There was a time when a designer might say “A camel is a horse designed by committee.” It was a disparaging metaphor to warn you of what would happen if you designed anything by a committee with no unifying vision. The metaphor also implies (by some interpretations) that input of any kind from a committee would seal your fate and doom your project.
Times are changing (and for what it’s worth, camels are amazing). Working in large groups is now more manageable, and the idea of a lone designer is fading into obscurity, at least to the extent that we’ve been given better tools to communicate and collaborate.
Social media and cloud computing have contributed enormously to collaborative problem solving and creative thinking. Cloud-based services have become game changers for technological advancement. Business models that have embraced collaborations over the Internet have brought sorely needed resources to inventors/co-inventors and collaborators alike.
Brainstorming in the cloud: In terms of intellectual property, it presents an interesting twist to our history. The contribution of independent inventors has been in decline since the 1880’s. In the 1930’s, independent inventors were responsible for about half of all U.S. patents; a turning point with respect to who contributes most to U.S. innovation.
With the introduction of social media and cloud computing, the virtual dichotomy that existed between independent and corporate innovators began to break down. Instead of approaching banks or individual investors for capital, many inventors have been supported by crowdfunding campaigns. Likewise, the practice of developing contacts through traditional word-of-mouth introductions have been replaced with online entrepreneurial groups. Sites like meetup.com are driving in-person meetings all over the country.
As the landscape of R&D has changed, so has that of academic and scientific endeavors. Sites like zooniverse and fold.it invite anyone to join and help solve scientific problems.
Innovation doesn’t always develop into a patent or research paper. The same basic crowdsourcing model can be applied to any area of ideation, whether it be a political/social policy, the floorplan of a new church, the next great science fiction series, or a musical composition.
Although this article focuses mainly on the Internet for enhancing human collaborations, the theme of cloud computing extends to the idea of combining the power of many computers to solve complex problems.
Managing Ideation: The Internet has become the conduit for a flood of ideas, almost too many to appreciate or exploit. Innovation management has evolved in response to that persistent torrent of creative thinking. Although the business models vary for each social network, the first three steps are the same:
1. Create a network from which collaborators can develop and share ideas.
2. Attract innovative organizations, groups, corporations, etc. to your network, where they can apply their collective skills.
3. Provide a project management environment as a service, where organizations are given the ability to efficiently collect, refine, and build on the best ideas.
The process itself is analogous to a conversion funnel, where a large number of ideas enter the funnel. As ideas undergo further development and scrutiny, some will be deemed unviable and rejected. The remaining ideas are brought to fruition. A more refined explanation categorizes ideas as “breakthrough” or “incremental” and are put through different processes, one slightly more confined than the other.
A. Breakthrough Innovation: This is innovation which is fundamentally unique. In some circumstances, it’s referred to as “game-changing” or “disruptive” because it often forces competitors to rethink their own innovative path.
B. Incremental Innovation: This involves the further development of an existing product or process. It is the addition of innovation for the sake of enhanced performance/functionality or an adaptation to an alternate use.
Some sites create work environments for the benefit of others as a service, while Quirky, for example, collects ideas as part of their own product development program. Both models involve the same basic steps, which pools and directs talent for bringing ideas to fruition. Such collaborative efforts make the creative process flexible, and highly functional. In fact, it lends itself very well to mobile applications and cloud services.
The concept of “idea management” and the events that led to its emergence are representative of a significant shift in our culture. It promises to take the process of technological advancement to a level unlike anything in human history.
This guest post is authored by Ivan Serrano, a business journalist and infographic specialist located in Northern California.