Brainstorming is everybody’s business – A practical guide to realize your streak of brilliance

Brainstorming Cups
The brainstorming cups. There has been a lot of research done on the efficacy of brainstorming and how it needs to be conducted in the recent years. I think it is one of the fundamental social aspects of information, both inside and outside workplaces and in the coffee shops of the world. It is ingrained in our popular culture. I drew the above sketch using Artflow. It is available on Android.

The conference room was buzzing with activity. It was the monthly idea generation meeting for gathering ideas and identifying the promising ones for the company wide cost reduction program. The program was gathering steam and the pressure was looming with approaching deadlines. Everyone is expected to contribute. Importantly, the idea generation and the subsequent project delivery activities are bundled into their performance objectives.

This is a typical scenario in many of the offices of the large global corporate companies and even smaller companies. Some of us can relate to this scenario. A colleague at some point, a fellow operations manager retorted ‘How do we expect us to be so creative in generating promising ideas with tight deadlines, my team is spent’

Many of us would contend with this typical scene and would have participated or facilitated it as leaders. Readers, we are talking about a ubiquitous process called ‘brainstorming’. A process that gets unfolded day in and day out in countless conference rooms, meeting halls, workshops and sometimes even virtually across the globe with a diverse group of people across different cultures participating in it.

I think the conference rooms around the world would die, lack lustre without them.

Brainstorming, as a social exchange of information is an age-old process. The mutual sharing of discoveries, knowledge and making connections is a prerequisite for our evolution.

This social exchange of information and a spontaneous contribution of ideas whether creative or not had existed even in historical times between the King and his council of ministers and in other places of congregation. In modern times, just like other social science terms it has taken the garb of ‘brainstorming’, a term used in modern workplaces. Thanks to Alex Faickney Osborn who first coined the word in 1953 along with a set of practices and principles.

We find vivid pictures of brainstorming in all forms in our popular culture. From the talk sessions that happen in the grand dining hall with floating candles in the Harry Potter series, to the ‘anything can happen over coffee’ coffee shops and tea shops around the world, we as people, whether strangers or not, unconsciously indulge in brainstorming. We are hard-wired to do it and it is ingrained in our popular culture.

It is not chaos nor it is madness but there is a method and rhythm to it. We will discuss it. There is an occasional ‘brilliance’ and other times it turns out to be a damp squib.

Nonetheless, we all embrace it affectionately as brainstorming. Literally, brainstorming does not mean to ‘storm the brain’. It is far from it. It seeks a certain harmony and rhythm. On the contrary, when you rest your brain, you perform better.

Being one of the most important ‘Social aspects of information’, there are criticisms as well as improvisations.

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Here is why Retail chain stores and coffee bars are better than traditional R&D

coffee cup and collaboration skills

Cheers to  #National coffee day ; Drinking coffee is good for your heart and lowers the risk of cognitive decline.

This is the third part in the series on the Best practices for social collaboration.  You can find part 1 and Part 2 here.

Please find few more

Create a system, which is not too loose or not too rigid

One of the best ways for improvisation is to create a system, which is not too loose nor too rigid.  Something, which is at the edge of chaos.  To know more, please read our blog post on ‘Social collaboration’ at the edge of chaos here.  The essence is in the usage of ‘semi structures’ as Brown and Eisenhardt point out.  You can request for a research report at Research gate.  A structure, which is not too rigid and yet flexible enough to create a change even at the last moment.

There are very few such global organizations, which can boast of such intelligent semi-structures.  Titan is one among them.

There is a need for critical balance for problem solving at the edge of chaos.  For example, the design process at Titan is not structured and the designers had the freedom to improvise and change plans even at the very last moment.

Processes need to be flexible to change in response to an unforeseen development should it happen. Something called ‘opportunistic planning’ as cognitive scientist Barbara Hayes Roth calls it. We will discuss more on ‘Opportunistic planning’ in our upcoming posts.

The company has built coffee shops everywhere, an increasing trend we have been seeing lately where people communicate and interact with each other.

Another company called cruising has successfully developed cross-pollination of projects – where everybody borrows ideas from everybody.

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How to Use Videos to Increase Employee Engagement and Collaboration

How videos help employee engagement

Recent research from Gallup revealed that employee engagement worldwide oscillates around 15%.

That’s 2% more than stated in the 2013 report from the same company called the State of the Global Workplace.

During the last four years, employers didn’t do much to boost the engagement of workers. The vast majority of professionals are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and not very likely to be productive. Only a very small number of workers is committed to their jobs and making positive contributions to their organizations. You can only imagine the estimated economic impact of that situation.

Still, there is a reason to be hopeful. There many organizations that are now taking a closer look at employee productivity because of the sheer benefits that come with high engagement. It’s not only about productivity, but also customer ratings and profitability, reduced absenteeism and turnover, as well as fewer safety incidents, when compared to companies with low employee engagement.

So how do you boost employee engagement at your company? One good strategy relates to the use of video. Here are 4 ways to help you use videos to boost employee engagement and collaboration at your organization.

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Adopting social media for social collaboration in workplaces-Best practices

adopting social media

Within a workplace context, the adopting social media and its usage is often termed as ‘Enterprise social networking’ or the ‘Corporate social network’.  In the recent years, a lot has been written about the benefits of using social media but little importance has been given to the science and art of its implementation and adoption within organizations.

Firstly, it is a science because the implementation goes through a set of methodical procedures starting from organizational readiness to the final measures of success.  The methods are the same as implementing any other enterprise systems in workplaces.

Secondly, it is an art because, convincing the employees and the wider organization to adopt  corporate social network with the realm of fast and dynamically changing social and political landscape is nevertheless an art form.

Social media benefits drive implementation approaches

The biggest benefit of them of all, providing the context to the information, which often questions ‘who, why and what’ of information, the challenges and pitfalls is often missing in traditional knowledge management and knowledge sharing.  This context to information, which is immediately applicable at work, is mostly tacit and hard to get.  Social media in workplaces provide the context to that information.

Another important benefit, from using social media in workplaces, is the subtle art of building social capital among project teams, the unspoken bonds of social collaboration to get things done.

To realize all these benefits by adopting social media in workplace requires a different implementation approach and which is more of bottoms up than top-down and more artsy than science.

Implementing and adopting social media in workplaces is no easy task.  Here are some best practices drawn from excellent organizations who have been front-runners in implementing social media and have realized the success adopting social media in their organizations.

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30% of employees did not spend enough time to learn from external social collaboration – HBR Research

external social collaboration

Ideas can be life changing. All you need to open the door is one more good idea”

The above quote is from the American author Rim Rohn.

External Social collaboration has the potential to make those small hunches and ideas worthwhile to pursue. They can develop it into a workable idea and before you know, friendly collaborators will spur you to execute it.  The intentions of utilizing external social collaboration networks are good but how much of this learning is used and diffused within the organizations? This is something we need to know. Nevertheless, there are certain principles that need following within workplaces to make idea generation fruitful for everybody.

Perhaps this is what companies are doing to spur innovation. A recent article from Harvard Business Review titled “A study shows how to find new ideas inside and outside the organization” talks about how employees in workplaces can generate new ideas by networking not only with fellow colleagues but also with experts and industry luminaries outside the organization. You can find the article here.

Big companies like Proctor and Gamble, Lego, and Bausch use employees who have the necessary skills to network externally to source ideas for them. Social media collaboration within the consumer space can be a huge help. The time and costs spent my employees’ networking and collaborating outside their workplaces sometimes outweigh the benefits of generating new ideas required for innovation.

Balance Internal and External networking

However, there is a catch. According to the findings, employees who network extensively outside the organization with their business partners, vendors, and industry experts are not necessarily productive. In addition, employees who network within their colleagues inside the organization are not completely devoid of new ideas either.  There needs to be a balance.

Senior employees within the organization, network with a range of industry experts and they spend a considerable amount of time doing this. The amount of time spent outside the organization can hamper the proceedings of the internal meetings and inputs, where their ability is required. Sometimes, time spent outside can derail the efforts of time-constrained innovation that needs to happen within the organization. It was revealing to understand that 30% employees (Respondents) do not spend the time to learn from their external social collaboration.

This means they (30% of employees) do external networking in a casual way, which may or may not add value in the end.

External collaboration and building relationships outside the organization requires a lot of time.  Learning and gaining valuable industry nitty gritty not only takes time, it is an art as well.

There is a concern that employees, who spend time externally this way, may not understand the innovation needs and priorities of their workplace in the first place.

Spending time on how to execute those ideas internally within the workplaces is equally important, if not more, feel most of the organizations. The irony is that, only when we spend time externally with counterparts outside the workplace, will we learn more from them.

Please read our blog post article, Benefits of social media in the workplace An employee perspective

The studies further point out that employees sitting at their desks all day and spending time only within their business units should not miss out opportunities to learn more from their colleagues in other units. In fact, there were more ideas generated, when employees collaborated with other employee groups. Sometimes, employees’ source of inspiration could be just right across the desk. We fail to recognize this fact.

Simple principles to follow

In such situations, how can organizations balance collaboration in external networking and internal networking?  The answers lie in the following simple principles for external social collaboration within workplaces.

Let me explain these simple principles.

The manager needs to understand the ability and skill level of the employees

It is not necessary that the all the employees need to engage in external social collaboration. It is important to understand the current organization goals, priorities, and needs. External social collaboration activities need to align with the organizational goals. Managers should encourage both internal and external social collaboration and networking. It is imperative to understand and take up that approach that works best for them.

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Social collaboration in workplaces – Time and creativity Best Practices Part 2

Social collaboration in workplaces

This post is the part 2 of the series, Social collaboration in workplaces. You can find the part 1 here.

Today, we will talk about how social collaboration in workplaces can help in areas where with time pressure to complete the work, there is no place for creative endeavors.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that time pressure will, in itself, spur creativity. That’s a powerful illusion but an illusion nonetheless.” These words are taken from an article in Harvard Business Review titled “Creativity under the Gun”. You can find the article here.

As the authors say at the end, it is all about dodging the bullets and bullets are a metaphor for all kinds of distractions.

With that in mind, what I would like to say is…

Do not rush creativity

Creativity needs some time to unfold. The sparks of insight that we encounter, need some time to internalize and recombine within the mind to fructify.

Research says that time bound and high-pressure jobs do not give rise to creative thinking nor new ideas.

Typically, in an organization managers give a day or two off after a task and particularly for tasks with tight deadline schedules. The fact is creative juices will not flow even after a day or two of completion. Employees often have to deal with something called the “deadline hangover” which lasts for several days. It could be because of exhaustion or post productive paralysis say some psychologists.

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How to foster Social collaboration at work – Best practices Part 1

Social collaboration at work

Fostering social collaboration at work is an art as well as science. Whether you are a new entrepreneur or an executive in an established company, fostering social collaboration and thereby leading to innovation needs the acceptance of chaos in the initial product development stages.

It is imperative that we avoid making detailed long-term plans but instead focus on the smaller details of users or customers’ needs and wants. We have to allow managerial teams to compete with many alternative designs and projects within a framework of goals and limits to achieve the desired results.

Further, it is a common understanding and perception that small companies foster greater social collaboration at work than large companies. This is not necessarily true. However, there is a lot to learn from the managerial practices of some of the world-class companies on fostering social collaboration at work and innovation. These practices can help other companies and managerial teams to learn and be more socially collaborative.

Firstly, what is social collaboration at work ?

Social collaboration at work is a set of processes where groups of individuals interact with each other to do common goals. The interaction might also be a ‘Brainstorming’ activity where people participate and new ideas emerge out of the participation and contribution.

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Adopting social media in workplaces – Best practice approaches 2017

Adopting social media in workplaces

Adopting social media in workplaces is both an art and a science and they both go hand in hand together. For that matter, conducting business analysis also has shades of both art and science and not much relevance is given to the ‘art’ portion of it these days.Conducting Business Analysis is a mandatory precursor and a must do exercise even before we attempt to carry out and adopt enterprise tools in workplaces.

For the benefit of some of us, the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) a much-recognized body in this field, defines Business Analysis as a ‘practice to bring in a change in an organizational context by defining the needs and recommending solutions to the stakeholders’.

Fair enough! but then in the recent years, the implementation and adoption of social media tools in organizations has brought the ‘art’ portion of business analysis to the forefront. This is not to say that logical analysis and methodological rules are no less important either.

There is much written about the logical analysis and rules of implementation.  What I attempt to write below is my natural understanding of how ‘adopting social media in workplaces’ can be taken up.From a business analysis perspective and to bring in a positive productive change and intended benefits there are three approaches to adopting social media in workplaces. They are:-

  1. The all at once together approach.
  2. Phased approach.
  3. The bottoms up approach.

There are myriad tools which run inside workplaces and not all of them have the connecting power nor the acceptance among employees, as social media tools. Once they are implemented, they become a way of life inside the organization subject to their usage and popularity among the employees. Its usage builds social capital.Having said this, there are ample opportunities for people in the HR function. 

People who work as HR Generalists, HR business analysts and OD (Organizational development) consultants can intervene and learn from these exercises. Even to the extent that they can glean for information and conduct the organizational scan, which they do regularly as part of their jobs for measuring employee satisfaction levels.

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Social media in the workplace: Intel, a case study in a nutshell

Intel social media check list

Intel is the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturing company. Founded in 1968 and headquartered in Silicon Valley, California, Intel is a global company with its employees spread all over the world.  All the employees work together to make Intel, the world’s largest and a highly valued silicon chip maker company. Intel, the name stands for Integrated Electronics.

True to its name, the company has a commendable and highly integrated social media computing infrastructure and tools for use for its employees. It does not stop just at that, the important thing is social media collaboration is quite successful here.

In fact, Intel is one of the early adopters of social media which is extensively used by its employees successfully in all the functional domains of the company. From recruiting, talent management to product engineering, social media collaboration at Intel has set benchmark standards in business performance and scores high in employee satisfaction rankings.

Intel is a trailblazer in this sphere and is all set to make effective use of social media in the future.

An example business challenge at Intel

Before I jump to write about a social media collaboration example at Intel or rather a specific challenge faced by Intel Engineers, I would like to thank the authors of the book “Social media at work” who have done extensive studies and interviewing executives at world-class organizations.

The author’s study, research, and findings have culminated in writing this book.

I have referenced content from this book to write about best practices in social media usage at Intel. The book is available at Amazon. It can be found here at this link.

At Intel, solving engineering problems has been a regular challenge. The engineers use the ‘follow the sun’ model. Through this model, work gets passed on from one geographical region to another and work happens 24 hours a day.

The real challenge is the absence of asynchronous communication. An instant two-way communication which can help the engineers was missing.

This communication bottleneck had to be sorted out and they introduced social computing tools like ‘Wiki’s’ and Forum for social media collaboration. This facilitated the engineers to capture their ideas, talk in real time, record backlog history, build trust with each other and above all collaborate without hindrance.

Productivity misconceptions

Intel did have its scary moments. For example, bosses do ask their employees “When would you finish your real job?” The mixed opinion is that social media usage does hurt productivity.

Intel learned it the hard way. To face such issues, Intel integrated business problems with social media collaboration and developed a proof of concept. Social media collaboration had to be built into its core processes.

Please do read our blog post on how  Corporate social network can be made successful.

Best practices for social media collaboration at Intel

Over the years, Intel, after many rigorous exercises and lessons learned, had compiled some of its best practices for implementing and using social media collaboration in workplaces. Please find them below.

The below best practices from Intel have been referenced from the book “Social media at work”.  My sincere thanks to Arthur Jue, Jackie Alcade Marr, Mary Ellen Kassotakis, the authors of the book.

  1. It is best to implement social media tools over integrated business processes. Standalone processes need to be integrated with the rest of the core processes. It would be futile and social media usage may be not be accepted well among users, prior to this integration.
  2. The consumer use of social media is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Employees are bound to bring in outside practices, inside the organization. Open source technology is freely available.There is every chance that employees will drive the IT function for implementing social media in workplaces. We have seen it already happening. There is a need for the democratizing the usage of social media.
  3. IT departments need to be quick to recognize changes in the social media usage otherwise they are bound to face more work in the future.
  4. Allow innovation to occur in a more natural way. Grass roots development need to take place. For mass adoption, “Executive buy-in” is necessary.
  5. It is good to allow employees to have their own blogs. Blogs give employees a voice and a means of contributing their knowledge, experience, and perspectives.
  6. To get work done from the grass roots level, it is good to integrate social media into the existing business processes of the company.
  7. It is good not to force anybody in the company to adopt social media usage. Social media usage needs to be encouraged only as a good option.

Finally, the important one – Social media should be easy to use

8. The important thing is to focus on the ‘Simplicity of the tool’. The simpler the tool, the easier it is to use it. It is good to involve all representative users for a user acceptance testing. It is good to take their feedback and make relevant changes.

Intel always sees social media usage as big contributor and a key enabler of business performance. As a company, Intel is committed to integrating social media into its key processes which make the greatest impact.

Cheers.