Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 12 – involving the crowd as a source of competitive advantage 7

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 2, 2015

This is my twelfth installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-11.)

I offered a list of points to discuss at the top of Part 10 that I have been slowing working my way through since. And I repeat that list here for clarity, as I find myself breaking down several of the more complex points on it, into sets of simpler issues to be addressed separately. And that stated, I said in Part 10 that I would discuss:

• Some of the core issues and approaches that are available for determining which skills and types of experience you might need next, in-house in building for your business’ competitive future,
• And how to more effectively use online social media as a source of insight, both in resolving that starter question and in finding the right candidates to reach out to for this.
• And after that I stated that I would address relevant staff retention issues too, with that including a discussion of better understanding which positions and employees are most crucial now and which will be needed moving forward for their special qualifications,
• And how best to meet the needs and requirements of these employees in retaining them on-staff, that would work both for these key employees and for the business as a whole.

I began discussing the issues that arise out of the first point of that list, in Part 10 itself. And I followed that in Part 11 with a discussion on finding and bringing in, and retaining the right people for this work, which I offered as what can be considered the goals oriented side to the second topic point in my Part 10 list, and an at least brief initial take on point 3.

And just considering hiring here, this is where I began splitting the above repeated discussion points into a larger number of sets of more refined and specific issues that merit individual discussion. I divided that goals-related part of my second discussion point: “finding the right candidates to reach out to” into the two readily separable areas of employee hiring and employee retention:

1. Hiring employees with highly in-demand skills and real world experience using them, and not just classroom training in these new and still emerging technologies, that would be required in order to keep a business current with unfolding best practices that are already appearing and in place in its business vertical and in its industry, and
2. Looking for the right people who can go beyond simply using publically available new technologies in more predictable ways. This means looking for special, non-standard employees who can innovatively develop new and next-step technologies in-house, and who can use them in combination with more established technologies in novel and disruptively new ways, in solving problems that most others have never even brought into focus as being available for specific resolution.

And I delved into these more specific issues in Part 10 and Part 11. And after finishing addressing them, at least for purposes of this series, I stated that I would turn in this posting to consider the methods side to that second main list topics point, at least with regard to hiring per se:

• How to more effectively use online social media as a source of insight for all of that.

And I will also of necessity further discuss what these employees would work on once hired and brought in, and how social media can be used in innovatively widening the scope of that to more fully address emerging need and opportunity. I begin addressing all of this by posing two fundamental questions:

• Precisely what do you want to learn through social media that will help you here?
• And where and how should you look for this information?

A quick and simplistic answer to that first question would be that you should seek out unmet needs and points of friction in your business that you can creatively, innovatively build and develop your staff to more effectively address. And you should look for creative, innovative people who can help you do this. And an even more quickly stated though equally simplistic answer to the second of these questions, is that you need to ask where you are most likely to find useful, actionable answers and insight that will help you to do this. My goal for the balance of this posting is to at least begin to address both of these questions and those answers to them, noting up front to that prospect, that this is definitely a context in which, to quote an old proverb, the devil is in the details.

I will begin here with the issues of what these creative employees would be hired and I add retained to do, and how you can gain insight on that from social media and through the crowdsourcing that feeds into it. And I will begin that with what should at least be obvious, at least for its long-term predictive value:

• Most businesses fall into the rut of simply doing basically the same things and basically in the same ways, and offering essentially the same products and services with only relatively minor changes and improvements, and even when they are offering what are ostensibly new, next generation major upgrade market offerings. Slow, minor-step evolutionary change is both easier and commoner than is truly successful, fundamentally innovative and disruptive change. But such change, and the successful development and offering of the fundamentally new, create next generation industry and marketplace leaders. And simply following a safe linear development evolutionary path can and will at least eventually lead to obsolescence and to business extinction and even if it does proceed there, one low individually risk step at a time.

Look for unmet needs and for points of friction that are not being addressed and both within your own business and in the markets you work with and seek to. And this means looking for and entering into conversations with and listening to and learning from the stakeholders who you ultimately depend upon for your business’ success, who would be in the best position for identifying those points of concern – and of opportunity.

• What do your products and services, and those of your competitors do well, and even very well?
• And where do they have gaps – and by that I mean gaps as would be identified by your customers and the end-users who actually directly confront these market offerings and their strengths and limitations?

Let’s start with the products and services that go out of your doors, or out through cyberspace. Who do you ask and where? Start with your own current customers and with your Customer Service operations. Ask! Seek out input and insight whenever a customer reaches out to you. Ask them what they like most and what they like least about your products and services. How could you improve them to make them more useful and more easily used? Until very recently the only way that this type of data could be realistically, cost effectively used was to gather it in, in ways that could be numerically scaled or otherwise directly organized for statistical analysis. But increasing capability for analyzing, parsing and categorically grouping more complex text responses has made it possible to sift and filter and group and analytically use more open ended text responses too and in large volume. And social media is one categorical source of insight where this new analytical capability becomes essential.

Where do you look? Customer Service, to continue on my initial source of potential insight need not just offer online and phone based business-to-customer response systems, as important as these traditional customer support services are. Businesses can and increasingly do offer customers the option to post questions to their user community, or to raise points in these social media conversations that others can respond to. And both business employees and other customers can respond, offering possible answers and insights as well as further clarification-seeking questions.

• This type of information sharing can open up whole new avenues for a business to learn about its products and services and how they actually perform in real world customer hands.
• They can learn of the perhaps unexpected ways that their offerings can be and are being used, and ways to address the limitations of current versions of their products when user problems do arise.
• All of this can be used as sources of insight in developing new and improved incremental evolutionary product updates more effectively. But step back and look for more fundamental limitations and gaps too; this can be used to identify where more disruptively innovative approaches and efforts might be warranted – and where they might even already be in demand.

But the only way any of that can happen is if the flow of information and insight that Customer Service is at least potentially gathering, is processed and analyzed using combinations of standard statistical, and newer artificial intelligence driven text analysis methods, and if the results from this effort are both thought through for their implications and acted upon.

Now let’s consider how customer and end-user insight can be more specifically and directly used in identifying disruptive innovation opportunities:

• Ask your customers and your product end users what their wish list improvements and upgrades would be. Ask them what they would most like to see marketed, in terms of addressing their wish list needs.
• And be clear here, that you are not simply looking for minor upgrade suggestions or ideas. You are asking them to as specifically as they can, tell you what they would most want to have of the types of products that you categorically offer, and that neither your business nor any of your competitors currently provide.

And look for ways to filter out and identify the gold in what you are offered here. This is about crowdsourcing for insight on what you can and should do next, and crowdsourcing for insight on how to best do it. And if you do this and find value in this information flow, how can you scale this intelligence gathering up to include more open sources of social media insight, through for example, insight contests offered through a business Facebook page?

• Where else can you reach out through social media to develop these conversations and gather in this insight?
• The most successful businesses in this will be the ones that throw wider, more effective nets in developing this business intelligence, and that more effectively and rapidly gain actionable insight from it as they gather it.

I have been addressing the What of this here. In my next series installment I am going to turn back to the Who side of this and to using social media in helping to identify creative, innovative new potential hires who can more effectively act on the insights gained here, as well as offering and following through on their own creative insight. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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