Companies that invest in developing strong innovation teams in their core product areas can extend that skill to other parts of the organization – Doug Collins looks at the skills your innovators are now developing and how they can be repurposed and extended.

I love when a client and I reach the place where we can contemplate, “What’s next?”

Exploring “What’s next?” means the client has achieved a level of confidence and a measure of success from having run one or more innovation challenges. They identified the critical questions successfully. They defined the nature of the invitation they were seeking in a way that resonated with the prospective members of their innovation community. They worked hard to create the virtual and physical forums that helped the community members engage in authentic ways with one another. They helped people to explore and realize their leadership potential, thereby sowing the seeds of real transformation.

From here, “What’s next?” can mean a number of things. It can mean reflecting on and framing new critical questions that the  organization’s leaders want to engage the community with. Success breeds success. Let’s go again. “What’s next?” can mean pursuing further the possibilities of helping innovators who have already contributed to move their insights from idea to concept. Let’s honor our commitments to the community (I have explored a few of these possibilities in earlier columns).

Beyond refining and extending the program for collaborative innovation, the leaders of the activity may find that they have opportunities to disseminate their approach—specifically, their perspective for effecting authentic forms of community engagement—to other parts of the organization such as marketing, operations, human resources, and finance.

Leaders  might find that they have opportunities to disseminate their approach to other parts of the organization such as marketing, operations, human resources, and finance.

Now that it has experience success the innovation team brings the gift of four insights to this conversation (Figure 1).

  • Insight on the engagement model: understanding techniques to identify and pose the critical question, or inquiry in a way that resonates with community members. Likewise, understanding the importance of creating and blending the right forums, both in person and virtual, in which the community can explore the question fully through dialogue.
  • Insight on the community: understanding approaches to engaging on the question of commitment. What are we here to create together? What ownership of the process and the outcome does each party claim in engaging with one another? What reservations do community members have that keep them from participating?
  • Insight on the innovator: understanding approaches to supporting the community members who contribute their insights and build upon the insights offered by others. What opportunities does the initiative have in helping the individuals realize their leadership potential on this front?
  • Insight on the idea: understanding approaches to framing and reframing community members’ input to derive meaning and set direction.

Figure 1: the gift of the four insights that the innovation program brings to the organization

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Putting the Social in Social Media Marketing

Your colleagues down the hall in the marketing, public relations, and communications group have a new challenge. The organization expects them to build market awareness through traditional forms of promotion, as always. Of late, the organization expects them to engage the customer in conversation about the offer, the brand, or the organization at large, as well.

This dual charter, along with adding to marketing’s voluminous “to do” list, creates conflict in how the group engages with the consumer. Their approach to social media marketing, for example, can by habit mimic traditional outbound communications. The reach-x-frequency mindset intrudes. The tweet becomes the world’s smallest broadcast studio.

Their approach to social media marketing, for example, can by habit mimic traditional outbound communications.

Where might the collaborative innovation team start the dialogue with their peers who lead adjunct functions such as marketing? As always, by asking the critical question: What possibilities exist to more fully explore the idea or the promise that the offer or the brand represents to the consumer? In this context, the offer, the brand, or the organization itself serves as the idea, reified. Greater openness and, ideally, intimacy with the consumer comes from engaging in authentic dialogue on the value that the organization delivers to the community.

From this inquiry the next set of questions flow in logical succession, each one touching on one or more of the gifts that the collaborative innovation team brings to the table…

  • What is the critical question facing the offer, brand, or organization?
  • With whom within the market—which segment—does this question resonate? What does the organization want to create together with the community of consumers that it cannot create on its own, internally?
  • What is the nature of the invitation by which the organization engages with the consumer community?
  • What reservations does the organization have about engaging the consumer community in authentic dialogue? And, what reservations do the consumers express?
  • What commitment does the organization make to support the community of consumers? Do opportunities—and expectations—for user or advisory groups emerge, for example?

Today, the marketing charter is in a state of flux to the extent that the practice of marketing has become the practice of continual innovation in its own right. “What’s next?” can mean helping the people working in this domain more fully explore the possibilities that the social in social media represents in an inquiry-led way such that they in turn realize the leadership potential that their evolving charter represents.

Looking into the Future

Forward-thinking members of the collaborative innovation team can see the larger end-game that opens up if they choose to pursue this scenario: the possibility of creating a virtuous circle in which the dialogue with the eternal community informs the nature of the internal innovation they support as part of their core charter.

Does it make sense for the innovation team to maintain a Chinese wall between the internal and external dialogue? Yes, most likely, not only for the commonsense reasons relating to protection of intellectual property, but also because the organization may discover it needs a way to assess, juxtapose, and make meaning of the two conversations.

In depicting “What’s next?” in this case, the figure that emerges may look something like a hub—a place where the organization explores, engages in, and makes meaning of enquiry-led dialogue supported in both virtual and physical communities they sponsor. Figure 2 designates the hub as the Italianate “social media central” and shows the path the team may take in expanding their scope from supporting innovation to helping the organization support more innovative forms of engagement with the community.

What’s next? The collaborative innovation team brings many gifts to the table in terms of understanding the possibilities that exist in engaging communities in authentic dialogue around ideas. In sharing these insights with colleagues representing various functions within the organization, they have the opportunity to explore new levels of engagement and, by extension, transparency with the consumers the organization serves.

The collaborative innovation team brings many gifts to the table in terms of understanding the possibilities that exist in engaging communities in authentic dialogue around ideas.

Bringing gifts to the table secures your seat at the table. In helping the organization realize its leadership potential in innovation you can in turn help your peers engage authentically with the larger market. Marketing colleagues who engage business clients (B2B), for example, may especially value your perspective. The high revenue-to-client ratio one finds in B2B compels your colleagues working with these customers to help the organization not only build awareness with them, but also shed light on each customer’s intent—and how that intent aligns with the value your organization provides them.

What might you choose to do to help them? What possibilities open when you explore the overlap between external innovation and organization-wide engagement?

Figure 2: the collaborative innovation team lends its gifts to marketing in helping the group engage in authentic dialogue with consumers around the offer and/or brand promise.

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By Doug Collins

About the Author:

Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He has served in a variety of roles in helping organizations navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation by creating forums, venues, and approaches where the group can convene to explore the critical question. He today works at Spigit, Inc., where he consults with Fortune 1000 clients on realizing their vision for achieving leadership in innovation by applying social media and ideation markets in blended virtual and in-person communities.

Previously, Doug formed and led a variety of front end initiatives, including executive advisory programs for industry influencers, early adopter programs for lead users, corporate strategic planning, and structured explorations of new market and product opportunities. Before joining Spigit, Doug worked at Harris Corporation and at Structural Dynamics Research Corporation which is now part of Siemens Corporation.