IdeaScale and Yammer: A Perfect Match

yammerBeginning in December, IdeaScale will be embarking on a new partnership with Yammer. Yammer—the Enterprise Social Network—is a great tool for professional organizations. Structured in a way that is similar to other social networks, Yammer helps facilitate communication across organizations. For example: on Yammer, project groups can be created to share information and documents among smaller teams within organizations, and significantly reduce the number of emails. Polls can be put in place, and fellow members can “like” or comment on work that is occurring.

But let me tell you why IdeaScale and Yammer are perfect for each other; the world changes relentlessly these days, and technology increasingly urges us to be constantly connected to those changes. As a model for this commitment to innovation, both companies are continually adapting their platforms to provide the best opportunities for the businesses and organizations that employ them.

Yammer and IdeaScale are both also invested in sustainable innovation. As the world changes rapidly, those innovations must arise just as rapidly, and the best way to assure that occurs is with a continuous pipeline of ideas. Yammer and IdeaScale create an environment that makes crowdsourcing ideas easier, which in turn makes innovation that much easier.

Yammer and IdeaScale have worked to create such an environment, because of our dedication to the concept of collaboration through crowdsourcing. In that regard, we are something like cousins to each other, with IdeaScale utilizing an idea management framework and Yammer providing social network. For IdeaScale, we each spur crowdsourcing of not only conversation, but fully-developed ideas, and then encouraging the evaluation of those ideas for business sense and resources.

Both companies have a great belief in the importance of agency. Our software empowers participation and input from all stakeholders, a trait on which Yammer also prides itself. As their website conveys, “Yammer gives everyone a voice, letting you seize opportunities to go beyond your job description and share ideas to move you and your company forward.” IdeaScale provides the opportunity for member-generated ideas to rise to the surface based on their merit, as well as input provided on those ideas from all levels. Yammer and IdeaScale both realize that the next big idea could come from anywhere, and strive to provide a receptive platform for that idea.

We are excited to be embarking on this new relationship with Yammer, an organization with a mission so closely aligned to our own. To find out more about the many uses for Yammer, to read customer stories, and find out about pricing, visit their website.

Community Feature—Fairfax County Park Authority

FCPAJust southwest of Washington, D.C., across the Potomac River, is the County of Fairfax in Virginia. Home to the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, not to mention Mount Vernon, estate of one George Washington, Fairfax County is also home to a thriving parks department known officially as the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).

The FCPA recently concluded a two-month long call to arms for Fairfax County residents to voice their opinions on their parks, as part of a long-standing commitment to evaluate the needs and interests of community members. In summer of 2014, the FCPA started their IdeaScale community out with several park authority generated prompts as conversation points about improvements, prompts like how trials are used and “I would use parks more if…” From those initial starting points, citizens added their own topics.

This seems to have been perhaps the best choice that the FCPA has made: allowing residents to collaborate on ideas that are proposed by other residents, with little or no interjection from the parks authority. For example, when somebody suggested that the county was in need of some baseball complexes to help ease the load on school baseball fields, other members jumped in with suggestions of where potential baseball complexes might fit.

Ultimately the FCPA will have to assess whether those suggestions are realistic or doable with their resources, but it surely shows the strength of crowdsourcing within a community, as all members are entirely invested in the result. It allows those ideas that are the most impactful to the most people to rise to the top based solely on the concerns of those within the community. It also illustrates the FCPA’s commitment to serving their population’s needs, that they would observe the process and not interject with naysaying and impossibilities.

Now that the information gathering stage of the evaluation is complete, the FCPA is honoring and considering the contributions of the populous by developing a survey which will be sent to 15,000 residences in early 2015. From there, the results will be tabulated and action items will be shared, with development of ideas beginning in late 2015. In the meantime, the parks authority is keeping everyone apprised with updates of the process via their website. We look forward to seeing what improvements are most essential to the Fairfax County Park Authority. What kind of changes would you like to see in your community?

The Wisdom of Crowdsourcing

tmui_webinarIn 1906, British scientist Francis Galton took a day trip to the country fair that would uncover a principle critical to the idea of crowd-listening. It was the heyday of social Darwinism, and Galton believed very little in the common man; he was of the opinion that only proper breeding and the preservation of power for the elite could maintain a healthy society; few, to his mind, were suitable to make decisions or lead others.

Happening upon a contest to guess the weight of a fat ox, he decided to put the common man’s judgment to the test: he collected all 800 guesses at the end and ran statistical tests to see how far off this random collection was. To his great surprise, the average of all the answers was just one pound away from the cow’s actual weight – much closer than any individual’s guess, including the livestock experts’.

The wisdom of crowds… or the danger of mobs?

This stunning display of accuracy gave birth to the idea of the wisdom of crowds: that the judgments of a large number of people, averaged together, tend towards a high degree of correctness. The concept has been applied to a number of fields, to explain and defend such things as democratic governance, or Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing too relies heavily on the principle.

Some, though, question whether it is wisdom that tends to define large groups, or a dangerous mob mentality. Throughout history, large groups have committed appalling acts as individuals lose all sense of personal responsibility among the mob. Where is the line? What drives a crowd to one or the other end of the spectrum? And how can we use this knowledge to better the way we do crowdsourcing?

1. Diversity: Having diversity in a group is critical to getting ‘wise’ judgments. The reason for this is integral to the reason why the wisdom of the crowd works at all – when so many different viewpoints and ideas are combined together and aggregated, underestimations and overestimations cancel out; support and opposition strike a balance; every stretched and skewed and miscalculated piece of input is accounted for by another. The more different ideas there are, the more likely this process is to happen.

In the context of crowdsourcing technology, the best way to ensure diversity is to build welcoming communities that invite people and ideas of every kind. More importantly, the platform must be accessible to a wide range of people. It can be all too easy, when you’re building a website or system, to create something that specially fits your own mental models, but to encourage diversity your creation has to be easy for anybody to understand. It’s important that no group feels like someone else is being catered to or being treated with preference, and so testing your system with a wide variety of demographics – different incomes, education levels, ethnic backgrounds, web experience, and so on – is critical.

2. Independent generation of ideas: People in groups can be prone to bandwagoning and groupthink. The loudest voice grab followers, and the most popular opinion gets more popular. Of course, when this happens, all of the different viewpoints of the individuals in the crowd are lost as they throw in their lot with someone else. To preserve the crowd’s insight and wisdom, members must make their judgments independently, with minimal social influencing. That doesn’t mean they have to be an isolated hermit to have a valid opinion, but simply that when it comes time to speak their mind, they don’t feel overly pressured. For example, come election time we are unavoidably subject to all sorts of media and popular debate, but when we cast our ballot, it is done alone in a private booth.

For crowdsourcing, since most web users are already alone and less likely to be unduly swayed by their peers, the important thing is to give every idea exposure. When many users are submitting ideas and views, it is easy for submissions that gain early traction to get all the attention and sweep away less prominent or later submissions. It’s a tricky problem, but there are solutions, including letting crowd members vote or comment before seeing the successfulness of posts, or displaying a randomized selection of submissions, or providing rewards for reading or voting on more submissions.

The main thing is to be conscious of how users experience and are affected by the system, so that the flaws that sometimes surface in crowd thinking can be dealt with and prevented from turning your crowd into a mob. With the right framework, the crowd can be a powerful tool to generate quality feedback and can be harnessed to do a wide variety of work.

To hear about how the wisdom of crowds is being harnessed to take the work out of website usability research, sign up for the UXCrowd webinar on December 9th with IdeaScale CEO Rob Hoehn, former Zynga user research director Rob Aseron, and usability testing service TryMyUI.

3 Goals of Sustainable Innovation

Goals of Sustainable InnovationWe’re all familiar with a contest model of crowdsourcing. A contest model often presents a targeted, prompted invitation to participate in a crowdsourcing moment, usually with a deadline. But what happens after the deadline is over? Many organizations are moving beyond that traditional contest model and aiming for sustainable innovation. Here are three goals of sustainable innovation for which to strive:

Continuous engagement. If exciting changes are happening all of the time, rather than within the deadlines of a contest, there’s much more reason to be invested. Sustainable innovation incentivizes stakeholders both inside and outside the organization to stay engaged.

Collaboration. Like a snowball rolling downhill, when innovation has no boundaries, it can grow exponentially. And like that snowball, it is made greater by as many contributions as possible. When accomplished judiciously, sustainable innovation allows for everyone at all levels of involvement with an organization to feel heard and necessary in the process.

Enacting the most impactful innovations. When there are no restrictions on innovation, there is time to fully develop and realize the best ideas, and enact those that are able to have the biggest impact.

To learn more about techniques and best practices for sustainable innovation, as well as about the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Catalyst Program, join us on December 9 for our webinar, Sustainable Innovation: Moving Beyond Slingshot Challenges.  Click here for more information, and to register for this complimentary webinar.

Four Thanksgiving Firsts That Spurred Innovation

Thanksgiving GreetingsIt’s that time of year again, when turkeys and pumpkin pies fill our dreams, and parades with building-sized balloons fill our streets. In that spirit, here are four innovative Thanksgiving firsts:

1. Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, creating a national day of thanks. This proclamation was the precedent to the first official national holiday law in 1870. Thanks Abe!

2. Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of Thanksgiving Day parades, the oldest in the nation may not be the one you’d expect. In 1920, Ellis Gimbel of Gimbel’s in Philadelphia was looking for a way to make his Toyland the stand-out destination for shoppers, and the Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was born. This novelty paved the way for the creation of the much-loved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, which today includes over 8,000 volunteers and brings an estimated 3.5 million folks out into the streets to watch.

3. Black Friday Commercialized. Today we’re familiar with the term “Black Friday” in reference to the crazed flurry of shopping. However, the first use of the term in connection with Thanksgiving actually originated with some weary cops who had to deal with the increase of traffic on the road on that day. Trailblazing retailers spun it back to shopping using a rumor indicating that the term actually referred to the shopping day putting those retailers back in the black financially.

4. National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. This year marks the 67th anniversary of the presentation, in which the President of the United States chooses between two turkeys and issues one an official presidential pardon. In 2012, however, President Obama utilized a new method of determining which turkey to pardon: he crowdsourced the selection! Through a vote implemented on the White House’s Facebook page, American citizens cast their ballots and turkey Cobbler triumphed.

What innovation from history are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Don’t Stop Now: Why You Can’t Stop Innovating Once You Start

image curtesy of randy heinitz via flickr

image courtesy of randy heinitz via flickr

Innovation is a tough topic. It’s one of those words that is overused, over-hyped and generally misunderstood. In fact, over the past few years, a number of thought leaders published in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes and other venues have urged the elimination of the word innovation from business vocabularies.

Has the word itself become the business equivalent of cute cats and selfies?

Regardless of what you might want to replace it with, the concept is necessary even though innovators like Thomas Edison and Leonardo Da Vinci probably never used the word “innovate” in describing what they were doing.

Problems, problems
Probably one of the biggest struggles of organizations that want to innovate is coming up with a definition of innovation that actually helps them determine when they’ve been successful at innovating.

Another thing that makes innovation difficult is that the products of innovation are not always accepted by the marketplace. This is a double-edged sword that makes everything more difficult from forecasting revenue and ROI, to identifying target markets, marketing messaging, and

Oftentimes, too, innovation can introduce unexpected supply chain problems.

Risk is a requirement
Innovation is incredibly risky business. This is why most companies are willing to let others do the innovating and then play follow-the leader. This “drafting the leader” approach to business strategy makes innovation doubly risky for innovators because just the act of innovating, in most cases, lowers the barriers to entry for competitors.

This means that once you start playing the innovation game, there is no stopping. If innovation is required to establish a market leadership position, it is also required, in many cases, to maintain a market leadership position. This innovation imperative, once it is adopted can hardly ever be set aside. Instead of playing an innovation tournament at the end of a season, innovation must become a full-time preoccupation for, well, ever.

That being the case, innovation becomes a much bigger challenge than simply allocating some creative thinkers, giving them a budget, equipping a secretive workspace in which they can make their magic, designating them the “Innovation Department.”

It isn’t pocket change
Innovation means change. Not incremental change, but sweeping change that requires conceptual shifts for both the introducers of the change and the consumers of the the change. This kind of change is messy and unpredictable. This kind of change hardly ever happens without a strong leader.

Sustaining an ongoing innovation effort requires investment on many levels. For an organization to build a culture that can sustainably support relentless innovation, the investments are substantial–another reason corporations would rather play second fiddle in the innovation orchestra.

Here are some of the ways organizations can prepare.

1. Diversity – One of the essentials of innovation is a diversity of inputs from a variety of perspectives. This means people with different cultural, educational, experiential and even spiritual backgrounds and world-views.

Most recruiting practices today are designed to comply with government mandated, politically correct diversity requirements, but the departments in charge of this bean counting approach to diversity will never satisfy the diversity requirements for innovation. This is, in fact, one of the conceptual shifts required.

2. Personal time – Another crucial factor in innovation is having time to reconfigure things in one’s own mental space. This activity is not something that happens in a collaborative setting; it is intensely private.

Measuring the success or productivity of this activity cannot be accomplished with traditional manufacturing-style productivity measures. There must be a liberal allowance for this type of personal investment in personal conceptual shifts, away from interactive and collaborative settings and situations.

3. Flexible organizational structure – Creative people have little use for hierarchical organizational structures with all the lines and dotted lines traditionally used in org charts. Innovators are more interested in results than reports and deliverables. Building this into the culture of an organization requires a leadership conceptual shift around what really matters most.

Creative people basically interact with everyone as a peer. The flatter an organization or team is, the more successful it is likely to be at innovation.

*     *     *

No one knows in advance which combination of people, elements, ideas, events, models, diagrams, jokes, or magazine articles are going to be the combination that pulls everything together for the next game-changing conceptual shift.

The best an organization can do is make sure there is plenty of opportunity for these things to happen in as many ways as possible and encourage them to happen as often as possible. This sounds like a big risk, but if growth is a requirement, not being configured to support and sustain innovation is much riskier.

Guest Author, Ivan SerranoThis guest post is authored by Ivan Serrano, a business journalist and infographic specialist located in Northern California.

Tomorrow is the Final Day to Submit to the Open Innovation Awards!

image curtesy of nicolas will via flickr

image courtesy of nicolas will via flickr

If you’re part of an IdeaScale community you’ve probably already heard about our second annual Open Innovation Awards. Over the past few months we’ve been asking all of you to share your success stories. We’ll be selecting a Best Moderation Strategy, Best Engagement Strategy, and a Best Innovation – all of which come with prizes… and some serious bragging rights. But the submission deadline is tomorrow Friday the 14th, and we want to hear your unique, inspiring, exceptional innovation story.

At IdeaScale we love this time of year. Hearing about the struggles and accomplishments in your innovation communities is always educational and helpful, but it’s also fun. It won’t be easy to decide who will win the titles, and the prizes that go with them, this year!

For all of you who have already submitted, or are routing for a community you know and love, finalists will be notified on December 5th, and the winners will be announced on December 19th! Can’t wait another five weeks to get your fix of innovation? You can read up on all of last year’s winners!

•   Yale

•   Marriott

•   UNCW

•   State of Minnesota

•   The Cerebral Palsy Alliance


So what are you waiting for? Submit today!

3 Challenges to Innovation Without Borders

IdeaScale blog readers are probably very familiar with the idea of innovation without borders – a theory similar to open innovation – in which all ideas can come from anywhere (internal or external – regardless of job title, discipline, or mission) and those ideas can also be made into a reality by anyone. However, there are some concerns that people have when opening up dialogue on a global level. Before implementing any open innovation technology solution, organizations should be able to answer concerns in three main areas:

Security. This dialogue might be transparent, but maintaining a secure network is crucial to the network’s trust of you and protection of private information associated with these accounts. Make sure that your innovation platform has top-level security (as well as scalability).

Global Collaboration. Accessibility is probably the most important part of any innovation without borders initiative since engagement is the key to success. Is your dialogue open to people of all languages, people of all abilities, is it present in more than just a social forum, can you share ideas in an offline context?

Evaluation Capability. It’s a great idea, but is it right for you? This is the question that every business needs to answer when they’re looking at potential new innovations. Maybe it would be a great new feature – but the technology doesn’t exist yet or maybe it would be a great new process – but it’s not possible to institute for financial reasons. Evaluating each idea for its business relevance as well as its ROI should be part of any innovation program.

If you’re interested in learning more about “Innovation without Borders,” register for a complimentary webinar with guests from Accenture, IdeaScale, and the former CTO of the United States of America. The online session will be followed with a live Q&A.

What Does Flex Time Really Imply?

Everyone is fond of bringing up 3M and Google’s practice that offered their employees “20% Time” to try out new ideas outside of their job description. In other words, one day out of their week – they didn’t have a title or a job description – but rather just the organizational goal of making their company better.

So we’ve all heard of different permutations of this flexible time, but what about flex boundaries? Although it certainly behooves organizations to offer their employees organizational objectives so that everyone understands the goal that they are collaboratively working towards, an employee’s role should never be so prescribed that they have no freedom to be creative.

Here’s one of our favorite examples: when Allstate was looking for design ideas for a mobile app that it was launching, the winning idea was sourced from one of the firm’s trial attorneys based out of the Buffalo office – hardly the head of their mobile marketing division. And if everyone just stuck to their job descriptions and never concerned themselves with the larger needs of the organization, then the pace of innovation today would be a lot slower.

This is why the idea of “innovation without borders” is gaining traction. That job flexibility applies to a number of parameters – including the boundaries that once separated different departments from one another, different, organizations from each other, and those organizations from the rest of the world that they serve. In the borderless innovation program, everyone can play a role in making the world a better place.

If you’re interested in learning more about “Innovation Without Borders,” register today for our upcoming webinar.