Archive for the 'Networking' Category

Open Innovation in the Food and Drink Industry

November 27th, 2009 | Category: Networking,Open Innovation

I attended and presented at a very good conference yesterday, run by the Food and Drink Innovation Network. The topic being discussed was Open Innovation. There was some really good materal presented, although I was sad to have missed some of the afternoon speakers after some low life stole my wallet during the lunch break. In the morning the main vector of questioning was “prove it works – show me examples of breakthrough Open Innovation in the food and drink industry” (by the way¬†a good example here is Nespresso) but in the afternoon the¬†focus shifted towards “how do I make it work for my organisation?”¬†Speakers included Mike Hield from IXC-UK, Tim Jones from Future Agenda, Paul Isherwood from GSK, Kelvin Pitman from Crown Packaging and Ian Noble from Pepsico. Full presentations will be on the FDIN website next week.

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Social Networking best practice for effective Open Innovation

February 09th, 2009 | Category: Interesting books,Networking,Open Innovation


Recently I’ve been reading Driving results through social networks by Bob Cross. I wanted to read this book because I’m looking for insights into the latest thinking on building new external Value Networks for organisations engaged in Open Innovation. Although a lot of the book is focused on the important area of improving internal networks within organisations I was struck by the section of the book dealing with behaviours which can energise networks both inside and outside of organisations. Here are the behaviours which were encouraged:

1. Do what you say you’re going to do and address tough issues with integrity. Cross says that people are energised by people that stand for something bigger than themselves. I would put it more simply – trust is important for any form of networking to work. Being consistent helps to build trust.

2. Look for realistic possibilities in conversations and avoid focusing too early or heavily on obstacles. Clearly this behaviour is critical to getting people to offer and build on ideas. I would say that Cross could go further here by suggesting that sometimes you have to suspend disbelief for a while and go with a conversation. I think the word “realistic” is a bit of a dangerous word to apply to early stage conversations as it implies an “already listening” mindset where it is easy to screen out options which might have potential when combined with other input from elsewhere in the network.

3. Become mentally and physically engaged in meetings and conversations. I would suggest that this can be take even further by bringing real enthusiasm to the interaction. I’ve often found that injecting enthusiasm into a discussion at the right time can help propel the development of new ideas. Often the other person in the conversation is already passionate about the subject area and reflecting rather than dampening that can really help to bring out new ideas and insights.

4. Be flexible in your thinking and use your expertise appropriately. I often advise clients to engage with external/internal experts from complimentary disciplines to support their decision making. This practice, in itself, is part of the process of opening up the innovation activity.

5. When you disagree, focus on the issue at hand and not the individual. This is pretty obvious really, but if this rule is ignored the trust can quickly disappear from an interaction.

The book contains some good advice, especially for senior managers wishing to improve performance of their business and even includes a section on calculating the value of a network. From my viewpoint I was hoping for a little more on Open Innovation and external networks.

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IXC-UK, a new addition to your Open Innovation toolkit


I’ve recently found out about another Open Innovation network with a different approach, the Birmingham, UK based Innovation Xchange UK, or IXC-UK. IXC originated in Australia 6 years ago although the model has only been operating in the UK for 2 years. This not-for-profit organisation applies a more hands-on approach to getting to know it’s client’s needs than other Idea marketplaces such as Innocentive or Nine Sigma.¬†Innovation experienced IXC intermediaries will “go native” by spending 1 day a week at the client site. This way they can really start to connect to the client’s requirements. The IXC also has a repository of innovation capabilities which the Intermediaries can access in confidentiality protected way. The Intermediaries get together on a regular basis and share problem situations that their clients are working on to see if someone in their network can provide a solution. Industry cross-over solutions are common because of the scope of the IXC network and because many IXC clients are global organisations, solutions can also come from anywhere. From what I’ve found out so far,¬†I think the IXC might well provide another dimension to¬†your Open Innovation toolkit.

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Insights for better networking and knowledge research

July 07th, 2008 | Category: Interesting stuff,Networking

I’ve just come across a very interesting article on the MIT Sloan Review, looking at a study into¬†knowledge networking and searching for expertise. The study looked at how people who work in large companies seek out important knowledge that resides somewhere in the organization, perhaps in the mind of an expert who works in another department at a different geographic location. It turns out that contrary to the famous “six degrees of separation” statement which says that you should be able to connect with anyone in the world in less that six network steps, finding and accessing the right knowledge in your organisation can be a real challenge. In a paper prepared by Morten T. Hansen, Joel M. Podolny and Jasjit Singh of INSEAD,¬†an interesting experiment is outlined, in which they studied how employees of a large global organization went about finding information they needed. Specifically, the researchers tracked search chains: the paths of connections starting from the individuals who initiated the search all the way to the people who possessed the necessary knowledge. Each path might go through several intermediaries before the right person was found. The study was conducted at a large multinational consulting firm with more than 50 offices in 34 countries, the sort of organisation where individuals would be expected to seek out information regularly.

The field experiment conducted at the consulting firm first identified the company experts on four specific topics: transfer pricing, asset productivity, enterprise resource planning and advertising strategy. The consultants in the study then were asked to name those individuals. An interesting observation was that the experts were “hidden” within the organisation as they did not have anything in their titles to indicate their expertise.

Some consultants were able to identify the experts straight away, but most could only name intermediary contacts, and some of the searches took at least three or four rounds. The study found that three types of people tended to have longer search chains: employees who were relatively new, who resided at the periphery of the organization’s social network or who were female. So why is that? Partly it was because these groups were not well enough connected into the networks within the organisation. but this is where the results become intriguing. Not only did members of the three “out” groups have more trouble identifying the experts; they often compounded that difficulty by commencing their searches on the wrong foot. Typically, they started by turning to others who were like them. So, for example, new employees counted on others who were also recent arrivals. And therein lies the problem. When new employees ask for help from a colleague who is similar, they are essentially relying on someone who might, in effect, be similarly clueless. Obviously, the better approach for a newcomer would be to seek help from an old-timer.

It seems that people were inclined to connect with others in a similar situation because they were uneasy about exposing their lack of knowledge to other potentially judgemental colleagues. So a seemingly innocuous phenomenon, the tendency of people to seek help from those who are in the same boat, could well be reducing the ability of an organisation to access internal knowledge and make the right connections.

The key messages from this for innovation, where often making connections can be critical, are:

1. Think about where you are in your organisation, how well connected are you, i.e. might you be in one of the three groups mentioned above?

2. Make connections with people inside your organisation who are different from you, either in terms of their connections within the organisation, or their area of knowledge. Avoid just connecting with people who are in same boat as you.

3. Connect with connectors, who do you know who is really good at networking? Consider asking these people to act as network mentors for you and use them to challenge you to expand your networking space.


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