Innovation, Collaboration and the Road to Real Productivity

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The word innovation seems to permeate the business press. As a code word for growth and efficiency, companies have sought to implement software, techniques and processes that make them more innovative. Honestly there’s not much of a choice. The operational status-quo of the past simply can’t deliver the momentum and results that both the marketplace and markets now require.

Along the path of this journey companies have tried any number of  ideas in an attempt to foster an environment of innovation. Most of these ideas were focused around creating greater opportunities for collaboration. The hope was that the output of this increased collaboration would be ideas and approaches that would make the companies more efficient or provide them with significant competitive advantage.  There are plenty of reasons to love this direction.

The challenges arrived when businesses tried to connect the creation of these new innovation environments with tangible results. As a first step some companies chose to go with elaborate Enterprise Social Networks with the hope that things like collaboration spaces would deliver the kind of ideas and productivity they were seeking. Unfortunately these systems required large scale changes in workflow and extensive training. So even if they had value it was going to take quite a while to realize it. Companies would often grow impatient.

In other instances companies took their first steps towards enabling innovation with Microsoft’s Yammer or other waterfall-like products. These ideas suffered when adoption tailed off quickly because employees couldn’t make the connection between this type of collaboration and their own work results. Advocates would argue that this adoption problem isn’t permanent because behaviors are changing, but ……

In retrospect both of these efforts looked a lot like the famous cartoon below where assumptions were made without much more than the belief it was a good idea. It seems now that just enabling collaboration is too nebulous for companies and a renewed desire for high value business use cases is emerging. It was inevitable.

Source: Harris

This reality sets the stage for the cause-and-effect value of Enterprise Q&A. 1) A person under the pressure of a deadline asks a question,  2) A crowd-sourced subject matter expert provides an answer, and 3) The Q&A set is saved for future search. What could be a simpler use-case? No longer are we hoping “that a miracle occurs” when we say “go forth and collaborate”. We are collaborating. All of this without changing workflow, extensive training or discarding our existing knowledge management investments.

Collaboration is an admirable goal and one that we should all embrace, but perhaps the journey to realizing innovation should include steps that can deliver real, measurable results as we continue to explore, experiment and better understand ideas that can drive our businesses forward.