Innovation of Business

and the
Business of Innovation™
 
Community of Innovation

An Oversimplified, Brief Theory

Innovation drives entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, corporate profits, and economic health.  From scales of single products to development of entire industries, innovation constantly reforms markets by changing expectations of what is possible.

Most companies say they depend on innovation for future revenues.  On the other hand, only half of new products are profitable, across industry and product type.  Reasons abound, yet the intangibles of innovation can make a huge difference.

Specifically, to build a viable Community of Innovation, we need to enable dialog, strategy, and development with both basic concepts and shareable language.  This is a first step in conceiving and developing such a community.

 

Concepts in Community

A network is an extensible web of connections at personal and/or organizational levels.

A business is an ongoing social entity which develops and offers products in exchange for payment, where both product and payment can be very broadly defined.  Businesses can be found in industry, government, education, the military, the arts, and religion.  In industry, a company is a commercial organization with one or more businesses.  Functional departments, divisions, and programs are durable businesses.  Projects are temporary businesses.

A business community is a network of interdependent organizations, with associated individuals, all sharing a common focus or thrust such as industry, professional discipline, product type, and/or other shared experience.  Business communities are inclusive of competitors.  Indeed, need for community overcomes competitive urges; in community, rivals often interact and may even collaborate in reaching shared objectives.  True communities transcend Human tribal nature, preserving diversity over conflict.  (Do you agree?)

Community” itself is an emergent property of its members.  (Comments?)  That is, community evolves organically from interactions between members.  Business interactions begin with opportunities, evolve around shared interests, mature into trust, and sustain as win-win relationships.  Emergence may be so subtle that members don’t realize they’ve formed a community.  “Community” may form in layers or nests.  The basic unit of “community” is the personal relationship.

Principles of community vary with community and thrust, and may vary over time.  One perspective applies broadly:

Vision: Shared concept and values
Inclusion: Open and welcoming
Freedom: Voluntary affiliation
Commitment: A durable promise
Respect: Basis for trust
Harmony: Peaceful participation
Win-Win: Giving and gaining
Dialog: Ongoing sharing and learning
Mentoring: Growing the potential of others
Service: Dedication over time
(Would you suggest different principles?)

 

Communities of practice emerge within or across organizations – by intention or by nature – around a shared professional discipline.  (Also known as expert networks)  Project management, for instance, crosses industry and product type.  Scientific communities apply a wide range of disciplines to a common focus.  Communities of industry bring together diverse elements of a specific industry.  Think energy, biotech.  Communities of product type cross industries and disciplines.  Think software, electronics.  (Are you familiar with these?  Do they offer lessons?  Can you name other thrusts around which business communities form?)

Business communities of innovation integrate all elements of innovation from ideation through market launch for a specific business. This clearly is a cross-disciplinary community.  Because outsourcing is so common, business innovation communities also cross corporate boundaries.  Inclusiveness of all team members enables interactions from which the special quality of “community” can emerge from something begun by normal management and contracts.  Business communities of innovation typically serve single organizations, yet may expand across corporate divisions and involve various external partners.  (This is our focus.  Have you experienced such a community?  Can you share stories of how it formed?  Can you share principles of formation?)

Community of Innovation”, then, is an emergent property of interactions among a sufficient population of individual innovators across disciplines, product types, organizational units, and/or corporate boundaries.  That is, “innovation community” integrates all players in development of ideas into “products” in use, for the first time anywhere, that create compelling value for customers.  Community of Innovation is a huge concept… inclusive, yet with the specific thrust of innovation of new businesses, products, and processes.

A “sense of community” is a perception.  Practicalities of organization, location, architecture, and systems are secondary to shared convictions powerful enough to become a collective consciousness.  Once the idea of community develops, systems of organization and definition are typically driven by member initiative.  That is, “community” emerges from its members.  (Do you believe this last statement?  Or does it seem that a founding or leadership team designs the community independent of potential members?  Examples?)

Diffusion of community is a risk.  A  large community that incorporates smaller communities with clear senses of identity may devolve back to its component parts.  Logically, the large community also articulates its thrust, identity, and purpose reflecting the breadth and scope of the large community.  On the other hand, where leadership can drive culture and personality of organizations; communities evolve through member interaction focused only by thrust and shared values.  (What can be done to sustain communities?)
Relationship, not leadership, is the core of community.  Community grows through interactions of people and organizations, not by mandate or powerful influence.  The internet has taught us that opportunities for relationships turn into communities without any further driver.  Of course, relationships need to be win-win, value-for-value.  If sufficient value is perceived and received, relationships will grow.  With expanding interactions of relationships, communities grow.  (Do you believe this lead statement?  Would you say it differently?)

A catalyst can initiate a sense of community.  Inside a business, catalysts include management initiatives, personal networks, and shared websites.  IBM, among others, uses Second Life to build a variety of innovation communities.  In a more public sense, a new professional association, for instance, articulates a vision, then draws membership from existing populations, enables new relationships, and often opens new opportunities.  That is, actions by public and/or private entities can stimulate the interactions and sense of rich environment that lead to the perception of community.  More properly said, successful catalysts enable and clarify a sense of community that already exists.  Catalysts enable relationships already desired, yet perhaps not recognized.  (I suggest that communities are catalyzed, not organized.  Communities are not organizations, though they may organize.  Do you agree?)

It takes an innovation catalyst to stimulate an Innovation Community.  An Innovation Community requires a broad scope because the idea of innovation is so vast and encompassing.  Normal segmentation and focusing strategies don’t apply.  Normal membership criteria and certification processes won’t suffice.  Initiating and sustaining an Innovation Community requires a catalyst able to trigger interactions across and among the various segments of the Community.  It requires ability to define, create, and disseminate value propositions for the full range of potential members.  Organization leadership, aware of the potential, can develop and carefully deploy catalysts for internal Communities of Innovation.  (What catalysts would you recommend?  Any tips on applying them?)

Criteria for a viable Community of Innovation:

1.    A value that many or all potential members appreciate.  (Innovation with impact.  Innovation that makes a difference.  A geographic focus such as Silicon Valley.)
2.    A driver for putting that value above “tribal” differences.  (Economic impact, ROI)
3.    A facilitating mechanism of some sort plus energy and commitment to introduce the new concept to significant elements of the potential Community.  (Innovation catalyst)
4.    Time to develop a durable community-level self-concept around the core value.  (Sustained by health and persistence of the catalyst)
5.    Ongoing conversations among people and organizations around the shared value.  (Dialog among innovators)
6.    Sustaining mechanisms that perpetuate the dialog and ensure ongoing exchanges of benefits.  (Websites, blogs, events that draw diverse members, collaborations, co-authoring, etc.)  (What criteria would you recommend?  What “values” would initiate a viable Community of Innovation?  How else would you sustain such a community over time?)

Culture of Innovation

Communities within a common framework of a single business influence culture of the larger business.  When the innovation culture is positive, it becomes a powerful source of momentum, as eventually measured in value returned to the business.  In that sense, Communities of Innovation might be seen as essential to the health of any type of business.

Thanks in advance to those of you who choose to collaborate in clarifying the concept of a business Community of Innovation.

Gary Lundquist

 

 


 

48. He who rejects change is the architect of decay. (Harold Wilson)

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