"Innovation occurs at the intersection of fear, opportunity and talent.” -- Bruce Cleveland, Venture Capitalist at InterWest Ventures.

Over the last few weeks I have had a number of conversations about innovation, collaboration and engagement -- I've seen some new tools, and exchanged philosophies on enterprise collaboration with other vendors.

The Intersection of Fear, Opportunity and Talent

One of the best definitions of innovation came from an old (past) boss of mine from Oracle. I worked with Bruce Cleveland in helping to start the Unix group at Oracle 20 years ago. Bruce has gone on to work at Apple, Siebel Systems and other well known companies. He now is a Venture Capitalist at InterWest Ventures. What he said to me the other day was,

Innovation occurs at the intersection of fear, opportunity and talent.”

He went on to prognosticate that for most enterprises, innovation is a virus and the company itself is the anti-body. Innovation is by its nature disruptive, and it is hard to change processes, culture, compensation, shifting power, etc. and most companies want to keep the status quo, especially those at the top being paid handsomely. I hear recently that the average difference between a corporate worker's salary (called $X) to the CEO salary is usually US$ 40 - 400X. That is quite a difference!

Bruce believes that innovation can only occur successfully in these situations if you spin out or create a new group/company that is independent, not bound by company rules and processes, and those in this company get some equity. Furthermore, if this new company is funded by the old enterprise, there has to be a plan to spin it back into the enterprise if they are successful.

One good example of this is Procter & Gamble. A few years ago its CEO set a goal to have 50 percent of its new products come from outside of P&G. What they will do is look at new ideas from outside and if they have merit they will partner with the person, group or company that has the idea and help them with bringing it to market (of course through P&G).

The other good example is bio-tech or pharmaceutical companies. Often people, groups or companies come to them with a new molecule they have found or created. It can do something to help with Type 2 Diabetes for example (a big market in the U.S.), but the start-up does not have the capital to take the drug through human trials which can cost millions of dollars.

So the big pharmaceutical company partners with the start-up to get through clinical trials and get the product to market, and the big pharmaceutical company then has the rights to that drug, and the start-up not only gets compensation, but also often offered jobs at their pharmaceutical partner.

The Tools

There are probably several hundred innovation tools in the market today, everything from Spigit, BrightIdea, Imaginatik, Mindjet and ??? Many of these tools provide innovation frameworks, and Spigit works best with larger companies while BrightIdea can work with smaller sized companies (as well as big ones). They essentially provide a stage-gate process for dealing with new ideas.

But there are other ways to innovate. You can also focus around a topic or a relationship. Pearltrees looks at connections and relationships through an add-on to most of today’s browsers to create an “interest graph” and last year got US$ 6.6 million in funding. An interest graph (below) is more about what you know rather than who you know. What you know seems to be correlated to purchase intent.

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Figure 1: Interest Graph from Pearltrees

The interest graph is a graph of social connections based on topic interest. Facebook (and others) focus on what you have in common with your friends and how you react to their recommendations. Pinterest, Foodspotting or GetGlue all work the other way, making social connections based on shared interests. This type of social curation is becoming very popular through tools like Fancy, Storify and Tumbler. Even Evernote allows you to collect these different objects in a note and index them so they can be easily found again.

I recently looked at a new tool with a different take on this. Mural.ly is very graphically and multimedia oriented and it allows you to drag and drop documents, videos and other objects into a topic space you create. You can invite others to this topic space and also share or have them contribute to the space.

All of these tools can help, but they can’t motivate people. The whole “gamification” idea is to keep people motivated and engaged, which is a tricky thing to do… especially on an ongoing basis.

Editor's Note: David is doing a user survey for his 2013: State Of Collaboration Report. If you would like to participate you will not only get an executive summary of the report, but if you complete a survey you will be entered into a drawing for an iPad Mini. You can take the survey (just 20 questions) at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DWL88QV

Productivity and Engagement

There are lots of studies that say collaboration helps productivity and engagement helps productivity. Spigit asked me a few years ago to derive a new corollary to Metcalfe’s law called “The Crowd Corollary.” In the graph below you can see the advantage of how a crowd (through engagement) adds more rapidly to the value of a network than the “network effect” does (see blue line).

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Ultimately, it is all about money, and how it affects the bottom line. But the new workforce coming into the market (Millennials) have a very different view of what it is all about. To them it is not all about money but more about fun, community and social good.

Those are very different values than the Baby Boomers.

In addition the Millennials have had computer access all of their lives, they are used to being part of a community, especially an on-line one. One of the ways to drive engagement is to make sure your organization has a good social infrastructure.  

When I did some work for Logitech a few years ago I happened to talk with the CEO just before he went to lunch. He seemed sad, so I asked him what’s up, and his reply surprised me.

He said that they hired great students fresh out of college who were impressed with Logitech, and that he did a lunch every month to welcome the new hires. For the last year or so these lunches had not been very pleasant for the CEO. Most of them were spent listening to the complaints of these new hires about Logitech’s social infrastructure. The CEO went on to say that these new Millennial hires only stayed a few months and then went off to work with their friends at a company that had a more advanced social infrastructure.

Millennials often stay engaged not only through community, but through reputation, challenge, adventure and relationship. Tools like Bunchball and Badgeville can help with “gamification” or game mechanics which can affect motivation and reputation, and ultimately engagement.

Editor's Note: To read more from David, check out The Challenges of the Social Enterprise