Category Archives: Broadcast Search

Ben Franklin: Father of Collaborative Problem Solving?

In some of the most successful companies today, Innovation is constantly being pushed forwardby collaborative groups. Whether formally organized or not,teamslike thisuse a variety of tools available to share knowledge in a non-hierachical fashion.

You mightcall them ‘Communities of Practice’ or even’Innovation Committees’ at your company, but their function is to meet regularly toopenly discuss topics and information germane to their business. The goal is to solve problems through communication andto promote new ideas among the members.

Long before companies recognized and formalized any modern approach to innovation, one American forefather created what is recognized as thevery first collaborative group.Benjamin Franklin organized a group called Junto in Philadelphia which consisted of selected people fromdiverse backgrounds and varying occupations. Theymet regularly, usually in a tavern, tohave discussions and try to solve the political issues of the day. Franklinfelt that a braintrust of people with different perspectives would solve moreproblems fasterthan any lone individualever could. The small,dynamic clubdiscussed anything from philosophical questionsto community problems, political issues, and business affairs.

Franklin’sJunto obviously didn’t have coolweb 2.0tools oremailto faciliate the sharing of knowledge. They did their thinginan open forum that met weekly and listened to eachother speakabout mutually agreed-upontopics. The key to theirproductivity was strong organizationand a feeling of equity among its participants. Theyfollowed a formal order at meetings in which everyone hadthefloorto sharethoughts in a respectful environment. Does your company do this for it’s employees?

Imagine what you could do with a similar model using the tools available today.That’s what Flagpole’s (www.flagpole-software.com)all about!

You can easily implement a simple, standardized process forsharingideas and knowledgewithin your organization. Your “Discussion Topics” will become the”Challenges” that you share outwardly. Your”JuntoMembers” areyour employeesorcoworkers, whowill share their unique perspectives to help you build on ideas and solve problems.

Building Your Own Market for Innovative Products

The more innovative andrevolutionary a breakthroughproduct is, themore likelythat you’ll have tobuild your own market for it. Customers don’t come running for products they don’tknowthey need yet. However the payoff is huge! If you can define the market from the ground up, chances areexcellentthat you will own that market for a very long time.

Back in the 60’s, scientists working atDuPont developed Kevlar – ablend of polymers with five times the strength-to-weight ratio of steel.Accustomed to their constant stream of success withinnovative products, the chemical giantnaturally assumed that the market would simply come to them. After all, Nylon, Teflon, and several other artificial fibers ofDuPont’s creationhad been adopted byscoresofindustries and usedin successful products that were selling all over the place.

Not so with Kevlar. It simply couldn’t find it’s place in the world. All of the uses and products DuPont had envisioned were not feasable and industries were just not interested in the revolutioary new product. The biggest failurecame when American tire makersrejected Kevlar. The companies optedtocontinue usingsteel belts in their radials, rather than switch to something new, even though Kevlar offered a significant weight reduction. After all, steel was reliable, easier to source, and still a bit cheaper than the new material.

It took some very creative thinking andmarketing on DuPont’s part to find a niche in which to sell Kevlar. The testing began to find out all the new uses for this new fiber. They knew they had amiracle solution, now they just had to find the problem it solved.They went out to some their largestcustomers askedfor their input and shared theirresearch data. The real breakthrough camewhen they found itcouldstop bullets. Once the US Government caughtwind of the findings, Kevlar became the go-to material for making things like bullet proof vests and army helmets.With the militaryon board,the police forces across the country came calling and the rest is history.

Because of thisclever market adaptation, Kevlar has since proven itself an extremely worthy material for all kinds ofproducts from better ropes to boat sails to protective devices that workers use.History has proven it to be one of the biggest selling products DuPont ever introduced. Quite miraculously,it also totally redefined how DuPont proactively builds a market space for it’s new products before they move forward with developing it.As a result, they control the markets they create. Can you think of a product that challenges Kevlar in its own market space? I’ll give you a hint: In the 80’s a very similar material called”Twaron” was introduced by a competitor. It neverput the “tiniestding” in DuPont’s “armor”.

Lots of companies introducegreat ideas and productsthat just can’t quite catchtheir stride, and many that could performmuch better if the company spent more time to understand the marketplaceand the needs of potential customers. By going outside of your company walls toresearch and investigate trends and feedback you can begin tobuildbetter, and in a lot of cases brand newmarkets for your ideas.You just need to get innovative with how people are using your products and ask them for their ideas.

You can jumpstart this process withemployees and customers -they all have great ideas and will share them if you present the right challenge. With Flagpole (www.flagpole-software.com) you canshare business and marketing challengeswith everyone in and around your organization. Best thing is, you won’t spend billions on research like the “DuPont Corporations” of the World: You can get started for free right now.

Defining the RIGHT challenge.

At one large company, there exists a small dedicated Innovation Center, whose role it is to conduct sessions to assist the various business units in solving their problems in new and unexpected ways. In all of the sessions that they were called on to run, the Center found that not a single business unit had defined its problem correctly before the session.

You can’t solve a problem that you can’t clearly define.  In business, if you focus on the wrong problem, or define the problem incorrectly, then you might come up with many great solutions that don’t apply to your issue, or solve any real deficit.  That’s a lot of wasted effort.

Of all the tasks associated with problem-solving, clearly defining and stating the challenge is the most important because it determines the subject matter on which employees will focus their attention to generate ideas. Sounds pretty elementary, right?

Here are 3 very basic tips for crafting a challenge statement, which people often fumble:

  • When stating your problem, do so clearly, and always start with a phrase like How might we (achieve this)? or How can we (provide or do the following)? These types of questions lead people to start thinking in terms of directly solving only the problem at hand. Keep in mind, you can include some background information leading up to the question, but don’t include a lot of irrelevant information. Only share with your problem solver what they need to know: state the problem you’re trying to solve in a clear and concise way.
  • You shouldn’t suggest a solution (or hint at one) within the problem statement itself. For example, a statement such as How can we save money by reducing waste? could better. It leads your problem solvers to only think of solving the issue (saving money) within the parameters of YOUR suggestion (reducing waste). In doing so, you limit the boundaries of coming up with a creative solution. Now, there may be cases where that’s precisely what you want to do.  Crafting a challenge is all about honing the responses to exactly what you want to get back. For instance, reducing waste is a great solution for saving money so if you’re only looking for ways to reduce waste, then let that be your Challenge Statement.  If you must, include the reason (your need to save money) as background information to let folks know why you’re searching for this.
  • Include only ONE problem in the statement.  For example: How can we improve our product while reducing the cost of production? Not good -those are TWO distinct problems and should be shared as 2 different challenges.

Here’s an example of a particularly clunky challenge that one company used: “We need to convince our clients to participate more in designing our products so we can be of more value to them.”

This statement violates all 3 of the above guidelines:

#1 – The problem is not clearly stated.  The core problem here might be that customers don’t participate in the design process or it may be something else. The real problem more likely lies in that providing value part.

#2 – The statement suggests that the solution to providing more value can only be achieved by convincing customers to participate in the design process. That might be a fine solution, but it’s probably not the only way to provide more value.

#3 – There are 2 separate problems being stated  A: How do we provide more value to our clients? and B: How might we get our clients to participate in the design process? Granted, the 2 problems may be connected.  In fact, B may be an excellent solution for A. If that’s the case then B still needs to be stated as its own problem.  Perhaps use it as a “refinement” statement later on, once you get people to brainstorm around the bigger problem. Or, just go after “B” if that’s what you feel you’re looking for.

With Flagpole (www.flagpole-software.com), you can immediately start sharing your business challenges with people from all across your organization.  Flagpole’s proven Open Innovation methodology will help you to successfully solve problems by leveraging the knowledge that already exists in your company.