Archive for “September, 2008”

Is it "Collaboration", or Matchmaking?

A few weeks ago, I was the guest of SAP’s Blogger Relations program at TechEd Las Vegas. One of the announcements that week was the sponsorship of the SAP Innovation & Technology Pavilion within the InnoCentive community.

If you’ve read Wikinomics, Don Tapscott’s highly regarded book about the value of collaboration and crowdsourcing, you’ve heard of InnoCentive. Their corporate literature describes the company as,

A global open innovation marketplace, where individuals… collaborate to deliver breakthrough solutions for organizations driven by research and development. InnoCentive Seekers, who collectively spend billions of dollars on R&D, submit complex problems to the InnoCentive Marketplace, where more than 160,000 engineers, scientists, inventors, business people and research organizations in more than 175 countries are invited to solve them. Solvers who deliver the most innovative solutions receive financial awards.

The joint press release referred to the “co-innovation” facilitated by InnoCentive:

Forum for Global Community Co-Innovation… The addition of InnoCentive to the SAP ecosystem further fosters co-innovation

But here’s the thing: much as I applaud the inherent sense behind the InnoCentive concept (and there have been many, many success stories that would not have been possible without their unique approach to R&D resourcing), it’s not really co-innovation (it should be more accurately described as open innovation), and it is certainly not collaboration.

Here’s how InnoCentive works: participants in the community who have a problem post it and value the solution at $5,000 and up (they’re the “Seekers”). If you have a solution (or think you do) you submit it (you’re a “Solver”). The Seeker company reviews all submitted solutions and determines which one best meets their need. The winner signs over their IP and gets the money.

However, this isn’t collaboration. It’s match-making in the “I have the rollerskates and you have the key” sense of the term.

Wikipedia defines collaboration as a circumstance,

Where two or more people or organizations work together toward an intersection of common goals… by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. Collaboration does not require leadership… teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.

In the case of InnoCentive – the loss is that the winner takes all, therefore there is no motivation to true collaboration (i.e. multiple parties coming together to find answers they could not reach singly). While many more solutions are undoubtedly found as firms tap the resources offered by tens of thousands of InnoCentive Solvers, it stops short of enabling true collaboration. If I have half an answer and someone else has the other half, the inherent self-interest that is the guiding principle behind the community will keep us apart (the platform does not provide any collaborative space around projects – to get challenge details, you must sign up for access to a rather lonely “Project Room”, in which you are the only occupant).

This is, ironically, in sharp contrast to the robust collaboration that takes place among members of the SAP Developer Network, given that the partnership with InnoCentive is being positioned as an enhancement to SDN. On SDN questions are posed and dozens, if not hundreds, of community members respond in an effort to come up with the best solution. The incentives are participation-based reputation points, rather than the Big Cash Prize! for The Winning Answer! InnoCentive model. On SDN Seekers are offered the true, deep benefits of crowdsourcing – hundreds of qualified Solvers working together to iterate the best possible answer to their problems, for reasons that go beyond mere financial reward.

Update [Full disclosure: SAP is a client]

Building relationships is the end goal

Our CEO said it best “we transform companies.” Our goal is not to help companies build brand awareness through social media tactics. Our goal is to help them take steps to form meaningful relationships with their stakeholders. That’s what we like doing and what helps our customers be most successful.

With such a big goal in mind, the starting point is always the same. We listen. Where are people talking, what are they talking about and how do these conversations create an opportunity for our clients? Now; the definition of opportunity will vary, but we never lose site of our end goal – building those relationships.

So that’s what we do for companies. Can you apply this to yourself, as an individual?

Take a look at Chris Brogan‘s Guide on Personal Branding. It’s full of great, practical advice on how to build your personal brand. Chris starts out with the reasons why you would want to build your personal brand; being memorable, differentiating yourself. These are your opportunities. When you read the eBook, think about the differences between your end goal and your opportunitues. Today might be about a new job or a new client. Tomorrow it’s about research or customer satisfaction. The tactics are all there, just don’t forget that building relationships is the end goal.

You store your money in the cloud – why not your data?

Last week I attended the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Focused on innovation and collaboration inside the enterprise, it’s one of my favourite conferences and this is the second year I have attended (and in a departure, planning for 2009 has already begun, so if you want to go, you’d better register now, as spots are limited).

One of the most provocative sessions for me was Document 2.0, here’s the official blurb:

Documents flow through our organizations, are validated, reviewed, circulated, modified, transformed, printed, scanned… Just like the Web, the Office, or the Enterprise, the document has to evolve to support more effective business processes. Welcome to Document 2.0! Open, secure, personalized, traceable, structured, mobile — we’ll explore all these topics in this panel.

There were two really interesting threads that emerged during the course of the panel discussion, one was forward compatibility and the other was, not surprisingly, security.

Forward Compatibility
Who out there can still read their WordPerfect 1.0 documents, stored on floppy discs more than a decade ago? Unless you have the software and the hardware (a computer with the appropriate drive) you’re out of luck. There are millions of businesses and individuals in the same boat – they have data stored on tapes or discs that can no longer be easily read, meaning that data is as gone as if it had been deleted in a catastrophic systems crash.

The topic of centalized data repositories – essentially SaaS (software as a service) file servers, flushed out some passionate debate, largely focused around trust – a number of people in the audience seemed to be completely unwilling to entertain the idea that a third party service provider could actually be better at taking care of their data than they were. I’d like to strongly disagree.

If you stored your data remotely, rather than having to keep old equipment around to read old files, your service provider would ideally keep your data current and store it (or systematically update it) to be truly forwardly compatible (and searchable, and clean).

When it comes to security, think about it this way: you already store your money in the cloud. Your employer does not give you a bag of gold ingots on payday. They electronically transfer funds to a third party. Most of us are so comfortable with this that we don’t even think about it, but if the system suddenly stopped working or the third party stopped doing what they were supposed to do, mass chaos would ensue. The things that stop that from happening are mass and regulation.

So, a thousand little unregulated third-party data storage providers? No, I wouldn’t get on that boat either. Just enough big players to create an environment of competition and innovation, with appropriate government regulation that would establish forward compatibility and security? I’m all over that – and you should be, too.

Fireworks vs. Glacier

I’ve been thinking about writing this post ever since reading a fascinating piece by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker a few months back. Titled, “The Open Secret of Success“, the article used the lens of Toyota on the edge of overtaking GM as the world’s largest automaker to explain a pivotal contributor to that success, the Japanese concept of kaizen. Surowiecki explored how kaizen has come to define innovation,

As an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis.

A short time after reading this piece I was preparing to speak at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, followed a few days later by a talk at Blogpotomac in Washington, DC. I’d also been giving a lot of thought to SMG and what we do. We’ve been around since 2006, and used to position ourselves as “one of the worlds first dedicated social media agencies”. After a time, that became less of a meaningful differentiator, and as a venerable member of our advisory board pointed out, yelling “FIRST!” is not exactly strong or insightful branding. For the last six months or so I’ve been thinking about exactly who we are and what we do, and posting about it as a way of crystallizing and making a commitment to some of these ideas.

Thinking about that New Yorker article and the stuff I was going to talk about at the conferences, who we are and what we do suddenly became clear: we transform companies. We don’t just deploy some fancy new social media tactics in support of a campaign and walk away when it’s done. When we form a new client partnership and start helping them take the steps they need to form meaningful relationships with a broad group of their stakeholders, we start the process of changing them from the inside; changing what they communicate and the ways they interact with their audience (whoever that might be – customers, partners, employees, the media, etc.).

As you can imagine, this takes time, and the challenge is that, particularly in North America, we are very much conditioned for what I call the “fireworks” mentality, often embodied in the phrase, “Let’s make a viral video!”. In other words, we want a hit, a big hit, and we want it now so we can show our bosses what a great job we did before moving on to the next thing.

But what happens when fireworks are over? The sky goes dark; and all the energy funneled into making the big display dissipates.

The work that we do is the exact opposite of that. It is our objective to fundamentally transform the ways companies think about the behaviour that motivates the millions of people online all talking to one another, and the impact this can have on their business. Reaching out to these communities via tactical brilliance is definitely a component, but the last thing in the world we want to do is let the sky go dark afterwards. So we take the long view, focusing on incremental improvements. Things like including digital influencers in traditional events and maintaining those relationships, connecting with appropriate communities of interest in sustainable and meaningful ways, getting firms to pay attention to what people are saying about them online and learning how to respond and engage in a way that improves their bottom line.

Because, in the long run, based on the examples so clearly articulated by James Surowieki, what wins: fireworks or glacier?

Another Commoncraft Gem: Google Reader

One of the most difficult social media concepts to explain is how to make use of an RSS feed with a feedreader. I have met very web-confident folks that look at me cross-eyed when I talk about blog subscriptions.

The Commoncraft team took on the challenge with their RSS in Plain English video. Google asked them to take it one step further with their custom video, Google Reader in Plain English.

This one comes in significantly shorter than most of the other videos, yet it still captures the je ne sai quois that their other works have. Enjoy!