external information? What are some reasons why you are less critical of information that come from external versus internal sources? What challenges do you face in terms of asking difficult questions? Do you think questioning is a lost capability within current enterprises?
I have updated the Consulting page on my website. Consulting engagements I offer range in scope from single-day senior executive briefings to small-term strategic project assignments. Here are some of the most common offerings:
Executive Strategic Planning Retreats: Working closely with the client, Kevin scopes out a keynote presentation followed by a workshop. The day begins with the keynote and a thought provoking discussion. The workshop can be used to facilitate corporate strategic planning and design, forecasting and planning for future trends that impact the business, or brainstorming and consensus building. Past retreats have focused on strategic innovation, designing collaborative alliances for organizational resiliency, and building crisis detection and response programs.
Strategic Advising and Consulting: These short-term engagements allow Kevin to work intimately with the client on focused areas of strategic opportunities and challenges. Advising and consulting projects range from strategizing knowledge management and innovation endeavors to technology management projects and competitive intelligence assignments. Past engagements have included advising a major engineering firm on designing a knowledge management program, reviewing business plans and specifications for products of a major technology organization, and serving as a senior adviser for market and customer intelligence projects.
Ideation and Commercialization: This unique offering by Kevin is centered on helping entities leverage their ideas. Kevin works with entities ranging from individual executives in leading organizations, to technology start-up firms, to independent thinkers (e.g., scientists, bloggers, and product designers). The focus is to help entities manage their ideas optimally for goal attainment. Past engagements include working with senior executives to publish their ideas in mainstream journals or books and helping technology start-ups formulate key strategic alliances.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a simple exercise: Find 20 people in your organization. Ideally, choose people across the various hierarchical levels and functional departments of your organization. Ask each person two questions: How would you define a good idea? How do you recognize a good idea? Chances are high that if you work in a typical organization, you will arrive at 20 different answers! Some individuals may not even be able to articulate what is a good idea or to clearly describe how to recognize good ideas. Is this a problem? You bet it is! One of the major challenges faced by organizations as they try to come up with good ideas is the lack of a definition of what constitutes a good idea. It is common to find organizations that take the stance that a good idea is in the eye of the beholder, or in contrast, that a good idea is like pornography, you will recognize it when you see it. Similarly, most organizations lack a clearly defined process on how to recognize good ideas. As one manager put it, “employees may not recognize a good idea if it smacked them right on their faces.”
The organization that wants to foster a spirit of intrapreneurship must: 1) clearly define what is, and what is not, an idea, 2) arrive at a typology for the various types of ideas, 3) articulate a process for refining thoughts into ideas and then into ‘good’ ideas, 4) reward employees for sharing ‘good’ ideas, and 5) reward employees who serve as brokers (or intermediaries) for mobilizing ideas from one corner of the organization to the next.
What are some practices that your organization has in place to address these issues?
For more details, please stay tuned for my new book on intrapreneurship…or drop me an email!