Which innovation news do you want first? The good news or the bad news?

The Good News

You know your company must embrace innovation if they’re going to survive this economy.  You’ve done your homework; you know you need easy to use yet powerful software technology.  You enable everyone to work together.   Contributions are easily captured.  Your organization’s executives are on the bandwagon.  They’ve delivered a great kick off speech and let everyone know they’re encouraged to put aside time for innovation.

You’ve selected the best technology to serve as the backbone for this new-found culture of innovation.  You begin to assemble on line all your smart people so they can collaborate.  You’ve identified the “early adopter” types in your organization so you can empower them to be leaders.  Those individuals with common areas of interest are noted and grouped.

You’ve identified the challenges most likely to yield incremental innovations so you’ll get some quick wins to both cost justify all the expense and to keep everyone excited about the endeavor.  You’ve taken the issues your senior executives lose sleep over and translated those into challenges your team members can mull over and make contributions toward.   You have a plan to (down the line) invite your vendors, your distributors, your partners, your customers and academic experts with useful domain knowledge into the process.

Smart people are making useful contributions based on your guidance and the encouragement of management.  You’re getting great ideas.  Good ideas are pulling in additional opinions, enriching the very best ideas.  The system automatically generates wonderful reports noting growing adoption rates, high activity numbers and detailed packages for the best ideas, readying these winning concepts for production.

OK, Now The Bad News

Cue the evil music.  Although people are suggesting great ideas, there are those in your organization wearing black hats.  Their comments are not devil’s advocate in nature.   The comments shoot down the new ideas, as well as shooting down the inventor who posted the new concept.  It appears these “Negative Nellie” –types gleefully push down other folk creative thinking.   Team members who stuck their necks out are suddenly discouraged; they’re self censoring.

Idea submission comes to a screeching halt.  You can watch the graph trend downward.  You’re contemplating the destroying the “Mission Accomplished” banner.

What To Do?

Well you can have the software alert you whenever these people contribute so you’re poised to  moderate these comments.  You can edit their work.  You can delete their work.  But here’s where I’m going to suggest a more extreme action plan…You need to give them the boot from the collaborative environment.

You need to ask them to leave.   You’re essentially “unfriending” them.  Of course you can give them read only access so they stay in the loop but they can’t put forth their destructive attitudes.  But my premise is this:

Those with conservative prejudices can not only derail the positive energy and thought processes of your go-getters…they’re likely not adding too much to the conversation anyway.  Closed-minded people have impaired creative problem-solving skills.

What you might be missing by taking this action… One of the great things about collaborative environments is the way the technology can enable knowledge transfer and sharing.  A collaborative environment can facilitate positive mentoring.  When college graduates come to your organization fresh from school, they’re usually missing the “real world” expertise required to do their jobs effectively.

The collaborative process helps those senior domain experts share best practices with the next generation.  It’s essential to growing the next generation of expert team members.  But as we know (anyone who tried to teach their grandmothers to use email) more senior folks can be resistant to new technology.  They may be equally resistant to new ideas.  They’re conservative by nature.

You want their contributions, based on their experiences, to provide their mature perspectives.  But you don’t want them to shoot down creative thinking before it even gets off the ground.  Today’s sophisticated collaborative software enables “alerts” so the system moderators can be notified when key words or phrases are posted so action can be taken.  Thos who evidence themselves as destructive contributors can be “followed” so that all their contributions are brought to the moderators’ attention; their negative input …well…moderated.

The technology isn’t the strategy, but it is the backbone for the collaborative innovation effort.  The best software systems have built in tools to make this whole process easy.   Great contributions may be serendipitous, but luck doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Tadmor, C. “Not Just for Stereotyping Anymore:  Racial Essentialism Reduces Domain-General Creativity”, Psychological Science Journal.

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