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There is more to innovation than "Idea Management"
Padmanabh Dabke Feb 19, 2013

I have been working on creating tools and methodologies for enterprise collaboration for the past 20 years. The last 5 years were devoted to building idea management platforms and developing effective community management techniques. Idea Management, even according to Gartner, is old news and yet every vendor in this space (except Social Lair) has really not come up with a broader support for what comes before and after idea management.

At Social Lair, we are taking a more holistic view of innovation. Innovation is an iterative process consisting of four steps: Listen - Analyze - Engage - Act. The Social Lair platform is designed to support all four steps.



Listen - The first step is simply to listen to conversations among consumers, employees, and partners. You can do some passive listening by simply monitoring social media conversations. There are two modes of social media listening. You can either configure your social media monitoring module to listen to domain conversations or you can listen with the specific goal of doing competitive analysis and focus only on posts that explicitly mention your brand or your competitors. You can also do some inside-the-wall listening by creating customer communities that allow them to show off the way they use your product or customer service experiences by posting on your community wall.

Analyze - Once you have found a way of effectively listening to all those conversations, you can derive a lot of good insights if you have the right tool at your disposal. At Social Lair, we combine text analytics, sentiment analysis, and social network analysis to identify:

  • Competitive strengths and weaknesses
  • Conversational themes
  • Unmet needs and pain points
  • Trouble spots around performance metrics

Engage - The third step involves more active engagement with lead users, employees in the field, and close partners. In this step, you can create communities of different styles. Some may invite lead users to share open ended suggestions about product improvements and ask for predictions and preferences. Some communities may focus on active co-creation and ideation around company-defined theme based on the learning derived from the analysis done in second phase.

Act - This last step is off course what makes everything worth the time and energy spent in the first three steps. In the brave new world of open innovation and collaboration, there is more to the "Act" phase then creating a stealth project for your R&D team. This phase has a lot of room for involving your community (perhaps not quite as large in the listening phase) in provide continuous feedback so that you fail fast and maximize the probability of success.

If You Build It, Will They Come?
Mike Vandall Dec 10, 2012

If You Build It, Will They Come?

(Two tips for establishing and maintaining purposeful online community engagement)


In the movie, The Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella is inspired to plow under his cornfield and build a baseball diamond based on a suggestion from a supernatural voice that whispers, “If you build it, he will come.”  For those that haven’t seen the film, Ray follows his gut instinct while his bank account dwindles away believing that over time, people will come to play baseball at his park in an Iowa cornfield in order to see former (and deceased) baseball stars play ball every night.  The movie has a happy ending: Ray gets to play catch and reconcile with the ghost of his father, and indeed, people come from all over and pay to relive the innocence of their youth.

  Field of Dreams


Like many newer initiatives, however, when it comes to enlisting groups to help solve business challenges, it’s difficult to obtain budget based on a whisper & hunch, so I thought I would share a few tips that will help make your CFO more comfortable with your ask.

Identify a clear objective for your first endeavor.  Ok, many of you may have just shouted, ‘Duh!’, but the reality is, most people don’t start their first collaboration or crowdsourcing event with a nice tight concept.  This often happens when working with a vendor to ‘trial’ or ‘pilot’ a solution to get your organizations temperature, and to set performance metrics.  In these cases, a lightweight question gets asked, which unfortunately starts people off on the wrong foot.   For example, one firm I worked with asked the group, “What can we do to improve our work environment?” After a few days, and a little cajoling, the pilot team came up with about 35-40 ideas, and after voting on them, the top idea was…. (drum roll, please)…. to place ash cans outside the buildings front doors.  While at the surface, this seems like a good idea, and a great example of a successful trial (who wouldn’t want to have a front entrance clear of cigarette butts), it actually had adverse affects when it came to budgeting.  The reason was that one of the business unit VPs simply thought that placing ash cans outside, while helpful, was simply common sense, and the outcome did not enhance her business case at all.  She saw it as a giant waste of time, and her team did not participate in other collaboration efforts sponsored by the communications team.  Soft question + toe in the water tactics = fuzzy outcome & low adoption.

A chemical company I worked with, however, had a much more sound approach.  They identified 3 specific areas of concern for their business, invited their entire division to participate (in this case about 350 people), and not only asked their team for input, but they also clearly spelled out what the division would gain from the team’s participation.  That project resulted in over 180+ ideas generated, and 3 of the ideas went into production mode in the ensuing quarter.  The end result here was ‘proof’ for the rest of the firm’s business units that collaboration was indeed a viable process that could deliver tangible results.  Relevant & business-centric question + clearly stated goals = high participation & productive results.

Gamify and measure activity and make the content about them.  When it comes to creating a highly engaged customer, vendor or employee forum, game mechanics and analytics are no longer luxury items.  There are a lot of ways to interact with people online today, and while most individuals might try something once, they will usually move on to the next thing, unless they have a compelling reason to come back to your event or initiative;  the content MUST be compelling and personal.  In the “Field of Dreams,” the attraction was a personal connection to one’s childhood.  In the real world, it is up to you to create that personal connection, and this is where gamification and dashboards become imperative. 

People like to see their name up in lights, and they like to see progression.  Think about the last post you made on facebook.  If you are like me, you check to see if someone ‘liked’ your post, and it makes you feel good when people acknowledge your comments.  I also find that if no one ‘liked’ or commented on a post, I take it as a sign that no one cares, and try not to post on a similar topic like that.  facebook records & publishes # of likes and # of comments for each post, which can also draw others to look and see.  This is an example of how game mechanics and analytics in their simplest forms drive community behavior.

  facebook example.jpg

Corporate efforts, however, are a little different.  With facebook, you know (hopefully) your ‘friends’, and the content that your micro community posts, is essentially about you.  That’s a powerful motivator.  In business, however, social collaboration community members often have never met, and for a statement, idea, or comment to have gravitas, it must be qualified as credible by the community.  Next generation game mechanics that draw on the activity and analytics of your community can help accomplish this task. 

There are actually 4 distinct levels of game mechanics that can help motivate people online:

  1. Transactional.  This level of game mechanics is based on a count of simple user activities like  number of page views, ideas, votes and/or comments.  In a close knit community, like your facebook clan, they can be successful, however, if individuals are rewarded solely on these merits, it can quickly become a popularity contest.  Not always a healthy way to operate a business community (see ash can).
  2. Operational.  Operational game mechanics allow a community to interact with the content and provide feedback.  Comments, votes, reviews, investments and star ratings are all examples of ways a community can interact and qualify content, and posting leaderboards acknowledging these activities can be powerful.  Although it is harder to do, popularity, agendas and loudmouths can influence outcomes and can have an adverse effect upon maintaining healthy levels of engagement.
  3. Emergent.  Emergent game mechanics combine online activities with recorded data & natural language processing to help qualify content, and can automate decisions based on algorithms.  Examples include, conversation level, social reputation, social influence, idea strength, idea graduation, negative/positive sentiment, and stock price.  These game mechanics are incredibly important in helping identify experts & unmet market needs or in qualifying ideas that are right for the business, not just popular.  Emergent game mechanics can be powerful motivators for individual participation, but they are even more important for motivating leadership, as they help to cut through the noise and distill activity into meaningful nuggets of information.
  4. Immersive.  When the game begins to take the place of a business process, you have immersive game mechanics.   Some examples include contests, idea markets, virtual currency, prediction markets, feature wars, product creation, learning, town hall & orientation games.   These game mechanics are extremely powerful motivators, however, are very purposeful in their approach and work best with groups with a common cause.

Establishing and maintaining productive communities of purpose is work, however, that work is far easier when you clearly identify the objectives for your collaboration event, and you create content that connects with your audience.   By inviting business unit leaders into the discussion you can co-create your community objectives with their business goals in mind, assuring you that their teams will participate.  By implementing game mechanics, and publishing analytics, you will help make content personal and make participation fun.  Having fun while working!  What’s better than that?!

Open Innovation Patterns - Part 1
Padmanabh Dabke Oct 1, 2012
"Open Innovation" is a bottom-up process in which ideas originate from the fringes of your organization, good ideas bubble up to the top, and ultimately get transformed into improved product, services, and processes for your business. When I first started interacting with customers five years ago, we had to introduce and educate majority of our prospects on this way of managing innovation. Today we have crossed the chasm and this practice has become mainstream. In spite of this, vendors in this space have not done much to make it easy for businesses to create the most appropriate social innovation solution that fits the needs and culture of their organization. There are dozens of vendors that offer their own brand of one-size-fits-all solution. On the other hand, there are a few vendors that offer more flexibility but creating the right kind of solution remains an art form and takes several iterations to build. With this series of blog post, I intend to create a framework for exploring different dimensions of such solution and ultimately select one with minimal effort.

I classify open innovation efforts along the following three main dimensions:
  • Target community - What kind of users are being requested to submit ideas: employees or company outsiders.
  • Privacy Requirements - Can the submitters view and collaborate on ideas posted by others? 
  • Duration - Are you running a time-bound campaign or trying to create an ongoing community for continuous innovation
There are off course numerous variations within these dimensions but a combination of these three produce eight very common use cases as shown in the following table. I will explore each of these patterns in more detail in the next few posts in this series.
Ideator Community Target Ideators Private Submissions Duration
Employee Suggestion Box Internal Yes Ongoing
Employee Ideation Drive Internal Yes Time Bound
Open Innovation External Yes Ongoing
Open Ideation Drive External Yes Time Bound 
Employee Innovation Program Internal No Ongoing
Idea Campaign Internal No Time Bound
Co-Creation Community External No Ongoing
Open Challenge External No Time Bound
The Many Faces of Crowdsourcing
Mike Vandall Sep 18, 2012


The Many Faces of Crowdsourcing



Crowdsourcing as a business process has been experiencing rapid growth as evidenced by a Wall Street Journal Article ( ) that reported a 75% increase in revenues amongst crowdsourcing providers in 2011.   While this particular article focused on how small businesses are using crowdsourcing as a labor augmentation tool, there also exist many other reasons to tap into the collective intelligence of crowds to solve every day business challenges.   A partial list includes these business processes that can be enhanced through crowdsourcing:


  • ·          Micro-tasking
  • ·          Temporary Labor
  • ·          Consumer Insights
  • ·          Leadership Team Collaboration
  • ·          Open Innovation
  • ·          Co-Creation of Products & Services
  • ·          Application Development
  • ·          Optimizing Operations
  • ·          Employee Engagement
  • ·          Training
  • ·          Idea Management
  • ·          Customer Service/Help Desk
  • ·          Dealer/Supply Chain Management


What is unique about each of these business challenges is that in order to optimize results, a firm must use different techniques and tools.


Social Lair is a company that has recognized that a flexible crowdsourcing platform is integral to helping companies harness the collective intelligence of their employees, customers and partners, and has optimized its platform to help improve customer insights, support open leadership & simplify idea management.


Idea Management


One of the more popular forms of crowdsourcing and recognizing business value is idea management.   The ability to gather, qualify and manage ideas is helping many customers including SanDisk, Citi & Walmart accelerate the pace of innovation.   In order to accomplish this task, however, an idea management implementation requires a careful deployment strategy, leadership commitment and skilled resources to drive and motivate the ‘crowd’.   While these formal processes have proven to be successful, this structure can be difficult to scale and adapt to mainstream collaboration events like enterprise social networking, consumer/customer insights or just in time collaboration solutions.   Using its next generation platform, Social Lair is helping organizations bridge the gap between these formal engagements and fast innovation events by making it simpler for business line managers to solve their daily challenges quicker, not just long term strategic initiatives.



Customer Insights


Using crowdsourcing as a tool to mine customer insights requires a different way to ask questions.   For example, a clothing retailer was looking for feedback from its facebook followers on their opinions of a certain style of clothing. While there are many facebook apps that can run contests and other programs, they do not necessarily provide the quantitative AND qualitative analysis that the design team required.   Social Lair was able to create an integrated link to facebook that allowed the firm’s followers to opt-in to an interactive community where they could answer surveys, provide commentary & discussion and interact with design team experts.   After gathering the first round of activity, the team was able to securely review the data & comments and identified the top 5 style drivers to incorporate into their latest product.


Open Leadership


Open leadership is another initiative that can benefit from crowdsourcing, however, implementing this culture can be challenging.   The first challenge is how to engage and focus employees on ‘networking’ via the company internet.   Additionally, traditional organizations operate with a ‘command and control’ culture, which over time, creates silos, and makes talent difficult to find, further complimenting the ‘networking’ process.   One company that is helping in this area is VerifIP.   Initially, VerifIP was deployed as a way for firms to organize their intellectual capital and property during the due diligence process.   What firms rapidly discovered, however, was that their VerifIP database also served as a talent locator, and gave them the ability to locate ‘certified’ talent as evidenced by the ability to establish clear title to their Intellectual Property.   This can greatly speed time to market to develop new products, as R&D staff can now easily locate specific talent for 1:1 conversations.  




There are number of firms solving the engagement challenge through the advent of gamification into enterprise Social Networks.   Companies like Badgeville are integrating activity based badge rewards into legacy systems, and other social platforms have contributed by introducing virtual currency and social reputation into their idea management communities to help make crowdsourcing fun.    To combat individuals from ‘gaming’ the systems, Social Lair has introduced the concept of ‘emergent gamification’ into their platform.   In addition to first level, activity based gamification like badges, and currency, Social Lair has introduced a second level,   validated gamification (rewards earned once approved), and a 3 rd level, emergent gamification including reputation ranking, idea markets, prediction markets, dual currencies & social influence, which are all earned and calculated by the activities and perceptions of how an individual positively (or negatively) influences the crowd.   Finally, Social Lair has also built a 4 th layer, ‘immersive gamification’, where the game becomes the business process, which has been used for new employee on-boarding and product development initiatives.


As you can see, Crowdsourcing is no longer an emerging technology.    Companies are solving real challenges and obtaining real results.   While specialization will still be effective for enterprises with mature processes,   there is an emerging trend to consolidate core collaboration activities with the next generation of collaboration vendors like Social Lair, while using specialty solutions like VerifIP for specific front and back end applications.


Nabh's Hierarchy of Gamification Techniques
Padmanabh Dabke Jul 3, 2012
Gamification has been in the news lately and most of it revolves around making user perform certain activities in exchange for some type of reward. While this is useful, gamification can be applied to produce a lot more business value than motivating users to perform simplistic activities. This blog post looks beyond activity-based rewards and identifies other forms of gamification that provide far better value; especially when used as part of enterprise social strategy.
Gamification is the application of game design principles to non-game applications to motivate users in accomplishing real life tasks. At its core, gamification is about creating a fun, engaging experience that encourages users to perform tasks that they might otherwise find tedious or common place.We have identified four different approaches to gamification as depicted in the following figure.

Activity-Based Rewards

This is the simplest form of gamifying user experience. This approach works very well when the objective is to simply maximize the amount of user activity. Examples include boosting the number of “Likes” on your facebook property, sharing a link to your site with friends, etc.

Rewards on Validation

Sometimes it is not enough to know that a user has completed an activity, but that the use has completed it successfully. For example activity-based points can be awarded when a user completes a training course, but you probably want validation from the system that the user has passed the training course successfully. In fact one could also award points in proportion to user’s score in the training course. This is obviously harder to implement since it integration with external systems but it also introduces more accountability by requiring validation that the user has completed a task satisfactorily.

Emergent Gamification Metrics

Awarding points and badges after validation is better than pure activity based rewards but it still a simplistic approach to gamification. As the novelty of completing tasks and getting badges wears off, these techniques cannot be used to incentivize users in the long run. A more sophisticated form of creating user leaderboard ranking is to analyze the individual’s contributions to a community and examine how the community as a whole is reacting to the individual contributions. Reputation or connector rankings produced based on social network analysis is one example of this type of gamification. Typically the rankings and points earned in the manner are based on a recursive analysis of the community interactions and are bound by a time window. This makes it much harder to game, incentivizes users to continue provide meaningful input, and is a much better form of motivation since it is a form of peer recognition.

Turning Play into Work

Serious games help organizations solve complex problems through collaborative play. This is clearly a technique that requires different designs to address different business objectives and cannot be generically applied to an enterprise social community. This is however the best form of gamification since the players create business value by playing the game itself. Idea markets like the once I developed and deployed in Cisco's I-Prize competition is a great example of this. Players collectively provide a much better ranking of ideas by investing virtual money in the ones they believe would succeed. A product design game created by Social Lair is another example. This game requires players to design products by balancing benefits, price, costs, and risks. The resulting mix of features are much better indication of what should go into the product as compared to the tradition method that pits competing factions that only look at the upside.