2014-28-May-First-Flight.jpgIn management science innovation is typically thought of as a process which results in beneficial changes through novel ideas or solutions. Innovation is about change -- and change, volatility and flux have been the defining features of the business landscape since World War II and especially since the 1970s. As one commentator succinctly put it in 1990, organizations must “get innovative or get dead."

Let's examine four ways social business can be associated with innovation and look at the different ways each measures value.

This is the fifth article in a slow burning mini-series exploring social business. In the last article we examined the argument that social business can deliver productivity gains for knowledge workers. This time it's all about innovation.

Social business can be associated with innovation:

  1. As part of targeted innovation processes
  2. By creating an environment conducive to serendipity
  3. As part of a social learning strategy 
  4. As the foundation for building a "responsive organization"

Innovation Processes: Crowdsourcing and Yam Jams

In the traditional model innovation was confined to product development processes or the R&D department. But according to MIT Sloan Management professor Eric von Hippel, this model is fundamentally flawed because consumers can be a major source of product innovation. Examples such as Nike, Dell’s Idea Storm, and SAP’s Co-Innovation Lab are showing how organizations can leverage social business strategies to involve customers in helping to improve products.

Organizations are also using enterprise social platforms such as Yammer to crowdsource ideas from employees using JAMs. A JAM, or if you’re using Yammer, a YamJam, is an online event during which employees post ideas, suggestions and questions relating to specific business topics and discuss them as a group.

In "Social Strategies in Action: Driving Business Transformation," Dr Bonnie Cheuk reports on the case of a business unit inside a global bank which conducted about a dozen global JAMs in 2012. The topics included spotting opportunities to drive more business in a particular industry sector, formulating global strategy, improving client service, improving risk management, talent management and finding new ways to improve business efficiency.

The case study outlines a number of recommendations for running successful JAM events. First, each JAM is owned and managed by the business. Second, for each event the business owners assemble a team to plan and execute the JAM. Typically this will include a business sponsor, a communication manager, a project manager and around a dozen facilitators. In the planning and conception stage the scope of the event is defined and the business goals identified. A marketing and communications campaign is executed to draw in participants from a defined target audience.

The event starts at a specified time, and during the event messages are sent out to create buzz around particular conversation threads. The event ends with a thank you message from the business sponsor. Following the event, the analytics team reviews the participation metrics and develops a final report with recommendations for the business sponsor.

This is a great example of how to operationalize an innovation process based around social technologies. It shows how to link the use of the technology to specific business problems and focuses on producing a tangible output in the form of a management report. Crowdsourcing through customer networks or JAM events provides the easiest way to track quantifiable returns and results.

Social Learning and Communities of Practice

A Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common practice or profession. Research has shown that CoPs are a key mechanism in organizational knowledge and learning processes.

Social and collaborative technologies have long been used to create online environments where communities can find each other and exchange ideas and information. Unisys won awards for their use of SharePoint Portal Server 2003 to create a communities portal, and SharePoint 2013 included the communities portal and community site templates to facilitate Communities of Practice. Yammer groups can also be used to support a Communities of Practice strategy. Whereas a YamJam is an one off event, a CoP is a permanent group.

Recommended practices for successful communities include a clear and compelling purpose, clear alignment with organizational objectives, an agenda of critical topics to be addressed, competent and committed community leaders or core volunteer teams, communication and training plans for members and stakeholders and an up to date dynamic roster of members.