I had the pleasure of meeting Sukh this week at a round-table hosted by General Electric. Sukh took the group behind the scenes of Support Central – an absolutely awesome social and collaborative platform. Actually, it’s a work platform that just happens to be social. Brilliant. I learned a ton about delivering value through media.
Oliver Marks at ZDNet wrote this article on Support Central in July 2008.
This is a concept, a work in progress…
Velocity is classically defined as the rate of distance traveled over time. In the context of innovation, ideas move over time. And to be most useful, ideas require interactions with people in order to morph into innovations with business value
In a closed organization, an idea is likely to move as far as the idea holder’s personal network will take it. And the same idea will travel at a pace proportional to the idea holder’s communication plan. In other words, only so many people are able to interact with the idea, it’s fixed by the number of contacts in the idea holder’s network (n). Email to 20 contacts, you get 20 possible interactions as fast as they can read and respond.
In open or collaborative organizations, n is much larger. In networked or connected organizations, n is exponentially larger. Chances are the idea will be seen by your 20 contacts and their 20 contacts. And so on. More chances for interaction. The idea moves farther, but faster? Don’t know.
So here’s a question. How do you put the brakes on the process and capture the most valuable ideas? Feels like you need a funnel. Maybe the entire process can be thought of as a funnel made of mesh. Maybe the mesh is discontinuous. Each connection point a person. Some connection points are frayed and won’t flow. The idea has to flow around the web to the ejection point of value.
The bigger the funnel opening, the more people involved and more possible interactions. But the ejection point could remain the same size.
So, fast innovation only benefits those that can slow the process down. What size funnel is best?
Thoughts on this? Please share.
Open Source Hardware, or OSH, is defined by the practice of openly sharing documentation that illustrates how to self-make electronic systems. In addition to document sharing, the OSH community strives to create modular electronic building blocks that make it easier for lay enthusiasts to develop their own customized gadgets, like a camera equipped with a GPS or accelerometer. These self-made gadgets then return customized information flows back to the enthusiast. Think of it this way, your Canon camera may not allow you to send photos immediately over WI-FI. These enthusiasts “hack” or re-model the camera using OSH building blocks that in turn, equip the camera with WI-FI functionality. This hacked camera could then upload photos to the web, like a cell phone does.
Consider the planter tool that Tweets the moisture status of the plant’s soil and nudges the owner to water. Or consider Bug Labs, who provides a consumer friendly electronic platform that can be customized into the desired end functionality. Using modules like GPS, mp3 player, and camera, each user can customize the exact gadget they desire, at any time. No longer are consumers chained to the product offerings of large electronics manufacturers.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interacting with leaders in the Open Source Hardware field. OSH builder and E-commerce outlet Spark Fun, gadget gurus Bug Labs, industry publication Make Magazine, and AdaFruit. All contributed to a rich discussion on how OSH creates value by lowering barriers to category entry for enthusiasts.
OSH starts with sourcing of widely available and cheap electronic parts, such as microprocessors, and modularizing outputs, like the Arduino chipboard, that can then be widely used to make new products. Consider this fact, microprocessors that were once the centerpiece of high powered computing devices in the late 90s and early 00s are now widely available for pennies. These chips possess enough power to the drive basic computing functions. Combined with clever thinking and engineering, these processors can be put to use in ways that create new value. Like the Lilypad, which is a micro controller designed to be woven into fabrics. As an example, the Lilypad controller could be used to power LED displays on clothing.
Communities don’t want to be used, they want to be fed. – Peter Semmelhack, CEO Bug Labs
Communities of enthusiasts are involved at every turn in OSH, sharing new ideas, applications, and suggestions to manufacturers and other enthusiasts. Spark Fun interacts with their community by asking for feedback and input on new designs and prototypes. “Sounds simple,” says Spark Fun founder Nathan Seidle. Spark Fun provided a recent example where a customer presented and idea on Monday, and by Wednesday, Spark Fun’s designers were busy putting together a prototype. By using lightweight agreements, Spark Fun is able to connect with customers, collaborate, iterate in a matter of weeks. By comparison, mass produced chip development cycles take months and years to play out. Community not only reduces the discovery cost of “finding” new innovations and applications, but also helps bring the most relevant products to market faster.
OSH is a small but fast growing segment of the consumer electronics industry. By leveraging open innovation models, OSH companies are not only faster to market than their big box competitors, but through their communities, keep development costs low while delivering the most relevant products to their customers.
Talked through this concepts with some of my colleagues today. It goes like this:
In today’s economy, folks are looking for ways to save money in business. More and more, social media emerges as a solution. Take, for example, the corporate conference. On average, it costs about $1,000 per head to fly attendees in and put them up for a 2 day conference. Businesses are now uncomfortable with the $250,000 spend and are looking for alternatives. Social media fills the void. Why not host a virtual conference at more modest cost, say $5,000?
This business activity defines the race to the bottom.
Similarly, businesses and its employees are looking for an “edge” in the workplace. Historically valuable conversations like “what is our market share?” are being replaced by a thirst for information. More importantly, to be the first to find hot information and report it throughout the organization. To the prospector come the riches. Today, value comes from the following statements:
- “Did you see?”
- “I found…”
- “Check this out…”
Information is driving a “race to the top” in terms of value. Each newly discovered tweet, story, or theory could be the nugget that wins recognition, fame, or accomplishment. So we mine Twitter and read RSS dumps trying to identify the tidbit that will be most valued by the organization. Through information control, the boss used to be the best informed person in the group. Now, the employees have equal access to information via the web. The equation shifts and the organization flattens.
This activity defines the race to the top.
The spread between top and bottom is information arbitrage. No longer do I need to spend hundreds of dollars on professional groups to network in my industry or thousands of dollars to bring in consultants. The web makes this information more accessible and in most cases free. The challenge for employees is to make the information palatable for the organization to devour.
The role of corporate web editor is born. Take in tons of web based information, edit, re-package, and route within the organization.
I need to think this through a bit more but wanted to get initial thoughts out there. I also realize I’m not the first to think of “Information Arbitrage” as a concept but I like the handle. What do you think?