Reluctant collaboration:  Finding contributors without hidden agendas

You want everyone on your team to embrace innovation.  You make a portal available to them to interact.  Then you find out some people are upset by what they read.  Others bring their innate, tacit biases to the dialogs, artificially skewing the results.  If the best ideas are automatically promoted and the automatic promotion mechanism is based on an algorithm that measures the wisdom of the crowd based on their activity, how can we manage the results in a way that yields accurate “best idea” selection?

How do you drive adoption of innovation systems without upsetting the applecart?  How do you surface the best ideas from the group without finding out all they really (secretly) want is to introduce a product they loved when they were kids or one that will help them pick up members of the opposite gender?  How do you use Open Innovation to discover the truth?

In our white paper “The Art of Idea Harvesting“, Wim Soens states Seeding Drives Adoption….the use of intriguing challenges (or campaigns) will cause people to get engaged into conversations about innovation topics.  And management of those seeds will give innovation managers a measure of control when encouraging adoption (the re-launch of seeds, an invitation to different groups of people into a challenge, or the launch of a new seed as the interest in existing seeds wane).

But once a community is engaged actively in the collaboration process, how do you ensure you don’t end up with false or useless results?  Consider these artificial skews to the resultant data (Consider this part II of the discussion; I looked at this topic at the Innovation Excellence blog site ):

A vigorous discussion can be taking place but contributors can be effected by those with whom they are interacting.  The opinions’ of others, whose opinions we value, will impact what we write.  Merely encountering these people in real life (a chat with a pretty girl at the water cooler, the thought of having a chat with a girl at the water cooler, bumping into your CEO in the hallway, just the thought of bumping into your CEO) can impact your work.   If there are persons of power (whose opinion can impact my future career) involved in the discussion…or for that matter if there’s a pretty girl watching, contributors can be distracted by the anticipation of one of these encounters.

Some people might be artificially attracted to vote for an idea if the topic touches on the role of your most important values.  If I’m all for our company being more engineering driven and the idea supports that value, I’ll say I like the idea whether I do or not. 

My time is valuable.  So is yours.  We all think our time has worth.  If it’s expeditious for me to dismiss or support a given idea because it suits my long term plans, I’ll weigh the cost of time, when I make my contributions. 

It’s an accepted fact millennials on your team will get more easily engaged in the collaborative process.  They’re just more inclined to use social networks based on their comfort using them in their daily lives.  Millennials pride themselves frequently on doing things “differently”.  Young people may dismiss an idea everyone else likes merely to distance themselves from their too mainstream peers.

Usually English is used for business collaboration, even if there are no contributors with English as their first language.  We all use regional language patterns to which we’re accustomed even when our face to face verbal discourse is replaced by electronic chatting.  We tend to discount those who describe ideas in words we object to, we have a sort of aural dissonance that can steer us toward rejection (or acceptance) of concepts.  If a more senior person is reading a young person dialect, the idea may be perceived as having less value and the ideators as cheeky.  Even if there’s a darn good idea buried in there.

We can also tend to reject someone’s input, essentially punish for “wrong speaking”, not just because of regional dialect spin but because there’s not a tone with the proper respect.  In puritan times servants had to use thee and thou to some people and you and yours to others of a different caste.  Spanish grants the familiar use of “tu” and the formal “usted” depending on whose being addressed (you).  If a manager perceives an individual contributor’s contribution to the discussion as inappropriate or disrespectful), then subconsciously they’ll reject its value along with rejection of the envelope it came in on.  (Who told you we were equals?)

We can give up hope on an idea too easily in some cases based on our own personal circumstances.  If we’ve experienced a loss, every new idea is viewed through that prism.  The contemplation of losing and can weigh heavy until that collaborator finds the ability to carry on.  In other words don’t invite a recently separated or divorced person into the conversation unless you want them to post a negative comment.

There’s the halo effect, if there’s one good thing about it there must be more.  If I find one part of your idea is interesting or if you’re ideating about a topic I find attractive, the collateral ideas surrounding then benefit by the positive glow of the parts I like.  For that matter if the idea contributes to the great good of humanity I’ll find it attractive.  So if the idea is about feeding hungry poor people, I might tend to vote for it even if it is flawed.

We’ve all seen this one.  We’re having a discussion and someone comes to our defense when it gets contentious.  It is thrilling to have an advocate.  Others jump in to the fray on one side of the argument or the other; the advocate is terrific because he agrees with me.  (This brings to mind the emails amongst my team when we all sided with either Bush or Gore during the election campaign… it got personal real quick).  Plus everyone else viewing this discussion is entertained by a good fight.  Again it might not be the value of the idea; it might be the joy of the argument that gets this idea promoted to project status.

Change is good.  New technology is good.  We all tend to bless new ideas that replace an old idea merely because it’s new.  We put value on one topic because it is available suddenly over one we relied on in the past.  Not better.  Just more technical or newer.  This is where the team needs to invite clearer heads into the discussions or experts on the subject.  Not everything is better when it comes through a mobile phone app.

We can also see a surge of interest in a topic if it is top of mind.  If the news is filled with a social phenomena (e.g. Facebook Timeline or a viral video of a talking dog) or an event (e.g. presidential debates) it rents space in our head.  When an idea overlaps that thinking the bells and lights go off in our brain.  If someone proposes a new product for our company that incorporates Facebook, a talking dog and debates the collaborative team will flock to it, discuss it and maybe even give it enough attention and votes to get that idea promoted.

An innovation ecosystem, and the people who manage it, must monitor the ongoing organizational engagement that ensues.  We can tickle everyone’s fancy, get them making contributions.  Then we have to monitor the dialogs and keep humans involved in the automatic processes so that human frailties are taken into account.


Source notes:  Jane Kamensky, “Governing the Tongue:  The Politics of Speech in Early New England”, Gilbert, T. et al, “Investor Inattention and the Market Impact of Summary Statistics, Management Science. Leeson, P., “Trial by Battle”, Jouranl of Legal Analysis (Spring 2011), Crost, B. “The effect of Alcohol Availability on Marijuana Use, Journal of health Economics, Schuldt, J, et al, “The ‘Fair Trade’ Effect”, Social Psychological and Personality Science.  Nauts, S., et al, “The Mere Anticipation of an Interaction with a Woman Can Impair Men’s cognitive Performance”, Archives of Sexual Behavior.  Logel, C, “The Role of the Self in Physical Health:  Testing the Effect of a Values-Affirmation”, Psychological Science, (January 2012). Mialon, H., “The Economics of Faking Ecstasy”, Economic Inquiry (January 2012)

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