In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.
But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.
It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.
That is a good number.
But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.
The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation. There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time through collaboration and group think among team members.
Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.
Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.
Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?
The answer is – Yes!
Is there an online environment yet? Probably not.
We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.
So what is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.
There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.
Useful note: Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.
There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.
IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.
As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.
Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.
Being spontaneous and passionate for brainstorming
Focus: Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.
One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do. The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.
A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.
Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.
Go for quantity: It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.
Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.
Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.
Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.
Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.
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Corporate social network: The key is in listening and engaging with the employees.
Collaboration in professional corporate organizations, starts with a small banter. It could be as mundane and simple as talking about, what you have in your lunch box or sharing it with your team members over lunch.
But before we get into this, a quick look at what the research and statistics say about social media and its usage can help steer this discussion.
The usage of social media across the globe by people of all ages has tripled in the last 3-4 years. All of this increased usage has been more towards the consumer social media systems like Facebook, Twitter as well as Word press and so on.
the active social media users are about –2.3 billion.
With all this popularity and acceptance among people from all walks of life for consumer social media, it has not translated well into the usage of corporate social network nor has it found its strong footing among employees and leaders within global corporate multinational organizations and in small workplaces.
The obvious question is: Why the corporate social network lacks the participation and lively zest found in consumer social media systems? And what can be done about it?
I happen to read a recent article from HBR on why “Why no one uses the corporate social network?”. Interesting as the title, it is true most of the time. As I read through the article, I began to gather my thoughts and drew a couple of insights from the great examples provided there. My sincere thanks to Charlene Li for highlighting the examples in the article. Charlene Li, is the founder and CEO of the Altimeter group.
The HBR article showcases a study and a survey conducted in 2014 by the Altimeter group on more than 55 global companies.The usage of corporate social network among organizations, does not strike a chord nor has any agreeable similarities that the usage of social media systems (both professional and casual) has among the masses. Leave alone collaboration, even social interaction, sharing and employee advocacy has challenges.
To know more on how “Collaboration” can happen in social media,
A Corporate social network is the same as an Enterprise social network or a social collaboration software. They are a combined bundle of software, exclusively meant for all kinds of social interaction. This includes: community forums, discussion, chat, hubs and collaborative groups within corporate organizations.
The latter term ‘enterprise social networking’ is used by software vendors in this market space for convenience purposes.
A Corporate social network involves the use of the internal corporate intranets or custom made software solutions by its employees within the company network. Employees can share information, interact and collaborate with other colleagues across business units and also at times with other business partners.
Examples include: SharePoint, Yammer, Chatter, IBM connections, Jive, Slack, and Social Chorus etc. to name a few.
There are many productive business impacts.
Collaborative insights leading to successive iteration of ideas and there by innovation is one of the biggest positive impact.
There are recent claims from some organizations that they want to completely do away with emails. In this milieu of things, emails have taken the biggest brunt. It is reported that, employees spend unproductive time browsing and replying to emails. Corporate social networks can help companies make that move with much ease.
Usage of corporate social network – Survey results
The survey results, point to some interesting results.
The percentages on the usage of collaboration platform software and the Enterprise social network are not so bright with just about 36 % and 20 %. These two constitute the two biggest chunks among the lot.
What is interesting to note is the ‘No plans to deploy’ intention across the software in all the organizations, is quite high. The rest is self-explanatory.
There will be implementations in the coming years only if the adoption rates are better. There are chances that it might takeoff but then, much depends on how the employees and leaders plan to sustain it in the long run.
Issues and challenges surrounding the corporate social network
Many enterprise social network software vendors have promised a rosy picture of a well -connected employee wide corporate social network in the past. A seemingly good picture of a well-connected enterprise with all employees sharing knowledge and expertise, solving critical problems and collaborating together for innovation with hierarchies breaking down, is nice to have. But this picture is far from reality.
There are failed implementations across organizations as well as lack of commitment and not able to see the real results of such an investment.
To understand the challenges for using social media in organizations,
Charlene Li, thorough her research, says that the Leadership of the organization is the single most important factor in driving engagement of corporate social network in big organizations across the globe. If the leaders don’t see anything in it worth their time, employees won’t either.
There is an irony in this story. It is a fine balance between how much information to give in and how much to hold. In a high strung, result oriented environment, the emphasis is on productivity and getting the work done. This shifts the cause from sharing vital information and expertise to more towards holding the information.
Interestingly, Charlene, points out at the situation of management command and control. It is part of the hierarchical structure in almost all corporate organizations. Senior management would find themselves losing the power structure, if they close the distance between them and the employees. By engaging in social network interaction, the gap closes and they risk status quo and authority.
The Wikipedia on Enterprise social networking has stated many issues impacting the adoption of corporate social network in many big organizations. The notable among them are: Transparency, Perception, Privacy and Security issues.
However, there are solutions and natural leeway that leaders and employees can start looking into. They can take productive and constructive steps in their organizations, using the corporate social network to their advantage.
Ways for Corporate social network to flourish
Here are some of the ways that leaders and employees can latch on to.
1.Improving the perception on ROI (Return on investment):
The following has been an evergreen question within the corporate circles: What are benefits of using social media in an organizations? In fact, it is a very common search term.
A further drill down on the question is “Can the benefits be quantifiable?”
The common benefits cited are: Employee community building, sharing of knowledge and information and employee branding within the organizations.
But these are not digestible and sometime unacceptable considering the result oriented, profit driven and productivity driven organizations. The perception of corporate social network takes a beating within the leadership team.
Infact, owing to this, many software vendors have re-branded their products as ‘social collaboration’ software. The key is in the word ‘collaboration’. The word ‘collaboration’ makes sense for decision makers, as it rings bells and takes them closer to the profitability and productivity at the end of the day.
From Work Monkey Labs perspective, we have summarized the below benefits, which is quantifiable and can help manage the perception.
Collaborative Innovation and knowledge generation.
Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
Providing most valuable “Context” to information.
2. Lending a listening ear:
The essence of collaboration is a shared understanding among people. Managers and Leaders need to listen to their employees. There are numerous outlets through review and feedback sessions but this concept of lending a listening ear goes beyond this.
It involves sharing a feedback loop on an immediate pertinent problem right there at the very moment leading to corrective actions. Very often, the pains and process blocks are experienced as a fire-fighting scenarios by employee who work are live on the field or in live scenarios, supporting customers or selling products to them.
Example: A CEO of a leading Fortune 100 organization was with the sales and support people to solve a server shutdown scenario for a high profile customer. The mere presence of the CEO with them on a rare occasion had motivated the support team to work on the weekends, round the clock, to rectify the situation, so as to minimize business impact for the customer.
The customer was happy and in the process the team earned accolades. It so happened that the CEO and the entire support team were on the same corporate social network platform exchanging information.
3.Only if everybody knows what each one knows:
The statement “Only if the company knows what each employee knows” was made by a famous CEO of a Fortune 100 company some years back. Obviously, the person was mentioning about managing knowledge and sharing information within the company.
Managing knowledge the old way has gone. Employees have known and have experienced that managing knowledge repositories in databases is cumbersome, time consuming and has not helped them much. Now it is expertise sharing. Expertise sharing finds its rightful place in corporate social networks.
Instead of sharing just knowledge, it would be better to share the context around it.
In-fact, many professional consulting companies like Accenture have incorporated such knowledge management strategies within their organization.
4.Engagement and interaction to gain trust:
Leaders can share selective information at the right time and at the right place genuinely. Leaders can entrust the job to a group of corporate social network evangelists to take things forward and spread it in the right spirit.
In the past and even currently, we see emails doing the circulation within the company intranet on ‘the latest company alerts and strategy’. The same would fetch a lot of interaction and instant feedback from employees and leaders, if done within the corporate social network.
This could also be a conduit towards ‘open door policy’ for receiving feedback. This could also be an opportunity for the employees and the leaders to be in touch. This action gains trust among employees.
Trust builds, when employees see that their feedback is being recorded and suitable actions are taken.
5.Strengthening the network structure and cognitive triggers:
From a social network standpoint, technology is only good as long as it gets used. And that’s how far it gets. The underlying behavior of the employees and the way the corporate networks are structured also play an important role.
Like mind attracts only another like mind. It is true. If the cognitive ability and experience levels of the employees are at the same level, they would feel free and will not hesitate to interact and share. Having different corporate social networks for different business units would make sense in the long run.
6.Handling Privacy and security issues:
Privacy and security issues are a big concern when using social networks within the organization. There could be a breach, if vital information is not safe guarded. The irony stands out here again. Even though information sharing is encouraged, there is a fine balance between how much to give out and how much to hold on.
There is a sense of moral responsibility on the part of all employees when using the corporate social network.
Leaving behind: What I would like to say
Meaningful collaborations and interactions over the corporate social network will happen only if all the employees share the same giving culture. The global multinational organization is a melting pot of multiple work cultures, all fused and working together.
Finding out how people share information is a challenge. Finding a common thread that connects across all cultures is something of a task for proponents and evangelists of corporate social network.
It would be nice to talk about Adam Grant’s book at this juncture. His book “Give and take” is ground breaking and well received by professionals all over the world.
When you give, you receive. This is the new mantra. He talks about effective strategies on how to handle all the giving scenarios. His “5 minute favor” gesture in organizations can be practiced by everybody, whether you are a leader or an employee at your workplace. If you have time, please have that book in your reading list.
Coming back to my point mentioned earlier in this post, yes, collaborations happen over the lunch box or it can even be at the water cooler. Perhaps, this calls for a separate post.
Having said that, trust is the single biggest motivator for collaborations in the corporate world. Only when you trust the other person or group, people would like to share important details.
The onus for fostering the right culture and the right environment lies with the leadership team. Having great technology and software is only secondary. More than the technology or the social media, it is the behavior of the underlying social network that is more important.
Where there is trust and reciprocity, there is meaningful collaboration and corporate social networks can flourish.
For further resources on this subject, please find below.
Why no one uses the corporate social network – HBR
The strategy from MIT for digital platforms has never been so clear.
This article came up at the right time and at the right moment when I was browsing through the content at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Derived good insight by reading through the content. I am sure, the content would excite others as well in this field.
I would like to thank the authors from MIT executive education, Innovation@work blog, in posting this wonderful article. Some of the strategies are so mundane that it never occurred to us. There are so many ways that are possible to give our online digital platforms a new start.
The push and pull strategy with respect to a non-platform and a digital platform was very much relevant. The push strategy might work well in a traditional brick and mortar industry. The push is what is being followed through advertising and focused PR in traditional industries. The concept of reciprocity and attracting the users through rewards and recognition based pull strategies work very well in online platforms.
“Users should feel the need to come back”
As rightly pointed out, the needs and the reciprocity should be built into the platform. The reciprocity should be in such a way that needs promotes repeat users and referral cases.
Geoffrey Parker a research fellow at the MIT institute on the digital economy, says through his book “Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy – And How to Make Them Work for You”, that there has always been a dilemma in people who run and manage digital enterprises. They had the proverbial “Chicken and egg” question. But then, he says that both the “Push” and “Pull” strategies can be used intermittently on and off.
He goes on to propose 8 digital strategies for meeting this challenge and dilemma in his book and how successful digital platforms can be launched. Examples of world’s best global multinationals, who made it big on the Digital platforms were also provided.
Please find the 8 successful digital platform launch strategies from MIT executive education, Innovation@work blog.
Follow the rabbit strategy – Example: Amazon.
Piggy back strategy – Example: PayPal piggy backed on EBay.
The seeding strategy – Example: Adobe.
Marquee strategy – A common strategy adopted by a large number of companies. Providing incentives and rewards for people participation and contribution.
The single side strategy – Example: Open table.
The producer evangelism strategy – Example: Skill share
Big bang adoption strategy – Example: Twitter
The micro market strategy – Example: Facebook
Each of the 8 strategies presented were stellar. All of them have their own merits and demerits, some were pure pull, while others were push.
The big bang strategy adopted by Twitter needs to have a huge marketing budget backed by sponsors. Twitter’s big bang moment came up in 2007 when it hung up giant screens during the South by South west festival. Users were able to see their won tweets and their user base tripled by the end of the festival. This was a typical push strategy adopted by the company.
In my personal opinion, the marquee strategy can be used with a low budget and development costs. We develop the product in such a way it appeals to a certain cross section of producers and consumers. Once this section of consumers and producers get satisfied they will spread it and go on inviting others.
We invite readers to go through the below link for more resources on the 8 strategies.
Link from MIT executive education blog : http://executive.mit.edu/blog/8-ways-to-launch-a-successful-digital-platform
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