Benefits of Social collaboration in workplaces

benefits of social collaboration

In the recent years, there has been a lot written about social collaboration within organizations. Both employees and managers within workplaces can realize enormous benefits through social collaboration.

The benefits of social collaboration go beyond the obvious oft-repeated ones like social interaction among employees and community building.  The benefits have positive business impact and the primary among them is the enhanced knowledge, and information employees gain for collaborative problem solving.

What is social collaboration in workplaces?

Now having said that, we can ask the question, what is social collaboration in workplaces?

Social collaboration in workplace is all about a group of people interacting and sharing information to achieve common goals. Such collaborative processes finds acceptance in a natural ubiquitous medium like the corporate intranet space, where Information and ideas disseminate quite fast.

The concept of ‘social collaboration’ although not new, emphasizes the fact that ‘ideas are all around us’ we need to be open enough to see them.  No one-person need to have all the expertise in the world to solve the problems.  People do not operate in silos.  When they join and collectively add their thought processes and ideas, it is bound to value add to the entire process and probably turn it to a newer direction which would have been not so obvious if they (people) were on their own.

Social collaboration in workplaces is also known by with the word ‘Enterprise networking’ and is associated with software tools called ‘corporate social networks’ or ‘Corporate social media’.

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Want to Build a Culture of Innovation? Give Your Employees More Autonomy

culture of innovation

What kind of workplaces promote innovation?

You can expect employees to drive innovation in environments where there are fewer bureaucratic restraints and many opportunities for calculated risk. Innovation can only happen with a well-structured management system in place. Otherwise, experimentation can become too risky and great ideas might not get implemented.

In a survey by McKinsey, 94% of senior executives said that it’s the people and corporate culture that drive innovation.

Hierarchical structures where the decision-maker is difficult to reach and the decision-making process is not transparent do not foster innovation. That’s why employees need a degree of autonomy to execute actions and set their innovation goals.

Employee autonomy and accountability are the foundation for innovation.

These two values provide the essential framework that supports the innovation process among employees. An autonomous workplace gives individuals and teams ownership of their ideas and grants them the freedom to make key decisions.

Here are 5 tips to help you build a culture of innovation that gives your employees more autonomy.

Explain the ‘why’ behind the goal

The first step for managers who want to instill a greater autonomy among their employees is to explain why the goal assigned to the team has value. Most often, managers tell their employees what they need to do, failing to explain why it’s important or how it fits into the larger picture.

It’s hard to commit to a goal if you don’t see why it’s a good idea in the first place. The value of the goal might not be as obvious to your team as it is to you. So make sure to explain the ‘why’ behind the goal and help employees understand how their actions contribute to the overarching goals of the organization.

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Benefits of social media in the workplace: An employee perspective

Benefits of social media in the workplace

The current post, “Benefits of social media in the workplace – An employee perspective” is an updated and enhanced content version of the earlier post “Benefits of social media at workplace”. The article talks about the visible benefits of social media in the workplace from an authentic employee’s perspective.

The best practices and content is drawn and distilled from world class organizations and research publications (Including the Harvard Business review, HBR working knowledge and MIT Sloan management review) around the world.

In the recent times there has been a lot that has been written about social media collaboration, its usage and its associated technologies as one of the prime trend areas that will shape the future of work.

Understanding and exploring the benefits of social media in the workplace has enormous potential, not just for its designers and proponents but also for the employees who work in the organization.

There was a study that was conducted by an organization called Dynamic markets. It was found that nearly 74% of working population in Europe preferred social networking, social media sites and online communities to solve problems at workplaces. The two biggest benefits mentioned by employees were increase in knowledge for solving problems and secondly, cultivating a collaborative team spirit among employees on a daily basis.

Its impact as a “community building” and “social interaction” tool within the four walls, has social effects within the workplace. These two areas are the two most oft-repeated benefits that are linked to the usage of social media in the workplace. But then, their social effects go beyond these two into other real visible areas.


The positive effects of social media in the workplace is felt by Nerds, Geeks and managers (Who form the typical office crowd) alike within the organization. The term “Social media” is usually interspersed or used synonymously with the word “social media collaboration”, “Corporate social network”, “Enterprise social networking” and “Social collaboration” within an organizational context.

The senior management, would like to the see the word “Collaboration” attached to the word social media for obvious reasons. They understand “Collaboration” can bring in results, productivity and profits.  On the contrary, there is a perception that, employee’s time on community building and social interaction alone, may be unproductive and may not add value.

The below paragraph provides a quick summary of the benefits of social media in the workplace and then we will go into the greater details later in the post.

Please also read our article:Learning from HBR, Making corporate social network successful”.

Consumer social media has its influence on the benefits of social media in the workplace

True. We have already seen that happening. People across the world are more well versed (Particularly, the younger generation millennial) towards the usage, general acceptance and friendliness towards consumer web social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and others.  This has influenced the behavior at workplaces as well. People at workplace, are now more open to ideas, sharing information, being collaborative and creating communities.

Many Fortune 100 companies have opened the doors and have become trailblazers for the adoption of social media in the workplace beneficially within their organizations.

Some of this collaboration, has taken the garb of innovation hubs and idea banks while others have become knowledge sharing platforms.  They all share a common purpose aligned to business goals. With management commitment they are well shaping up to be the future of work. The business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace is obvious.

We are all aware of the recent news that Microsoft has acquired LinkedIn. LinkedIn, is again a social media network tool on the consumer web space for working professionals. The advantages might be many for Microsoft but then the importance of the benefits of social media in the workplace cannot be anymore understated.

 

Defining social media in the workplace

From a consumer point of view, there are many terms which are used interchangeably with social media, namely web 2.0, social technology, social media collaboration and so on. From a workplace perspective, it is all about ‘social collaboration’ and ‘enterprise social networking’ with specialist tools for chat sessions, community forums, collaboration platforms and tools for employee advocacy.

But at heart,

Social media is an attitude and an evolving culture. At a very basic level, it consists of a set of digital tools to connect, interact and collaborate.

Having said that, there are various tools used for realizing the benefits of social media in the workplace. Let’s have a cursory glance at some of them.

The common Social media tools used

Some of the commonly used social media tools  are :-

  1. Blog: It is a recorded journal of an individual. This journal can be made public for others to see and make comments.
  2. Social Networking Site: It is a website that allows people to interact with each other. Information can be shared and received. The site exists for forming beneficial relationships with others.
  3. Forums: It is a site where people can ask questions and get answers. People can in-turn reply on those answers in a threaded comments fashion.
  4. Wikipedia: It is a website which serves as a good repository of information on any topic. The information is filled in collaboratively by the general public. There are options to add, delete and edit content on the wiki site.
  5. Micro blog:  It is a form of blogging where the content consists of far less words and transmitted quickly. There is usually a notification which goes to all the participants. “Twitter” is a good example of this.
  6. Virtual worlds: A simulated artificial online environment where users take up avatars to participate independently or as groups to communicate and interact with others. There are many Massive multiplayer games of this genre and they usually depict huge ranging worlds of super heroes and science fiction. “Second life” is a good example of this.
  7. Podcasts: Consists of audio sessions that be heard online or shared among the participants.
  8. Web conferencing: Runs on many internet technologies. It allows people in remote locations to meet, interact and collaborate. Webcasts and webinars are some of the examples.

The prime benefits of social media in the workplace

Benefits of social media in the workplace
Employee bonding- One of the prime benefits

The benefits of social media in the workplace are many. Please find the prime visible benefits of social media in the workplace. These benefits have the maximum positive business impact. They are listed below.

  1. Knowledge creation and dissemination.
  2. Successive iteration of ideas for innovation.
  3. Creation of collaborative social capital.
  4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
  5. Providing most valuable “Context” to information.

Let’s look at  them one by one.

1.Knowledge creation and dissemination

The organization creates knowledge all the time. On one hand there is the highly subjective insights, which are valuable and are called the ‘Tacit’ knowledge. Tacit knowledge rests in the minds of the people. On the other hand, there is explicit knowledge, which is available in the organizational procedures and structured processes. Usage of social media captures these valuable tacit knowledge and helps in converting them into explicit knowledge. The context surrounding that information helps in this conversion.

Other forms of social media in the workplace also capture tacit knowledge. For example, formal collaboration platforms within workplaces encourage employees from different business units to share structured information with other employees as well.

Social media in the workplace encourages knowledge sharing

The presence of social media in the workplace, encourages employees to share knowledge. Social media facilitates the quick spreading of information where it is needed. Employees are generally not comfortable with the jargons of market share, ROI and productivity nor with the mission and values of the organization. They are not interested in hard numbers. They are more interested in getting the work done and to be in the good books of their managers.

Employees would like to have a collective sense of identity and a sense of belonging with a community. Such innate needs are fulfilled by employee engagement of social media. Knowledge creation and dissemination occurs naturally through the use of social media in workplaces.

From an employee perspective, through knowledge creation, sharing and dissemination, there is generation of new ideas.  And when we collaborate with our ideas with each other, there is insight and there by innovation.

For example: – Technical support centers across many organizations rely on collaborative wikis, to share knowledge on support resolutions and technical updates. This revised knowledge is frequently updated by the representatives who work on those service lines. The benefits of social media in the workplace is more visible,as there are efficiencies built in  turnaround time and the operations involved.

For further insights, please read our article:Expertise sharing in social networks”.

2.Successive iteration of ideas

For ideas to mature and there by lead to innovation, it has to go through many iterations. We may have a hunch. For the hunch to be developed into a workable idea, it needs others perspective on it as well. Social media as a tool within workplaces has provisions to encourage this desired behavior. Employee collaboration, being one of the prime benefits of social media in the workplace, facilitates successive iteration of ideas and thereby innovation.

There are many definitions of innovation.  The one that I feel right is:

When we reflect on our own experiences and knowledge with others, and their perspectives and existing knowledge, a new insight is born. And then after a series of such successive ideas and insight, innovation takes form by running through the process of design, development and results.

A manager might possess a path breaking idea about a new technology which can be developed in-house. A shop floor worker with years of expertise, might come up with a process innovation. Knowledge from employees will remain only as “Personal knowledge” as long as they are not shared with each other. Once they are shared, they become organization’s knowledge. This knowledge is valuable to the company as a whole.

By using social media in the work places, the employees are interconnected and grow together as one giant organism called the ‘organizational workplace’.

For further insights, please read our article:knowledge brokering

3.Creation of collaborative social capital

Social media is very adept at forming collaborative social capital. This tremendously enhances the positive business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace.

I was quite bewildered to read the sentence “Social capital investment is not for control freaks” highlighted in an article at the Harvard business review working knowledge website. The article reviews a book “In good company: How social capital makes organizations work”. You can view the article here.

Communities grow out of freedom of practice. Employees cannot be pushed by managers, to collaborate in a project because they have to. Employees will still do it, because they have to get the job done but it does not encourage social capital.

Strengthening social capital is good for social media in the workplace

Social capital is formed when employees would want to come together and work out of common activities, mutual intention and like mindedness. Employees do not want to work together just because they are friends.

Social capital is the influence a person has over his or her social network. The social network could be even within a workplace.

“Social capital is always strengthened and nurtured in the context of real work” say the authors.

The authors emphasize that, social capital is formed over long periods of working together and where there is mind share. It cannot be formed by “One shot bonding” for sure.

Social media in the workplace, encourages employees towards such orientation. Frequently, it is advised to have managerial intervention to steer employee engagement and social interaction towards stewardship and nurturing rather than management control. Employees should be free enough to talk about their stories of accomplishments and failures.

Such social capital formed, is indispensable and works well for the morale of the employees. Who wouldn’t want such motivated set of employees for their workplace. Social media in the workplace exactly enhances this kind of social capital and clearly is a strong case for visible benefits of social media in the workplace.

We have seen many examples, like in the usage of Wiki. People collaboratively create knowledge. Such collaborative wikis exist at workplaces as well.

For further insights on this subject, please read our article “Designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing

Social media in the workplace: Cisco

At Cisco, social media is part of their company culture. Cisco uses social media within the learning and development function. Employees continuously refresh their knowledge and skills using social media. They collaborate with each other exchanging thoughts and ideas as well as connect with their partners, vendors and communities.

The learning and development function partners with the business to understand learning needs of hardware and design engineers and effectively tailors courses for them. Even geographical distances do not hamper them.  Self-paced and web-based learning courses are being used where instructors cannot reach. Owing to this, they have reduced their travel expenses and very cost effective in meeting their needs.

4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom

Coming back to our study from Dynamic markets, mentioned quite earlier in our article, the study found that use of social media in the workplace has increased the efficiency in the organization. The study was conducted across 2500 professionals across 5 countries in Europe in 2008. Nearly 46% of the respondents said that the use of social media in workplaces has led to the spark of new ideas and creativity. Collective decision making through the usage of social media solves workplace problems as well.

There is a fine example to illustrate from the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire” if the main contestant feels uncertain of the response to a question, he or she would choose an audience poll as a lifeline. The audience was always right and nearly as accurate.

This phenomenon is what James Surowiecki has written in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”. He states that “Large number of individual people with “independent thoughts” will certainly achieve better results than the individual single person alone

The diversity of perspectives, specialized expertise, knowledge and isolated independent inputs makes it unique to tap into this collective wisdom which all pervades in our work environment, our surroundings and the place we live and thrive.

Social media gives us a platform to integrate these collective decisions, encourages and further accelerates the integration and the power of connection among employees. The cumulative effect is obvious as new ideas and wisdom start pouring in, new powerful results start showing up in the form of improved services and products.

Social media in the workplace: Dow chemical

Dow Chemical is a Multinational chemical corporation headquartered in Michigan, USA. A wonderful example of social media at work at Dow. who have truly reaped the benefits of social media at work.

Dow created a website called the “My Dow Network” in 2007. Now it happens to be in the name of “Dow Friends” for retirees. The earlier site was created with the intention to cultivate four communities of its retirees, current employees, alumni and women.

The site gave an opportunity and a window for retirees at Dow to look into what is happening within the company, connect with other retirees and explore job opportunities, if they chose to return. Retirees can lend their experiences, expertise and contribute in newer ways. It gave them a sense of new life and a chance to connect with their peers. It received tremendous response from all quarters.

The business world hailed their efforts. Since then the community kept on growing and added newer and newer connections day by day. Dow had described this experience in a wonderful video in their site. We don’t know if it is still available at their site.

It talks about the missing human element which makes all the difference.  Interaction through social media, connects people and is the element of change.  The sayings in the video,“It gives us the footing to stand fearlessly and face the future” reinforces positive social effects of among the community of employees.

Dow has truly found a way to reach and connect its people.

5.Providing the most valuable “context” to information

We have all been using knowledge management systems in some way or the other. For example, If you want some information, you “Google it”.  Context is important and offers help, when there is a need to apply the information immediately. Also in situations where ‘Know how’ and ‘ Previous experience’ is required, context comes to the rescue.
Social media networks naturally has an advantage here. It can provide the context, the human element to the information.

In age old knowledge management systems, knowledge elicitation, capture and collection was good but it lacked the “Context”. When people are introduced to a context, it is easy to find appropriate information.

With this, the Social media networks are indispensable in work environments. We can tap into the experience and wisdom of others and at the same time satisfy and quench our thirst to share, belong and be social.

An interesting offline example for “context” is the Leadership drive called the OST (Open space Technology). An open philosophy of collaboration and self-organization, usually done at offsite meetings at major corporations across the world on complex issues facing the organization. People are free to air their views and thoughts.

Everybody is welcome. All inputs are valid and taken into account. It heavily rests on the philosophy, that no person alone can solve all the problems at work.The collaborative groups usually self –organize and a context is added appropriately to the situation.

Social media in the workplace: IBM

As a large company, IBM experiments and always launches a number of social media tools internally for its employees. Few of the IBM’s tools include Micro blogger called ‘Blue twit’ and ‘Many eyes’ which allows employees to upload all kinds of data visualize it and launch discussions about it on blogs and social networks.

A more notable one is the ‘bee hive’ which happens to be more from a bottoms up approach where employees can upload their personal and official information. Employees can upload their “top 5” favorite things and share it with others. It builds employee branding and a sense of ownership within the company.

Lastly, the final word

Many global companies are actually asking employees to reach out and create new external networks to tap into valuable ideas. With this, I would like to bring this part of the discussion to an end. I would like to add more corporate real life examples of the benefits of social media in the workplace as well as the positive effects of the business impact.

In the meanwhile, you can always refer further reading resources below:-

  1. Social media is everyone’s business – Forbes
  2. Social media is too important to be left to the marketing department – HBR
  3. Defining Social media: Mass collaboration is its unique value – Anthony, Gartner Blog Network
  4. A brand new game – People spend more time on social media – The Economist

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Do ants have brains ? Yes, collective intelligence.

Do ants have brains - Collective intelligence

What is common among these three seemingly different but connected things – Ants, Birds and the Hollywood Movie, Lucy. Yes it is, Collective intelligence. Before we get into the subject of “Do ants have brains” we will understand briefly about collective intelligence.

Collective intelligence can be defined as

A shared or a group intelligence that is a result of collaborative, collective and coordinated efforts of individual members in a group.

We have known that general intelligence exists within individuals and can be correlated from various cognitive activities performed by individuals. The question is “Does Collective intelligence” also exist in the same levels for individuals in a social group or a social network?

Social networks have lives of their own depending on how we create them. They follow a cyclical pattern of creation, growth, rapid spread, global influence and long sustenance. Perhaps we can say that social networks can never die. We might be surprised to know that a social network thinks on its own and does its own independent actions.

The more we contribute the more it grows and each one of our contributions has a significant impact on the network as a whole and the network can collectively deliver where no one individual can do it alone.

Measuring collective intelligence – Learning from researchers.

There is overwhelming evidence and research that collective intelligence is so very important for a social group or a social network’s productivity and success.

MIT center for collective intelligence had published a report on “measuring collective intelligence” in a social group. It states that such intelligence is not about the individual intelligence in a group but it is about the sensitivity of the group as a whole, taking turns in the conversation for commenting, sharing opinions, ideas and answering to replies and the percentage of women in such groups.

The study shows a interesting finding that they have found a general collective intelligence factor called “c” . The factor is not related to the average or maximum intelligence of the individual team members but to the collective intelligence of the entire group.

The sensitivity of the group as a whole towards commenting, turn taking in responding, answering to group members as well as number of women in the group or social network.

There is lot of research that is going on with respect to the factors that affect collective intelligence in a social network. The number of women and the degree of collaboration that happens within that group has an impact on the collective intelligence of the group.

Do ants have brains ? What we learn from Ants, Birds, Fungi and the Hollywood movie – Lucy.

If you had seen the Hollywood movie “Lucy” you would be thrilled to the end. Good story line and movie direction of a slightly complex subject. Good direction by Director and Writer, Luc Besson.  The main protagonist Lucy, played by Scarlett Johansson gets transformed to a single invisible cell and disappears at the end.  In the movie, Lucy gets injected with a special super chemical which gives her brain the ability to use 100 % of its capacity, gradually. With this capacity she has the ability to transform herself and in this case into a single cell.  The individual cells in turn can act collectively together even though they are separated by space and time. Mind boggling isn’t it. Yes possible!

The movie is a worldwide hit but then it has received varied response from critics who say it is a misrepresentation of science.  But that’s something which we have not known and not experienced so far. We feel it is a distant possibility.

Garden ant and collective intelligence
Garden ant and collective intelligence

Let’s take an example of a colony of ants. The properties and super characteristics of a colony of ants is far more greater than an individual ant on its own. The amount of super co-coordinated effort a colony of ants can put together for reaching a bottle of jam is tremendous and they end up achieving it anyway.

This coordination is possible only when the ants are collectively acting together and not the feat of an individual ant. Such feats are the result of coordination and collective intelligence of many individuals. It is no ordinary feat that they build  huge ant hill all working together in a coordinated effort.

We human beings are multi cellular organisms. All the cells in the human body have their own individual properties, but then they all work together. By working together, they form a higher form of life called the human being.  This form is far more different and evolved than a single cell with its individual properties.

The bottom line is that we are essentially a huge bundle of cells (A few trillion cells approx.). According to the Smithsonian magazine there are about 37.3 trillion cells in the human body.

Another manifestation of the same phenomenon is about our thoughts. Our thoughts are not the product of a single neuron in the brain but a collective making of billions of neurons working together to create a pattern.

Such cooperative action and collective intelligence in social networks and in our society makes our civilization progress in leaps, allowing us to evolve with that wisdom.

The social network factor
Birds and Collective intelligence

Birds for example form a social network. When a flock of birds can collectively coordinate and determine the direction by combining the desires of each and every  bird in the flock, that’s real intelligence and you can say  that’s wisdom.

Another living thing, the fungi also behaves intelligently and collaboratively work together to find the best patch of ground to grow. It can even find the best path as well to reach it.

We have a lot to learn from the animal world.

End note

Image credit : Pixabay

Further reading resources :-

  1. Why some teams are smarter – New York times
  2. MIT centre for collective intelligence – MIT
  3. Collective hive mind – Science focus
  4.  Ants and brains – Reference
  5. When ants make decisions – Inside science
  6. Ants can navigate despite tiny brains – BBC

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Designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing

Social media platforms designing

Social media platforms or  social media network, knowledge sharing has been the lifeline by which people interact, self-organize and form a context.

Designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing has always been a challenge. So the question is, can Social capital come to the rescue?  An analysis of the Social capital framework within the organization or a social set up provide us the answers?

Useful Note:  By platform, we mean the computing platform and the necessary software code, rules and provisions required for running it.

A  year 2003 article on  The Economist “A question of wealth” talks about  “How Nations and organizations become wealthy ?  Harvard University professor Robert Putnam wrote a very famous influential essay “Bowling alone” where he says Americans would be far more unlikely to join the clubs and social circles in the 1990’s than they would in the 1950’s.  He came to this conclusion after noting the decline in ‘Bowling league” memberships in America.  Though this has been accepted uncritically, the basic and proven assumption is that all

All human beings by nature are social animals.

Sociologists believe that there is the hand of the growing field of Social Capital which sways wealth, power and status in favor of nations and organizations which have a high degree of Social capital with an emphasis on “Trust and Community” Let us explore this further and bring it to the context of designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing.

We have been seeing time and again that traditional tools for knowledge sharing and knowledge management have been failing the test of acceptance and “institutionalization”.

Useful Note: Wikipedia describes institutionalization as a process of embedding a social norm or a social behavior within a large organization or a social group.

Irrespective of where they are used, for in-house purposes within an organization or as an independent tool within the consumer web space, their acceptance is low.  Systems for knowledge sharing cannot be designed from a technological perspective alone. We cannot just look down upon the social, informal and non-canonical nature of our interactions in social set ups and as they happen in other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Useful Note: To understand more on social media networks, their definition and benefits please read our article on this blog:The promise of Collaboration-using social media in organizations

We have to embed the knowledge sharing system within an existing social setup of which they are a part. Ignoring the social side of the network has been one of the key factors for the fall and resistance to such knowledge sharing tools.

Then how can such knowledge sharing systems be designed? The concept of “Social capital” and its analysis has been hailed as the best path forward by many contemporary researchers and practitioners in this field. We will look into their work in a little while from now as we move along. But before that we will understand, the current challenges to the design and development of knowledge sharing systems using social media platforms.

Current challenges of social media platforms for knowledge sharing

The importance and the value of managing knowledge and sharing can never be understated. We are living in a globalized world with increasing complexity. With geographically dispersed teams, the complexity increases. There is a saying that “the intellectual capital of a firm is far greater than the asset base and the intrinsic value it has”. There is of-course the competitive advantage attached to it.

But getting a good foothold and grasp of managing knowledge and sharing is critical. The challenges from an organizational perspective usually come from

  1. The IT function- a key role player in facilitating knowledge sharing.
  2. Management commitment, priorities and alignment.
  3. Individual learning Vs. Community learning.

1.The key role of the IT function

The challenge is inherent in the fact that IT can support and improve knowledge sharing but it ignores the social conditions that facilitate knowledge sharing among groups. The successful outcomes of such systems come from paying attention to appropriate social context, norms, position, reward systems and leadership.

IT cannot be independent. It has to be embedded within the social norm. If it is not so, then it is a challenge and presents itself in various pockets of resistance within the groups.

Brown and Duguid in their book “Social life of information” wrote that

“Knowledge only has its use, if it can be related to people”.

People would like to know the context from whom it was originated and why? This provides the important “Meta knowledge”. This is also one of the reasons why recorded knowledge is not reused.

Tacit knowledge which exists in people’s minds need not be codified into structured explicit knowledge. This is where social media platforms come to the rescue. It supports elicitation of knowledge in its various forms and fills those gaps. Meta knowledge cannot be recorded in intranets or repositories they need social media platforms.

Huysman and De witt wrote in their book “Knowledge sharing in practice” that

People want to share experiences with other people with whom they look up for support and where there is trust, safety and mutual respect.

2.Management commitment and priorities

(If you are looking to build your own independent social media platform, then you can skip this section, this section is geared more towards in-house usage)

One thing is quite clear for successful knowledge sharing is that this initiative has to be a win-win situation. Increasingly, this goes in for a toss as the management from a top-down approach exert the need to control and monitor knowledge.

The very act of extracting knowledge from knowledgeable and experienced workers, builds resistance. But actually, this is an attempt to manage knowledge, make it more effective and available to others.

There is also a notion that when a core employee leaves, he or she takes away the core competency away from them.

There is a universally known fact that “employees don’t want to share knowledge anyway”. Management priorities of improving knowledge sharing is good. It is in the right direction but it has to be in a win-win situation.

3.Individual vs Community learning

Traditionally, so far what we have seen and still remains largely is that knowledge sharing is for individual gain and learning is supported at the level of individuals.

Most of the repository systems are built with this focus to enhance the flow of information to individuals. But what we are forgetting to acknowledge is that most knowledge is shared and generated within a social context and setup.

Learning these days cannot be separated from the social community. It is very much intrinsic to the existence of such knowledge that is generated. So knowledge sharing tools must support social relationships that exist among people and include it as part of the design requirements.

In the next section, we will take an introductory look into the framework for designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing and the ‘socio-technique’ analysis on which the social media platforms need to be designed.

An introduction to the Social capital framework

Existing research and several pioneering authors and practitioners have always been pointing out to the multidisciplinary aspects when designing social media platforms or social media networks. The disciplines range from Mathematics, Information technology, Economics, Sociology, Cognitive psychology and Ethnography.

From an IT perspective, when you want to create a sharing network, the primary aspect is to create an intranet which has 1. A shared information workspace – something like ‘sharepoint’ from Microsoft for example. 2. A communication space- which can use asynchronous mode like email or synchronous mode like video conferencing for people to share and bounce thoughts and ideas.  3. A collaboration space – like a groupware, workflow system where people can cooperate and complete work together.

The idea here is that the IT sharing network or the intranet and the social media platform need to converge and exist together. When such co-existence happens then that is the domain of the socio-technique and in other words, it is the social media platform which has knowledge sharing embedded in it that is coming to fruition.

There is a tremendous “interplay” between the social and technical aspects. This interplay is necessary and also continuously evolving. Understanding this interplay is a challenge and also the key success factor.

The development, implementation and use of such social media platforms needs to be flexible in order to adapt it to a particular environment, this makes it complex as well.

It is complex, due to a concept called ‘Drifting’. Social media platforms have the tendency to evolve and drift. It creates its own path, character and stance over time.

Useful Note: Drifting as a social concept, is the process of slowly moving away and taking one’s own path and self-organizing and evolving.

It has the capacity to self –organize, adds the human element of “Context” in all in its interactions, sharing and spreading in its usage.

Ethnography and its influence

Another important sphere of influence in the design of social media platforms for knowledge sharing is the subject of Ethnography. Ethnography, which is the study of cultures and their mutual understanding and differences does give us a method to this complexity.

But then the argument is that even though Ethnography carries out detailed studies on the work processes and their cultural settings and yet the gap exists when IT takes up the requirements for designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing.

Possible reasons are the complexity involved in translating the requirements and also we are dealing with two sets of people (IT function and the people working on Ethnography) who are divergently different in their approach, thoughts and ideas.

Perhaps the most important concept in understanding the social capital framework came from Bressand and Distler. This brings us to light when designing social media platforms we will have to study the underlying current of “Info-culture” in any set up.

Many a times, IT designers ignore this when designing an knowledge sharing system and analyze the ‘infrastructure’ and the ‘info-structure’. Infrastructure stands for all the physical hardware and software. The ‘info –structure’ is the formal organization, governing rules, formal business processes, hierarchies and strategy by which people exchange information and knowledge. The ‘info-culture’ is the social relationships and the culture that is prevalent in the group. It is social norm of how people relate to one another.

Many researchers at the forefront of the design for a new social media platforms express the need for an analysis of the ‘info-culture’ of the organizational setup. This is mainly argued as the third most important aspect in the analysis for design and not to be ignored.

The cultural norms, social relationships, safety and trust are the key concepts that need analysis. It is surprising that not much has been written about this in the contemporary literature for requirement analysis for design of social media platforms for knowledge sharing.

The social capital framework provides a promising potential to design social media platforms for success and acceptance.

What is Social capital? And how do we acknowledge it?

Social capital in social media platforms
The question of social capital

We might have heard about Physical capital, Financial capital, Economic capital and also Human capital.  A relatively newer concept, Social capital has been in the news and has been researched and talked about a lot.

Social Capital is the sum total of the trust, social norms, and most importantly the mutual and shared understanding you have in a social relationship.

Social capital can then be used effectively for knowledge sharing. Increasingly, people have to come to know that social capital forms one of the important aspects for determining an organization’s economic growth.

Physical capital and Financial capital determine the economic prospects and growth of the organization in the short term. They are hugely dependent on the vagaries of various global movements and indications. It is the Social capital aspect through its economic actors, the relationships they foster with each other determines the long term economic growth and development of the organization.

Human capital on one hand looks at the individual abilities but –

Social capital utilizes the collective abilities of all the actors on the social media platform.

Needless to say, Social capital removes the bias of individual learning.

It is emphasized that the use of Social capital analysis in designing and developing social media platforms for knowledge sharing greatly reduces, if not altogether eliminates the risks and challenges posed by managerial and technological ones, which have seen earlier. A good degree of diagnosis and analysis of a group’s social setup, its Social capital and improving the Social capital level of that group will greatly enhance the adoption and acceptance of the social media platforms.

People will have more opportunity to share knowledge within themselves and will be motivated to do so even as they have abilities and the capacity to share knowledge (Tacit knowledge as well). These are some of the elements and structural underpinnings which we need to understand for analyzing Social capital for designing social media platforms.

As the trend moves from individual learning to community based learning, there is a growing importance and acceptance of knowledge communities within organizations and outside. They form a trust circle where people can safely exchange knowledge and collaborate with each other creating an environment for innovation to happen. Such open collaborative networks thrive on the degree of Social capital that exists within that group or community

Useful note: ICKN (Intelligent collaborative knowledge networks), from the MIT center for collective intelligence, global think tank does lot of research on this subject.

Nahapiet and Ghosal in their book “Knowledge sharing in practice “ introduce three dimensions of Social capital namely, Structural, Cognitive and Relational.

Structural analysis of Social capital points to the network ties, the current organizational structure and also to network configurations.

Cognitive analysis points to the aspects of shared language, shared abilities and similar stories.

And finally, Relational analysis points to the aspects of social norms, trust and motivation.

Another interesting dimension was introduced by Adler and Kwon.  They talk about Social capital classification in terms of opportunity, ability and motivation.

If we analyze both these approaches, we are talking about

  1. “Who shares” and “How do they do that” this is from a structural opportunity standpoint. Research points that people within the same social hierarchy, create dense networks within themselves and there is opportunity for everyone to contribute within this group. “How do they do that” is something that needs to be explored. For example:- Top senior Managers working in MNCs form a leadership group within the organization.
  1. “What is shared” this is from a cognitive ability standpoint. People with similar stories in their lives, connect. People also share and connect based on abilities. They will be able to offer advice and suggestion to others with whom they can relate to.
  1. “Why and when” this is from a relational motivational standpoint. Social norms, trust and safety play a huge role and influence an entire gamut of people. Evidence and research proves that there is enough motivation among people to willingly contribute knowledge and suggestions based on trust and safety.

Simple requirement analysis for social media platforms

When we are doing a requirement analysis and information gathering the following table helps us in this task.

The table gives us a framework to start the requirements gathering with the research questions asked, important elements to consider, the various dimensions and the levels involved. Through this framework one can understand the stakeholders involved, the support and feedback needed from them.

A small note here, the stakeholders need not be within the same organization. If you are designing independent social media platforms for knowledge sharing, the stakeholders are much more diverse and heterogeneous. This makes the design much more interesting.

Requirements analysis table
Requirements analysis framework for social media platforms

As discussed earlier, an analysis of Social capital provides an in-depth functionality that needs to be embedded into the social media platforms for knowledge sharing.

Structural standpoint

When we look at the structural dimension of social capital, the focus is more on network density in terms of the number of actors who are connected to each other. Studying such density would reveal “with whom people share knowledge” and “Who shares with who” and how do they do it.

If there is a requirement gap we bridge the holes functionally so that the structural map reaches far and wide and as well group penetration. For example: the concept of groups is so popular in Linkedin. The stronger the ties, they will share tacit information.

Cognitive standpoint

From a cognitive stand point, we analyze the group’s ability to understand each other and whether they have shared mutual understanding, shared stories and similar problems in life and career. If such ties are stronger and if their cognitive intelligence is high, they will be able to share tacit information as well.

A useful note: – Not much attention is given to this dimension. It’s good to lower the cognitive barrier, provide functionality in such a way that “like minds attract like minds”. Only if the cognitive barrier is low, people will be able to share their personal stories on social media platforms otherwise they will look at sharing the same on a one-on-one basis, face to face.

If there is an expert, his expertise requires validation and we contact him in person to validate his expertise. The same should happen on a social media platform as well where people will have access to such tools and they will transfer tacit knowledge where it is required.

We need to also understand that this requirements gathering also has to take into account the culture of the setup. Apart from standard methodologies for gathering information from hierarchical setups, methodologies used in Ethnography and pattern recognition supports the overall process.

Relational standpoint

In a relational dimension, we need to understand that whether members are motivated and are willing to share.

We have to address the question “What is in it for me to share?” This provides the motivational part along with shared norms, trust, safety and respect. Not answering this question makes  social media platforms fail the test of institutionalization.

When there is “reciprocity”, then there is a no “motivational barrier”. The systems should facilitate or have such provisions for reciprocal response functionality. A good example is the “Facebook like”. Other things to take care are status differences, respect and trust.

Trust is one of the most important factors. If there is mutual trust then there is easier knowledge sharing, tacit as well. When people want to learn and want others to succeed as well, then such high motivation creates mutual trust which is highly beneficial to the success of social media platforms.

The stronger the ties between individuals, the greater the sharing of tacit knowledge happens. Sharing tacit knowledge requires a high degree of trust.

Finally, existing research reveal only this much. For further analysis and greater success, we need to carry out ethnographic studies for knowledge sharing. Appropriating IT to a specific social set up or organizational group is a challenge.

So far, not much has been written about how “IT will be used”. We once again comeback to the same saying that social media platforms usage is evolving and it is evolving culture and attitude. Groups constantly self-organize and we need to be cognizant of this fact when we are designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing.

I would like to thank the following authors for their in-depth research. I have referred the following books below. You can buy them on Amazon as well.

  1. Social life of information, Burn and Duguid
  2. Webwork information seeking and knowledge work on the www, Choo c Detlor and Turnbull
  3. Groupware and teamwork by Ciborra
  4. Managing codified knowledge, Sloan management review, By Zack M.H
  5. Knowledge sharing in practice , Huysman M.H and D de Witt.
  6. “Why organizations don’t know what they know”, Cognitive and motivational factors affecting transfer of practice in beyond knowledge management.
  7. The role of tacit knowledge in group innovation, Leonard D, S Sensiper.

Further reading resources.

  1. Ethnographic research within corporate environment – Harvard Business Review
  2. Swarm creativity blog
  3. A good resource on Social capital – Social capital research
  4. Mind boggling and Comprehensive data on the usage of social media and digital trends for 2016 from “We are Social”-Singapore

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Collective intelligence examples – Goldcorp Inc. and SETI@home project

Orchestra - as a collective intelligence examples

Collective intelligence examples are everywhere -We need to be discerning to know them.

There is a huge compendium of collective intelligence examples at this MIT site. It lists down all the social media and knowledge exchange technology platforms available on the market.

Here, in this article, I have written about two collective intelligence examples. Examples where participants self-organise and regulate themselves without needing an external medium like a technology platform to make things happen.

Mass collaboration has allowed us to create huge low-cost collaborative infrastructure projects.  These projects allow millions of people to collaborate and co-create products. Productive capability of people will now be better through such collaboration as the value creation is quick and easy flowing to reach the masses. Research profoundly says that the new collaborative way of working and capability, will be the future of business models in companies and how individuals perform work.

Research profoundly says that the new collaborative way of working and capability, will be the future of business models in companies and how individuals perform work.

This collective action of bright minds joining together as one social activity to create value and there by leading to a coordinated decision making is what “Collective intelligence” is all about.

Infact, collective intelligence is a sub-set of such mass collaboration. In other words, we need to have mass collaborations for collective intelligence to take place.

We are going to talk about two diverse Collaborative collective intelligence examples as initiatives that has happened in the past and look at how these initiatives sustained and were a great success. These stories were told over and over again by many. But then, what is important is to capture the essence of what is to come in the future.

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Goldcorp Inc. – The Goldcorp Challenge as  collective intelligence examples

It would be interesting to talk about Rob McEven, the then CEO of Goldcorp Inc. who had a spark of an idea in the year 1999 and went on to launch one of the World’s most successful collaborative collective intelligence efforts which made history.

Goldcorp Inc. is a gold mining and gold producing company headquartered in Canada and was going through a rough patch facing bankruptcy and closure in 1998.  Goldcorp also owned the underperforming fifty-year-old mine at Red lake in Ontario, Canada.  With its mine dying, the company was also doomed to die eventually. There was unrest within the employees with strikes and debts looming.

In-house geologists within Goldcorp couldn’t find and locate gold deposits within the mining site and nor they came up with favorable solutions.  They looked forward for McEven for a turnaround and for his leadership.

With his company still in lot of uncertainty by the year 1999, McEven attended a conference sponsored by the MIT. He was listening through the lectures and then a striking story came about on how “Linus Torvalds” created the Linux, the world class operating system by assembling a group of software developers.

When Torvalds revealed his code to the world, it allowed some thousands of willing programmers to voluntarily contribute to the development of the operating system. The contributors would vet it, make amends and further released newer versions of the software.

McEven contemplated and thought about it. He had a moment of insight. If his employees were not able to find gold deposits at the Red Lake then may by someone else could. He set of with his spark of insight and discussed many follow through ideas with his team.

The Goldcorp challenge,

In the year 2000, the Goldcorp challenge was born. It is one among many collective intelligence examples. He (McEven) decided to throw open the exploration of gold deposits to the world. Sharing all the knowledge and expertise they had with them from the last 50 years from 1948.

Initially, there was lot reluctance from within his team members. As his ideas were unconventional. The concept of Collaborative ‘Collective intelligence” and Wisdom were not known to the mining industry and the world audience.

Largely, the mining industry was a secretive industry. Nobody ever revealed information about a site and its geology. It was considered precious and proprietary data. Nevertheless, they decided to go ahead with the Goldcorp challenge in March, 2000 with a prize money of $ 575,000 available for participants and contributors who had the best ideas, techniques and estimates for finding and locating gold deposits at the dying site at Red lake.

All the geological data that Goldcorp had from the last fifty years was shared with the public though software and sharing infrastructure. People from all walks of life – Geologists, ex-military, students, scientists and consultants participated and contributed. It was a tremendous collective response and intelligence working together. McEven had his team were surprised at, the amount of information and expert talent and intelligence that was available externally.

Even as the concept of Collective intelligence existed many years before, McEven chance stumbled into “Collective intelligence” through a spark of an insight for the mining industry. So great was the response, that within weeks of sharing the information, the contributors had identified 110 targets within the Red Lake mining site. Out of which 50 % of the targets were totally new and not identified before and about 80% of them yielded vasts amounts of Gold deposits.

Fractal Graphics

Fractal Graphics, an Australian Geoscience consulting firm and Taylor Wall and Associates together shared the first place winner’s prize of $ 105,000 in the contest. The scientific team at Fractal graphics based in Australia and had not visited Canada and the mining site before but they still managed to make collective efforts, pooled their resources and minds together and worked on from Australia to present winning locations for gold deposits.

Goldcorp today, is enjoying the seeds of ideas and effort that was sown 16 years back. It has now become the 4th largest producer of gold in the world. The company has successfully harnessed collective intelligence and turned itself around.

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Cooperative computing at the SETI @ home project – A collective intelligence example

Collective intelligence at seti
Collective intelligence search for ET

SETI@home (Search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is an experimental project for using distributed public resources across the world. Public resources in the likes of idle computing power in our PC’s and Laptops at our homes and offices.  This idle computing power can be used to analyze radio telescope signals. A distributed cooperative computing happening in time where the collective intelligence of all machines across the world, can be used to speed up the enormous processing and computing power and resources required for the analysis.

The radio telescopes erected around the world listen to the narrow bandwidth radio signals from outer space. These radio signals are not naturally occurring and so analyzing them would provide evidence for the existence of Alien intelligence lurking out there or maybe even a contact is possible.

Carl Sagan

For those of you, who have grown up seeing the television serial “COSMOS” in the year 1980 where Carl Sagan (The man behind the SETI project) narrates the mysteries of the universe, the project and such extraterrestrial experiments for finding life outside earth would be a thrilling experience. The Hollywood movie “Contact” is also based on such radio telescope signal analysis where in a riveting story unfolds based on it. So popular is the SETI project for people across the world that it has remained as a fantastic exploration and quest for life outside earth in the minds of people.

The SETI @HOME project was launched by the Space sciences laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley in May, 1999. The Challenge was that the computers at the SETI@home project had to analyze each and every radio signal frequency and decide whether it is an intelligent signal or a noise and it had to listen to a huge number of frequencies. It required massive computational resources to accomplish this.

Buying such massive computational resource is expensive. So they thought about a clever way of using idle computing power lying at our homes and offices. All we need to do is to download the software program which is now available as part of the BOINC  (Berkeley open infrastructure for network computing) infrastructure.

Machine intelligence is also collective intelligence

The software program comes in the form of a screen saver for your PC or laptop. When your PC is idle, the screen saver actually downloads a packet of data from SETI@home, processes the packet of data and sends it back to SETI@home. Each packet of data contains a work Unit of radio signals. It is as simple as this but then the infrastructure provisions and the challenges inherent in such large distributed computing was very evident.

Even though there is machine intelligence involved, this is real computational collective intelligence at work. Processing the radio signals in a cooperative fashion and helping towards the signal decision making for a greater cause is real collective intelligence that the world can see and wait for the results.

Since its inception, the project performed 10 21   floating point operations and this distributed computing as entered into “Guinness book of records” as the world’s largest distributed computing research project.

So far, the project has not detected any extraterrestrial signal but has identified candidate sky positions where likely concentration of intelligent radio signals might be lurking. Expectations are that somewhere between in the years of 2020 to 2025 that enough evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence would be found.

Hope you liked reading about the two collective intelligence examples above. If you like this article, please do share us.

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Further resources on this subject

  1. MIT Centre for collective intelligence – Good resource for collective intelligence examples.
  2. He struck gold on the net (Really)
  3. Wikinomics – How mass collaboration changes everything
  4. How stuff works – SETI@home project
  5. About SETI@home

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Collaboration of ideas through knowledge brokering

leap through knowledge brokering

knowledge brokering- Summary

Curious as I was, it was first time I heard about the concept called the “knowledge brokering cycle”. I was pleasantly stunned and surprised that much has already been researched and written about this technique of new idea generation process. Never the less, this a best practice followed the world over.

Knowledge brokering helps us make those leaps from old ideas to new ideas and apply them to newer contexts in an easier fashion.

I am talking about the article “Building an innovation factory” written by Andrew Hargadon and Robert E. Sutton in the June 2000 issue of Harvard business review. After going through the concepts presented in the article, felt it was widely relevant even today considering how businesses can be innovative in the changing dynamics of the business environment. We all know that new ideas are so precious in the modern economy. It does not have to be done in an isolated fashion. The business of producing new ideas and testing them have now been made more systematic and it can be followed and implemented by any organization.

Let us have a look at Wikipedia and see  what it says about “Knowledge Brokering”

“A knowledge broker is an intermediary (an organization or a person), that aims to develop relationships and networks with, among, and between producers and users of knowledge by providing linkages, knowledge sources, and in some cases knowledge itself.”

The recycling of old ideas has been the primary engine for generating new ideas. This generation of new ideas is done through a set of processes or best practices known as the knowledge brokering cycle. The knowledge brokering cycle has four parts leading to innovation.

  1. Recording and capturing all the old ideas.
  2. Discussion and interaction on the older ideas to keep it alive.
  3. Brainstorming on the old ideas to generate new ideas.
  4. Finally, converting the new ideas into useful and commercially viable business concepts, processes or products.

The wonderful part is that each one of the parts can be practiced independently by individuals or companies or they can be used as a set of processes for generating new ideas. They serve as a best practice. Leaders and individuals who use these processes have to change their thinking and should foster that culture within their organizations.

Such thinking is increasingly practiced by more and more companies. These companies know that it is the new ideas that move their companies ahead and without which they would become obsolete.

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Understanding the Knowledge brokering cycle

Organizational leaders  know that it is no longer about working in silos but it is all about the attitude and helping each other. The more the ideas from each and everyone in the company, the better. They have learnt to systematically use the old ideas as raw materials to generate new ideas.

The process of conversion of old ideas to new ideas by following a set of systematic processes is what the knowledge brokering cycle for innovation is all about. There are some intermediary companies and organizations who take up the work of bringing together all the old ideas and make a newer connection. They make use of the old ideas in a new way, in a different combination and in a different industry.

There are many wonderful examples, where proven and established concepts are reused and recycled in a different contexts. This is an excellent way to spark creativity and innovation.

A wonderful example to mention is that of the steam engines. For more than 75 years, the steam engines ran in mines and then came Robert Fulton. Robert Fulton thought deeply about it and then came up with the idea of using the same steam engine for propelling a steam boat.  He then later on developed the first commercially accepted steam boat using a steam engine. A classic example of using a steam engine in an altogether different problem. He thus made the leap.

So it is obvious, that we need to make those leaps from older ideas and apply them in newer contexts. Knowledge brokering as a concept and as a best practice helps us make those leaps. The leaps become more and more easier as we keep embracing the knowledge brokering processes.

Now let’s quickly look at the four parts of the knowledge brokering cycle. As we have said earlier, even though the article is written in the year 2000, it is widely relevant and prevalent even today. We would say that these processes have matured, as most organizations not just within the design firms like “Ideo” and startup incubators like “Idea labs” but also other smaller organizations, consulting companies across many industries across the world who have applied these best practices within their own processes and work practices.

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1.Recording and capturing old ideas

The first obvious step is of-course to record and capture all old ideas. Leave no stone un-turned. Even if you are not sure, whether a particular idea may/may not be of use, record and capture it anyway. We never know, how it can be of use in the future.

The process is simple. When you find an old idea, you simply do not throw it away but you play with it within your mind and see what more can be done. How it works and doesn’t work in certain situations and so on. One can start imagining different ways of doing and applying the idea. But, all these mental calculations start after you have recorded and captured it.

For example, in IDEO, the design firm, employees take a field trip to a local toy shop or a hardware store to just get to see how things work. By seeing and being there, there are chances that new ideas might happen. Similarly, there are organizations which arrange employees on training to go on a field trip to visit local industries.

We can take another example from Thomas Alva Edison. This was almost hundred years ago. Edison followed many work practices, which he sincerely followed and the result of course are so many of his inventions. He says,

  1. First study the present model or construction
  2. Then, look for past experiences
  3. Do as much background reading and researching on the subject as possible.

Many innovative companies including consulting companies follow the same model for re-engineering their business processes and for process and work improvements as well.

The idea collection goes on and takes up different shapes in many industries. As mentioned earlier, many companies operate as intermediaries or play the role of knowledge brokering. They collect as much information as possible on the products and observe the users. They also engage in scanning the environment. Such scanning, recording and capturing ideas aid in initiating the next big project.

Usually, big consulting companies like Accenture engage all their clients from diverse industries once in a while and invite them over for a conference to talk about diverse industry issues and challenges. Some of these issues may lead to new ideas and thereby innovation. You just need to keep imagining. Some may click and some may not. The important thing here is that we need to keep collecting all the ideas.

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2.Discussion and interaction on the old ideas to keep it alive

This is the second step in the knowledge brokering process and which is also very crucial for the successful outcome of generating new ideas in the knowledge brokering cycle.  We need to keep the ideas alive. Discussion and interaction of the existing ideas is a continuous activity. Often, the biggest obstacles in solving the problems is not ignorance, it is not getting the right information at right time. Many people miss this information, even if they have already known or learnt about it.

Lot of information is tacit in the minds of employees. Companies lose information when employees leave them. The notion that “All ideas are good” holds true. We just need to keep piling with more and more ideas.

We need to keep discussing about the ideas and interacting with each other on “What works” and “What does not work”.

An excellent example, is the use of “Tech boxes” at IDEO. Each employee at the company owns a Tech box.  A “Tech box” is a huge collection of material (usually, interesting ideas) that the employee has collected over the years and curates it.  Over a weekly conference call, the employees discuss new additions to these boxes. This is an excellent way for employees to keep looking at their boxes and discuss it over with their colleagues. In this way, the ideas are kept alive, discussed over and passed on to others. Sometimes these stored ideas can be reused by others as well.

Ideas would die, if they are not kept alive. Practice and experience says that if the ideas are not embedded in real life objects, they would eventually die.

It was for these very characteristics that the employees at IDEO were respected for they went out of their way to help others.

Another classic example is the knowledge management system at Accenture. Initially, when they developed, they thought that the presentation slides and reference documents would be sufficient. But, this didn’t really serve the purpose. The employees did not warm up to it.

The employees used the reference documents and slides as annotated yellow pages. These pages would give them information on whom to connect to, for getting the information. Whom they should really talk to, to get the rest of the information.  The team at Accenture learnt the hard way that “having a huge database of information, is alone not enough to solve the problems”. There were lot of learnings from this direct observation and they redesigned the system.

The team at Mc-Kinsey accomplishes this by maintaining a database of “who knows what”. Through this method, the Ideas were kept alive, fresh and they were always discussed about.

Edison was also known for keeping his ideas alive. He remembered all his old ideas and had the ability to know, when and where it was used.

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3.Brainstorming on the old ideas to get newer ideas

The next important step in the knowledge brokering cycle is to find out and identify new uses for the old ideas, apply and test them for newer contexts and situations.

Nowadays, we find lot of crosspollination of ideas that happen. The internet and the social media is full of such examples. Would like to talk about two of them which caught the fancy.

The first one is the usage of old plastic pet bottles. Instead of throwing them away in the garbage can for recycling, people have found innovative ways of cutting them into two halves and using them for growing small house plants, pen stands, magazine stands and shoe racks etc.

The second one is the usage of the big plastic water drum. These plastic drums are sliced into thin strips of plastic. These strips are then used for making garden chairs.

There are many classic examples. The one on Edison’s bulb was memorable. The bulbs kept falling from their fixtures. A technician thought about this problem and suggested that they use threads after noticing a threaded cap of a kerosene bottle. And thus the threaded bulb was born.

When you start talking a lot about your problems, at one point in time you will know, who will be able to help you better. Conferences on specific issues and topics that happen all the time around the world, informal talk with colleagues and formal brainstorming sessions are some of the ways that people share their problems and this way new ideas are born.

There is also the redesign of office physical spaces. The designs are made in such a way that people always bump into each other.  Very typical of an open office space  where everyone meets everybody.

A wise man once said “the real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded in 24 hours”.

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4.Converting the new ideas into useful and commercially viable business concepts, processes or products.

The fourth and final step in the knowledge brokering cycle looks into the aspect of turning those ideas into useful concepts or products. A good idea needs to be converted into something that can be tested and experimented and if successful needs to be integrated into the rest of the other processes or pursued independently.

It is in this stage, as we experiment and test with the ideas that the mistakes can be known, rectified and improvements can be made.

There are many organizations within this knowledge brokering step that involve themselves in prototyping and making simulations. These techniques aid in refining and further developing on those ideas so that they become commercially viable.

The focus should be on testing and solving the problems and not on the final solutions. Final solutions will fall in place once we get it right with highest quality. Prototyping and testing should be part and parcel of the process towards innovation.

The positive aspects of such testing and experiments are that we know where the failures are and we learn from our mistakes and improve upon them.

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Knowledge brokering groups – inside organizations.

Any company can make use of the knowledge brokering groups that exist informally within the various functions. They can be formally assigned as the knowledge brokering group and can be given the task of assimilating facts and figures of what everybody is doing and moving the ideas from one place to another place. They act as a point of contact for further knowledge.  Other employees and business groups within the function can count on them and avoid re-inventing the wheel scenarios.

If a particular concept has already been implemented in another business unit even if it is across the globe, The knowledge brokering group can help disseminate it to the rest of the organization or to where it is needed.

A good example of this case is the Hewlett Packard’s SPAM group which was formed way back in the 1990’s to optimize the supply chains. SPAM (Strategic planning and modelling) used powerful modelling techniques to analyze “What if” scenarios and spread it to the rest of the organization.

It goes without saying, innovation can always be given a boost if the organizations can foster the right culture and if the people working inside can carry the same attitude of openness in helping others.

The people should cultivate an attitude of shared culture and openness in helping others.

Particularly, people working in the knowledge brokering groups should be curious as to know “what else they can do with the ideas and concepts and where it can be used “ rather than “from where it has come from or who has given it “. Interestingly, an “Ego scale” has been developed to screen staff from joining or raising a startup organization. This scale was developed by one “James Rabbins”.

So on a scale of 1-10, an “Ego scale” rating of 7 or 8 would suffice. A rating of 10 would be somebody who acts as if they know everything and have nothing more to learn and rating of 3 would mean somebody who lacks the confidence to be successful entrepreneurs.

The idea of the “Ego scale” is to have somebody with a right mix of confidence and humility. Such individuals will create the collaborative culture needed for the knowledge brokering groups to thrive.

Financial rewards from the organizations might help but true respect, self-worth and success for the knowledge brokering groups come when they are selfless in contributing new ideas and freely brainstorming without inhibitions. They understand that “when you give, a new insight happens”.

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Please also read our internal resource from Work Monkey Labs on a similar topic

Learning from inventors and scientists- Successive collaboration of ideas

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Hope you liked reading this article. If yes, then please do share us.

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24 simple approaches to generate new ideas at workplace

Brighton beach, Creative ideas

24 simple approaches to generate new ideas at workplace

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Good ideas just happen. We just need to be aware. The ideas are all around us. They just pop up out of nowhere. Everyone has the potential to be creative. It is not connected to the innate intelligence we all possess nor it is an aptitude. It is in the way we live, work and enjoys.

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Download (PDF, 3.96MB)

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What is creativity? Then…

Creativity is a random act of awareness, which pops out of nowhere and usually and always turns a raw or an unrefined thing into something beautiful, real and of great value.

Creative easter egg idea
Creative Easter egg idea

Creativity is Ubiquitous. The “Creativity at work” blog says Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Wikipedia on Creativity  says that, Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new or somehow valuable is formed. The created item is usually intangible.

Brian Clegg and Paul Birch wrote in their book “Instant creativity” that Creativity is illusive. There is an “artistic creativity” which involves writing a book or producing a piece of music and then there is the “creativity of discovery”, here we discover or invent new products and things and then finally there is the “creativity of Humor” which involves seeing the world differently. From the perspective of organizational, business or work challenges, creativity or solving with creative ideas usually involves all the three aspects of creativity.

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What are the practical challenges for having creative ideas?

Different colour pencils
Challenges are many

From an organizational or a business context, creativity is not a fancy nice to have feature anymore. In fact, without it very few companies would have survived today. When solving our work challenges, without a creative idea, we would be looking at the same problem day in and day out, without viewing it from a different frame of mind. Old problems would still remain.

We may just accept the need for creativity and acknowledge it by recruiting a few creative people from the market to serve our needs. It is good in a way, but we are missing to solve our work challenges through our own creative ideas. We may not know, our ideas may be the best and we are the ones who know the problems better than the paid external talent.

Everyone has the creative potential and it is just that we are not aware of it and therefore not using it. Some have even suppressed it.  There could be many reasons.

The reasons for not using our creativity could be many. It could be that we are not in the right mood, or it is the wrong timing and also it could be in the way we have been educated. We know it or not the major emphasis on today’s education is focused on getting the right answer or the required answer rather than coming up with a creative solution.

Many of us would have come through an education system which lays emphasis on regurgitation. Our examinations force us to write answers which the examiners want rather than writing creative answers or offering creative solutions to problems.  Even in the corporate business environments, there is no chance for failure the focus is more on quick results.

But it is only through failures that we learn. Failures shouldn’t matter to us. It is only through facing them that we will achieve creativity. Everyone should be given a free hand to express and contribute. Knowing that you would fail shouldn’t be ridiculed.

The other areas are psychological which involve having a tunnel vision, which is not being able to see beyond one’s immediate activity having a narrow view of things and then there is also the lack of inspiration.

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Practical approaches to adopt to solve challenges at work

The approaches mentioned here, willingly take you off from a well proven established viewpoint to compel you to do something which you otherwise wouldn’t do. This would be uncomfortable in the beginning but it slowly leads you on to the path of generating creative ideas.

When you follow these methods, it is natural that you come up with something that is entirely different. It is an opportunity to look at your work challenges from a fresh perspective and from a different frame of mind.

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Practical method 1:  Ask the question “What’s the Problem”?

 

Have a cup of tea
What’s the problem, have a cup of tea

This addresses the question what’s the problem within your current work area. Generating creative ideas is generally a two-step process where it involves individually approaching the problem as well as taking help of the group. As an individual, you come up with an initial rough idea and then you develop and refine those creative ideas better with a group.

Let’s look at some practical ways in addressing “what’s the problem ?”. This aims at coming up with an appropriate set of requirements. Initially, we may not know what we may need. The question may not be clear in the beginning. But after a series of “How to” questioning or questions, something begins to emerge.

  1. New pathways

Here, this method is used to find the real work challenge or the problem underlying the problem statement. We need to keep asking the question “Why” when somebody uses the question “How to”. We keep asking “Why” a lot of times. This keeps continuing for some time till we reach a situation where each ‘Why” question becomes a “How to” question on its own.

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How to present a project idea at your workplace

Project idea

Presenting a project idea at your work place

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Watch our video “Presenting a project idea at your work place”

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We might have heard of many ways in which new ideas and creativity can be spurred in an organization. This might include include having rewards for creativity, encouraging cultural diversity and bringing in passionate people “who love what they do and having a flexible environment. But, have you ever noticed that inspite of having a encouraging and supportive environment, it is the way in which we project our ideas matter most?

A key challenge in today’s organization, is to balance the two essential things, one is to maintain the current operations, which is called as “Business as usual” or “Run the Business” and the other is to transform the organization, which is also called as “Change the business”.

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Reasons for staring a project
A project site

Reasons for starting a project

It pays to understand what a project is in the first place. A project is a temporary function created for the purpose of delivering an objective. It has a set of steps or activities with a specific start and an end date.  So one starts a project to introduce the change in transforming the business, in however small way it may be.

Important thing to keep in mind, is that there should be a good reason to start a project. The reason should be justifiable, valid and should align with the objectives of the organization. This reason is usually approved by your manager or higher authorities.

A good place to start is to identify the key issues or problems within your immediate workplace, processes or Operations. The problems are everywhere and sometimes they are passed on from our peers or colleagues in conferences or workshops and sometimes, they are just recorded as errors or defects in the logs and registers on a periodical basis. Talk to different stakeholders to understand the issues from their perspective.

You can even conduct brainstorming sessions with colleagues to find out possible solutions. Once you have narrowed down and chosen your issue or problem, analyze and assess it for its complexity, relevance and alignment to the current objectives of the organization and this becomes the reason to start the project.

Now, let us take a quick look how to make a single slide presentation for documenting the reasons for starting the project. Using a single slide document the below the reasons.

  1. The context surrounding the issue or the problem.
  2. How does your idea solve the problem or a brief note about the idea.
  3. The expected start and the end date with resources required.
  4. The expected beneficial outcomes, for example, it could be process simplification for efficiency or reducing cost and generating savings or just for meeting compliance.
  5. The alignment objective or the opportunity type. Mention the overarching organizational goal here to which the current project is aligned to.

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Also read, Learning to pitch 

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