Nov 25, 2009

Innovating and using Social Technologies

Kickstarting an Innovation Mindset in the Organization

Listed as scenario one in this blog post
Bedi Electronics has been amongst the top ten firms in the Indian consumer electronics industry over the last twenty years. Its 1200 employees are spread across six plants and twenty sales offices. Over the last two years, it has fallen behind its competitors in terms of product innovation.
Rahul Bedi, the 28 year old scion of the family, has recently taken over as the Chief Marketing Officer of the business. Rahul knows that his 250 frontline sales officers have the pulse of the market. However, Rahul gets to meet them infrequently, in annual sales conferences and monthly market visits. They share interesting product ideas with them during one-to-one interactions, but he doesn’t know how to validate them with other sales officers and build on them.
“I wish I knew how to learn about consumer preferences from my frontline sales officers,” Rahul said to Gaurav, “help them build upon each others’ ideas. If we can revitalize our product innovation process, Bedi Electronics will regain its strength in the market.”
Rahul Bedi is faced with a predicament that a lot of business owners find themselves in. They know that the only way to have a sustained competitive advantage in a world of increased competition is to have an innovation mindset.
However, what is really meant by an innovation mindset?
At 2020 Social, we believe what John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid postulate in their book “The Social Life of Information” – Innovation is a social process.
Getting people to connect together, and helping them engage with each other and converse about their ideas and challenges at work is often the best way to let innovation emerge from the grassroots.

Gaurav explains to Rahul that the people doing the front end job always have ideas about how to do stuff better – what often frustrates them is a systematic process to talk about such issues and a forum for coming to a consensus about the best way to resolve challenges.

When such ideas are implemented they might also need some managerial interventions – so leadership needs to get involved in these conversations and direct the discussions around to what is possible and what can be done, positively reinforcing certain behaviors.

Gaurav suggests that a social community platform for the group with rich profiles, microblogging, a content repository and social voting on ideas would kickstart such a process. Bedi Electronics needs to sharply define the scope so that it designs for the appropriate behaviors. The name of the community would also shape the discussions in the community. A name like “BE Innovative” (Bedi Electronics Innovative) triggers the right thought and behaviors too.
Bedi Electronics needs to identify and co-opt employees who are enthusiasts and early adopters so that they become role models for rest of the front line community – and they need to be recognised by senior leaders. Rahul himself needs to set aside time every day to engage with the innovators and answer queries and nudge the discussions where they should go. Social Voting by the community would give positive psychological rewards to the real innovators – and great ideas could be implemented – across regions and territories – and learnings shared – resulting in different stories, different learnings.

To keep the community going Bedi Electronics needs to continue seeding it with contests, and educational guides. It also needs to getn more senior executives to slowly engage with the community in discussions and ideation.