Thursday, April 30, 2009

What is fueling collaboration?

It’s an increasingly outdated debate whether one is doing “what one loves to do”, trash this thought. We do jobs, or may be jobs do us in, the bigger harm is done by the thought that we are not doing what we love to do.

Traditionally we were given a choice of “loving what we do” OR “to start doing what we love to do”, any other state of mind was considered bad, for you and for people around you!

Most of the people on this planet cannot afford to do what they love to do, for some it’s the daily bread, for others it’s equated monthly installments. And there are too many mundane things to be done to keep the world spinning.

Early on humans found the way out by introducing hobbies. It works fine, but it lacks variety in intellectual fulfillment. The connected world has started solving this problem bit by bit! Today one can choose the area of interest and contribute at will, start all over again at something else tomorrow.

The good things in life are always relative, there has to be some bad to call the good as good and some good to call yet another better.

People are slicing their time, and some slices are being used to do what one loves to do intellectually. People are increasingly becoming dual.

It’s this duality which is fueling collaboration in this age. An hour of intellectual fulfillment is giving a day long high and we love it. When we collaborate; a little contribution can make us feel part of bigger achievement. Collaboration facilitates the variety of part time intellectual fulfillment which otherwise was not available.

Erma Bombeck once said … “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me.”

I believe more and more people are feeling what Erma felt, and duality is the means for some people to “go get it”.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

“I just volunteered your name”

!! … something does not sound right with this quote, isn’t it? I would hear this once in a while from the outside of my cubicle at Melbourne, my boss would have finished a call with her boss and she would start assigning work to me “I just volunteered your name for..” she would go. We both knew the lighter side of it, and I still cherish those moments.

In recent decades, we make products, launch new services, and create new processes on behalf of our customers, volunteering ourselves to create something they might need. Not bad, we put ourselves in customer’s shoes, a definite progress since the days of Henry Ford and his famous declaration “Any customer can have a car painted any colour so long as it is black.”

Since then, this paradigm is shifting big way, customers are now part of the effort that companies otherwise volunteered themselves to, … co-creation is the name of the game.

Simulated car racing game or a 4D roller costar is fun, but not as much as fun as driving down Great Ocean Road or experiencing Wipeout! Companies are constantly simulating consumer behavior to stay in competition, be it by predicting, doing a market research, trial and error or using a suggestion box. It is only a logical progression that we now have reached a stage to do co-creation with our customers; we are out on the road to get the real experience.

So simply put, instead of creating a product and then expecting that customers might like it, in co-creation you allow your customers to have a say or decide what you build, customers are on boarded well before the product starts taking shape or sometimes even before it is conceptualized.

So what does it take for companies to co-create?
  1. First and the foremost, companies need to start moving towards complete transparency. When you want to prove that your restaurant’s kitchen is clean, you can advertise that your kitchen is the cleanest, or get somebody to certify it … best way is to allow your customers to walk into your kitchen, if and when they wish. One needs to have an insight to provide any value inputs. In other words if you are not moving towards transparency, you are not moving towards co-creating.
  2. Find ways to encourage voluntary involvement from customers, employees, any stakeholders. Asking for a slogan for your product in return of holiday-for-two is not co-creation. If you need value input, it needs to be voluntary, it has to be spontaneous.
  3. Gear up your communication infrastructure and CRM to enable two way communications. The partners in co-creation need to come together physically, virtually, or in whatever way. Also your CRM should no longer aim only to sell more but also to bring back more on what customers are experiencing.
  4. Last but not the least, is preparing yourself on what you do with the inputs you get from your partners in co-creation. This is the tricky one; you might get all the first three steps right, but if you do not have a solid strategy to deal with the outcome of first three, you haven’t moved an inch.
To sum it up, closed doors opening up to greater transparency, requests replaced by engagement, value derived from the point where it is experienced, and the inputs received not being just tick marks.

When you co-create, you are actually going back to the fundamentals and going back to the fundamentals never hurt.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Given a choice between a “Picture” and “Thousand words”, choose “Hundred words”!

Collaborative innovation, open innovation or co-creation, one of the frequently asked questions is “how do you go through the heaps of inputs you might end up getting and arrive at a meaningful solution”. In other words “how do you reduce all the noise and reach out to the music?”

Here I am listing two extreme enablers, most “obvious” and most “not so obvious”, there is lot in between, left out for some other time!

1) Most obvious is “Use technology to do part of the job”. Like Bugzilla does it for finding out the probable duplicate bugs, Wikipedia allows team to work on the same page so you don’t need to merge.

2) Most not so obvious, yet the game changer is to be to-the-point and encourage others to be to-the-point.

If you are an idea contributor, a solver, think of a risk that your “very valid” input was buried under your own stories and nobody noticed it. If you are a moderator, a seeker, think of the amount of time you would spend going through haystack to find the needle.

At the same time there is a risk in being too crisp, risk of not being understood. (Sometime the “picture” does not convey!).

So the right balance needs to be found.
  • Try stretching & shrinking the articulation of your idea till the right “playback” is reached, similar to the original one in your mind.
  • Group and Un-group your thoughts, doing this will remove many duplicates.
  • Don’t go beyond one level from the original topic, and if you do then come back quickly.
  • What works for me is - write what I want to write and then go back and make it to the point, so scribble endlessly if you need to, but then edit it like a devil.
While ago, I read this wonderful book “Don't Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. Steve says “If you have room in your head for only one usability rule, make this the one ... “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left“. I think this usability principle applies to lot many scenarios than obvious …“a Website and a Visitor”, “an Author and a Reader”, “the Leader and a Team”, “Marketer and a Customer”, “Seeker and a Solver”.

You will be amazed to find that “you can” actually make your point clear in lot less, lesser than you first thought.

When it is about collaboration ... less is more ... to-the-point is huge.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My experiments with “mindset” for “opening up”

Have you come across a long argument just because people thought arguments were meant for winning?

Have you ever created a powerpoint presentation painting a good picture, when you yourself were not convinced?

Have you come across a situation when the genuinely better solution did not make it?

Have you heard an external consultant to your company recommending what you already thought was the way to go?

Actually this post is not about finding a solution to these challenges or calling them right or wrong.

For now I want to point to a behind the door thing - the “mindset”, which I have been currently experimenting with myself and found to be immensely helpful. While you give it a thought, let me try to list down the “desired” characteristics of this “mindset” when it comes to “opening up”. Do drop a comment, if you think of any additional characteristics.
  • It is amazingly refreshing and eventually rewarding to tolerate people and ideas “worse than yours”, “as good as yours” and “better than yours”.
  • It is tough but turns out equally good later, to get contradicted and yet not mind too much!
  • It hurts less and keeps the door open when you develop an ability to trash the genuine trash without creating an opinion of any sort.
  • It pays-off to believe that execution, and not the origin or the idea itself, is the crux of the matter.
  • It is fun and sometimes even more productive to be less formal in all your dealings.
  • It changes quite a few of your beliefs when you develop an ability to genuinely look out for value inputs from sources beyond “yourself” and beyond “your known sources”
  • It is worthwhile to revel in personal satisfaction, while building upon each others ideas.
  • It surprises you, when you realize that sharing your ideas paves way for even better ideas from you, the next time around.
If I could summarize these … when you develop a capability to “collaborate”, is when you start getting results from “opening up”.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

When in Rome, why do what Romans do. My views on “open innovation”

In-house innovations are great, when the companies and individuals have the capability, when these innovations are utilized to address the market need, when one does not stop at one-off innovations and off course when these innovations does not cost earth. But these are the exact challenges you and me face with in-house innovations, one or more of the above is usually not true.

I believe that more and more companies are opening up to "open innovation" as an extended arm to their in-house innovation effort. BT, P&G, Nokia to name a few.

Open innovation, apart from giving you a wider perspective on the solution, can as well change your problem definition itself!

Organizations do innovations, and then wait for one of them to click, the new trend however is towards “on demand innovation”, benefit from it, and move on to next one. It does not matter from where the ideas come from, what matters is how much you can benefit from it.

Software as a service and now cloud computing, in open innovation you pay only for results, these new trends make essential services accessible and affordable.

You no longer write one on one snail mails, nor do you refer Britannica encyclopedia, your city has grown to become your country and your country has expanded and has now become the world, and you access the world from your desktop. This connected world has opened up the new ways of doing everything and innovation is no exception, future of innovation is “open”, the world has opened up, and so has everything you do.