Innovation is increasing in importance. Companies that concentrate on keeping the wheels in motion without actively innovating are in danger of suffering the fate of Kodak and Nokia. Newer, more innovative companies are disrupting their markets every day and few companies are safe from becoming obsolete. In fact, the life expectancy of Fortune 500 firms has declined from 75 years half a century ago to less than 15 years today.
Social collaboration fosters innovation in three key ways: empowering individuals, enabling company-wide interaction, and crowdsourcing.
Empower individual innovation through social tools
Social tools are important components in helping organizations innovate because they empower anyone to share and develop ideas. According to The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), technology-enabled collaboration/social business tools are essential in building an innovative workforce.
Social tools allow companies to get ideas from unexpected sources. Frontline staff, for example, is often an excellent source for product ideas and tweaks, but are routinely forgotten in the product development process. Imagine an activity stream that alerts a frontline sales person on a new product in development that is aimed at a customer segment she knows well: she can now chip in with an idea that the product team would not have been able to come up with because they don’t interact with the target audience on a daily basis.
Foster innovation by enabling company-wide interaction
This is an important shift in the way innovative ideas are generated and developed. There is a whole science behind the new approach: social network theory argues that when you are looking for new information you are often better off exploring the weaker links in your social network because your closest colleagues are likely to know the same things you know. This is referred to as the “strength of weak ties”. It’s also widely argued that new ideas are born when different worlds meet – for example when frontline sales person talks to someone in product development or IT. People with similar backgrounds often come up with very similar solutions. Your innovation team might not be that innovative after all.
Build an ideation engine through crowdsourcing
Of course social collaboration tools alone won’t turn your company into an innovation powerhouse. You need to purposefully create cross-functional teams and have processes in place on how you source and develop ideas. Some organizations have, for example, internal community managers who facilitate serendipitous encounters (serendipity is often a key ingredient in innovation). Others have built whole platforms and processes that enable staff to come up with innovative ideas. IBM, for example, has created an in-house crowdsourcing platform so that they ensure they utilize all the knowledge and creativity in the company.
Putting the tools in place to collaborate, and actively engaging your team to use them, can help your company produce and fine-tune fresh ideas that will help you remain relevant and competitive. By staying at the forefront of innovation, your company can continue to grow and thrive.