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This is one of my favorite tweets about crowdsourcing:

It so well encapsulates the thinking of some middle managers and higher-up executives. They feel like they are experienced, on top of their game and have their own counsel to address the opportunities and challenges facing an organization. They need not participate in a collaborative innovation effort. Why bother seeking input from your employees?

In people's writing about corporate antibodies, the focus is often on blockers to a specific idea. People who just don't want to deal with an individual idea.

In my work with clients, I run across antibodies at a different level. Innovation teams who face managers who object to participating in any sort of collaborative innovation initiative with employees. They're antibodies to the program overall, not just specific ideas.

Say you've run into this in your own program. Now what?

Sometimes the crowd, sometimes just yourself

Let's clarify something here. There are ALWAYS times you absolutely can get things done by yourself or with small hand-picked group. A list of cases where that applies:

  • The choices are limited and you have sufficient expertise to judge them
  • The question at hand requires knowledge and backing that can only be obtained through relationships
  • Forces in effect are channeling you toward a particular option, and no other input is going to change that
  • The question to be addressed has low level impact, and is not worth pulling in diverse perspectives

And if that's all that is required for success in a particular department, so be it. That business unit manager is not a good fit for the collaborative innovation program.

On the other hand, rare is the group that doesn't have some opportunities for engaging the broader employee community in innovation, problem-solving and other calls for insight beyond ideation.

A primary motivation is to get the absolutely best answer available to address a tangible business question. University of Michigan Professor Scott Page, in his book The Difference, offers a clear illustration for why diverse perspectives deliver better solutions. Assume a question has been asked of four different, siloed individuals or groups. Each works on their own. They'd have a range of answers represented as a solutions landscape:

SolutionslandscapebyScottPage-TheDifference

Some potential solutions better address the question than others. With several possibilities, the true top solution can emerge. If only one solution is considered, what are the odds that it was the best one? The conceit of some managers is that they always are able to generate the best answer. Which is a case of an individual's ego causing harm to an organization's results.

Aside from that pragmatic view of soliciting diverse insights to get the best answer, there's the value of increased employee engagement. Ever notice employees would love to help develop the future of an organization? To help make things better in the place where they spend a third of their week days? For some managers, this is a terrific trait to be developed. For others, it's an annoying characteristic to be worked around.

Getting your program off the ground

Here's something I've learned over the years:

Don't waste time on people who are negative

When I was younger, I figured I could turn people around if they were negative. I'll bet you had the same impulse growing up as well. But somewhere along the way, I realized that's a fool's errand. Negative people will drain your resources and energy. Very rarely will they change in response to your efforts.

We're better off focusing on those who help elicit the energy and progress we seek. The world is more than big enough to allow us to concentrate on these people.

When it comes to Corporate Antibodies to the collaborative innovation program, the same logic applies. Think of your organization in terms of a heat map:

CollaborativeInnovation-CorporateHeatMap

When you run into blockers, don't spend time on them. Go find more fertile ground. The green parts of the organization are receptive to the possibilities. The red areas are your Antibodies.  Like any emerging idea, collaborative innovation is subject to the innovation adoption curve:

  • Early Adopters have greater amounts of the possibility effect. This means they see potential more than uncertainty, and are the pioneers of adoption.
  • Early Majority have less of the possibility effect, but still a good dose. They want to see results, which is where Early Adopters help tremendously.
  • Late Majority have greater levels of the uncertainty effect; the risks that something won't happen loom larger in their decision making. They will need proof from the Early Majority before adopting.

In moving an employee innovation program forward, ignore the Antibodies who cannot see the value of collaborative innovation. There are always pockets of the organization with Early Adopters and Early Majority managers. Find those who recognize that crowdsourcing will help them do their job.

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Hutch Carpenter

Hutch Carpenter

Hutch is working with major companies on excelling their innovation and problem-solving capabilities through social and crowdsourcing principles. With each client he helps to develop a rigorous approach to assess, iteratively develop and implement the most promising ideas. And ultimately helps companies answer the question, “How can we find the best ideas for our strategic and operational challenges, and make them a reality?”

Hutch also runs his own personal blog at bhc3.com where he explores themes of innovation and collaboration.

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