Perspectives on Connected Innovation and Collaboration

Don Smith’s Sabbatical Insights

Social Innovation and Product Development 2.0

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I heard GM CEO Fritz Henderson say earlier this week that General Motors could no longer afford to launch a handful of successful cars each year, rather each car launch must be successful. Got me thinking – how might GM pull this off? How will they know what kind of car to launch? What do consumers want? Will traditional mass market approaches work under this constraint?

My guess is no.  GM will have to find a new way to bring product to market. A method that captures the wishes of its customers, iterates with them, and builds a loyalty base. This challenge begs for a social innovation process that over time, fosters relationships between GM and its customers through the product development process. What should the wheels look like? How can I customize my car beyond paint and trim? GM needs to let customers cut and shape metal with its designers and engineers.

Technology companies, like IBM, have been exploring this new product development 2.0 model. Using a social medium, like a blog, IBM shares its ideas with lead users ahead of beta testing. This interaction allows the beta to be better informed and accepted by users. Loyalty and adoption increase as well, after all the users are creators and have skin in the game. This model is improves IBM’s rate of success.

Threadless employs a social model too. Users upload their tee shirt designs and the community votes on their favorites. Threadless then only produces the top tee shirt designs, cutting their inventory to zero. They sell what the community wants and not what they don’t want.

More and more companies are embracing social innovation because it eliminates some of the waste involved with traditional go-to-market strategies. Waste like inventories, launch costs, and product failures. I love this recent quote from Chris Bruzzo about their social marketing strategy:

social media is the difference between launching with millions of dollars versus millions of fans. – Chris Bruzzo, VP Starbucks


Written by Donald Smith

June 5, 2009 at 10:13 am

Sukh Grewal and GE’s Support Central

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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.

Written by Donald Smith

June 4, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Benchmarks

Innovation Velocity

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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.

Written by Donald Smith

May 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm

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Enterprise Social Media Tips

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Recently, I had a conversation with an leading industry analyst on the emerging Enterprise Social Media space, sometimes referred to as Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0). I felt like I came away with a few nuggets, some new, and others worth reinforcing. The conversation was centered around the analyst’s perspective on successful implementations of Enterprise Social Media within leading organizations.

Me: What are some common traits among “best in class” users of Enterprise Social Media?

A: The #1 requirement for success is Senior Management commitment, even if mandate and draconian tactics are required. Senior leaders must commit to E 2.0. For example, a Senior leaders could insist on not reading project related emails in favor of project wikis. Also, it’s critical to make Legal a team partner and stakeholder in the process, as early as possible.

Me: What are some success factors for Enterprise Social Media?

A: The execution must be well targeted and well thought out. Don’t look at the entire enterprise as a whole. Do focus in on the parts of the organization that stand to benefit the most from social media. Run smaller experiments at first and show the tool’s tangible business value to employees. Focus on groups of employees that have collaboration problems today.

Me: How do you define tangible business value?

A: Enterprise social media is about allowing people to get their jobs done faster. Employee’s time is precious, so demonstrating clear business value to participants is essential for adoption. For example, consider converting project based emails into wikis. Wikis free up information for all reviewers and users.  Managers could have clear and real time visibility of a project’s status via a wiki as opposed to hunting down emails.

Me: How hard is it to get employees to change habit – from email to wiki?

A: (citing a Harvard study) People overestimate their personal impact of change by 3x. They also underestimate the potential value of change by 3. Combined, that’s a 9x factor to overcome. Email muscle memory is the enemy of Enterprise Social Media. Advocates of Enterprise Social Media must demonstrate, very tangibly, the benefits of using these tools over old methods. Again, small experiments can help build the case.

Written by Donald Smith

April 29, 2009 at 10:13 am

Modularity and Community Fuel Open Source Hardware Innovation

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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.

Written by Donald Smith

April 9, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Interview with Josh Bernoff of Groundswell

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photoGroundswell is my playbook for understanding social media and how it integrates with people and business. In it, co-Author Josh Bernoff, provides frameworks for understanding social media and best practices from proven exercises, like Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation. Groundswell defines the POST method, introduces the concept of technographics, and outlines the varying levels of social media complexity, from listening to co-creation. Groundswell transformed my perspectives on social media and inspired me to move ahead in my sabbatical quest. I am a big fan of Josh’s. When I found out that I had a chance to meet him, I was charmed.

On March 18th, I had the delight of lunching with Josh and his colleague Jocelyn Walters, both of Forrester Research. We met at the Cambridge Legal Sea Foods and shared stories and insights collected from our professional and personal experiences. Here is a snapshot of the insights I collected from our conversation.

We talked a bit about social media analytics. I asked Josh what the key indicators or metrics are for managing on-line communities or sentiment flows, like Twitter. Josh was straightforward. He commented that social media analytics only tell part of the story, that off-line research is still required to validate new methods. Josh also added, that when using social media analytics, two things are highly usable – trends and inflections (spikes). When listening to a sentiment flow over time, one should be able to parse out trends from conversations. Spikes or inflection points require action. During a spike, something materially changes to the conversation and requires attention. Was there a product recall or significant event of similar nature? Spikes should trigger response.

I asked Josh using a baseball metaphor, “What inning is social media in?” He commented “It’s early.”

I also asked Josh about how an organization with a diverse brand portfolio could work across silos. Josh commented that “it’s all about best practices.” And that simple, portable frameworks allow for custom tailored applications per  brand. Finally, Josh added that social media isn’t for every brand. You need audience scale or the right mix of technographics.

Josh warned against offering health professionals “widgets” to add to their professional websites. Something about “You’re nuts if you think that will work.”

We talked about the effect of time. What happens to Mom when her kids grow up? If Mom joins a community when her child is 6 months, does she move on to a new community during the toddler years? Pre-school years? We agreed that social media, specifically branded communities,  have not done a good enough job of addressing time factors in their design and utility. How should a brand plan for such consumers movements in and out of communities over a lifetime? People change. More research is required.

Classic Josh – “Social media investment is growing. My phone won’t stop ringing. Different industry groups by the week.”

Finally, we chatted about Twitter and Twitter search. Josh gave me a live demo using certain branded kewords. Very cool. It led to this video, my first Flip Mino recording.

Written by Donald Smith

March 25, 2009 at 10:00 pm

The race to the top- Information Arbitrage

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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?

Written by Donald Smith

March 23, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Interview with OptumHealth

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unhOptumHealth, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, provides personalized health management solutions and makes health care more accessible for its consumers. One of Optum’s main communication channels with consumers is via its core websites,  like OptumHealth actively engages users in conversations and provides digital spaces that help them connect with other users, experts, and professionals.

OptumHealth’s interactive team, builds collaborative websites that are flexible, scalable, and versatile. It’s important for consumers to not only have a rich experience on sites  like MyCancerHub, but an easy to use community that facilitates connection during challenging times. Similar to Caring Bridge, MyCancerHub provides multiple resources for those individuals just diagnosed with cancer, living with cancer, and caregivers. The site also provides an “Ask a Nurse” feature which connects users with health professionals. MyCancerHub encourages patients and caregivers to share stories, learn more about their condition, and exchange emotional support with each other.

Optum also provides digital services for professional communities. In one example. a 6,000 member nursing community had a business objective to build a culture of retention. By building a on-line nursing community, Optum was able to improve retention for this nursing community by allowing nurses to make valuable connections with each other, thereby upping sentiment and retention.

OptumHealth’s successes and best practices are now being considered by its parent company for use in other areas of United Health, including possible internal applications behind the firewall.

Written by Donald Smith

March 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Benchmarks

Don Smith’s Twitter 101 – Twitter as the Daily Read

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I’ve had a few colleagues and friends start or try to start using Twitter in the last few months. Since the first few weeks can be tough for Twitter newcomers, they asked me for tips on how I started using Twitter. So here’s my approach:

1. Twitter is not easy at first

a. It takes time, patience, and routine to integrate the news flow into your personal flow

b. Start by using Twitter as a daily read. Don’t worry about posting until you have a habit of returning to Twitter

c. You have to post a picture or avatar. Otherwise Tweeters won’t take you seriously.

2. Find a hook outside of work

a. For me, it was the stock market. I found people I knew from old blogs and communities and followed them. Then I followed who they followed. The nature of the market kept me coming back daily, if not hourly. The discussion during the crash last fall was epic.

b. What are your hobbies? Cooking? Wine? Running? Chances are, you can find a like-minded person or brand on twitter.

3. Use

a. Going to a conference? Search it to find attendees.

b. Search brand names, places. Twitter only allows 140 characters, so nouns dominate.

4. Probably most important to early adoption – Follow lots of people right away

a. You need 50 at least to keep you coming back

b. At 100 you’ll start to see your follower bucket grow

c. Make sure you follow people who post often. Otherwise you won’t get a good news flow

5. Use power users as editors of Twitter traffic

a. Not sure who to follow? Find someone you like/trust and cherry pick who they follow

b. Rinse and repeat

6. Finally, don’t worry about “missing a day’s worth of news”

a. I pick up the stream whenever I can

b. If I miss something, that’s ok. It sometimes gets recycled and kicked back via ReTweet by someone else

c. Search fills the holes.

At the end of the day, Twitter is a news stream. Read Twitter just like you would read a newspaper. The twist is that you can eventually publish yourself. I’ll save publishing for Twitter 201.

The following Fast Foward Blog post has the most in depth review of Twitter that I have come across. It’s extremely helpful, especially when getting off the ground. FF Blog Twitter Basics

Written by Donald Smith

March 11, 2009 at 7:05 pm

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Bigger Ideas. Faster.

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This week’s blog post is a contribution to Minnov8. In it, I explain the concept of Connected Innovation and provide an overview of my sabbatical research.

You can connect to the Minnov8 post here:

Bigger Ideas. Faster.

Written by Donald Smith

March 3, 2009 at 1:51 pm

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