Recently I’ve been inspired by some pretty engaging discussions going on on Google+ about the concept of “the connected enterprise” by some big thinkers like Gideon Rosenblatt, Gregory Esau, Braden Kelly and John Kellden . An underlying theme of many of these discussions is that technology will enable organizations to evolve in new and exciting ways, specifically unleashing their innovation capability, due to the ability to have everyone in the organization continuously connected. I believe in the concept, but I have to tell you that I have struggled somewhat with the practical and tactical aspects of implementation of such an enterprise wide connection. A video that I saw last Friday from innovation author Steven Johnson “turned on a lightbulb” for me on several levels. I encourage you to spend 4 minutes watching it, prior to reading the rest of this post.
Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From
The key breakthrough concept for me in this video is that most innovations arise out of the collision between two slow hunches. Although I bill myself as an “Innovative Leader”, I’ve always been of the belief that there is very little truly original thought in this world, and that most innovation comes from the creative combination of existing ideas. Johnson’s “slow hunch” analogy made this concept gel and click for me somehow. It made me really start thinking that the breakthrough for organizational innovation is in developing a way to uncover and intelligently link all of the “slow hunches” buried in the minds of our associates. I think the degree of difficulty of this problem scales exponentially as your organizational size grows, but then again, so does the opportunity.
We have a lot of proven methods for matchmaking in today’s society; eHarmony.com, AirBnB, Speed Dating, Incubator Demo Days: They all aim to match unmet needs with underutilized potential. Heck, my Google Ads sponsored results and my Facebook targeted ads are working 24/7 to help me satisfy needs I don’t even realize that I have yet!! We have the technology to do this, we just need to apply it.
In an organization, many people (not only sales people) have ideas about unmet customer needs. Many other people (not only R&D people) may have ideas about different ways to leverage and apply existing or developing technologies. Can it really be so hard to intelligently matchmake here?
I could see it working in at least a couple of different ways. In one such system , Slow Hunches could be explicitly entered into some sort of a common shared database:
- “What If . . . ?” hunches could highlight unmet needs that customers might not even realize they have and would generally take the form “What If – A Current Problem – Could be Solved to a Certain Degree?” i.e. “What if you could clean your hair without using water and without having to enter a shower?”, or “What if peanut butter was dispensed in a way that you could easily get it all out of the container?”. The key here is highlighting the problem and inferring the benefit, with no focus on possible solutions, feasibility etc.
- “I think . . .” hunches could be ideas about ways to use existing or developing technologies to solve different problems than they are used for today and would take the general form “I think — Current Technology — could also be useful for — A different problem or application.” i.e. “I think our high temperature corrosion proof turbine blade alloy could make good cooking utensils” , or “I think the hydrophobic coating we are developing for fabric stain resistance could be useful for waterproofing iPhones”. Again, there doesn’t need to be validation or verification, remember, it’s just a hunch.
Probably these “What If?” and “I think . . .” hunches should be kept short and sweet and almost tweet length. We have to make it easy to log brain burps and we have to give people the confidence to know that it’s okay to only have half of an idea. A central database of needs and potential solutions should be pretty simple to query and bounce off itself using key word and concept searches to highlight potential Slow Hunch Collisions. The corresponding hunch authors could then be connected to flesh out their hunch collision more fully and see if it warranted an ad hoc team to research the potential.
This is just one concept of a method to lure ideas out of hiding and match them together. I’m sure there are more sophisticated tools which could identify and match interests, beliefs and unsolved problems based on search histories or other internet activity. The key point is that leadership of the enterprise needs to realize that there is a gold mine of untapped innovation opportunity buried right beneath the noses of their org charts and that they need to establish frameworks to uncover the Slow Hunches in their organizations and to help them to collide. That’s where innovation happens, at the collision of the Slow Hunches.
What ideas would you have for tools to facilitate the Slow Hunch Collisions?