Sunday, December 7, 2008

Community Oriented Idea Management Ecosystems

Jay van Zyl from the Built to Thrive blog has recently posted a useful overview of several recent community oriented idea management ecosystems or "emergent idea ecologies" involving customers in the ideation process, including approaches by Lego, 3M, Apple, BMW, Dell, Starbucks, and Salesforce.com.

Jay focuses on the interface between companies and their customer communites, and argues that traditional "internally focused" Idea Management Systems are inherently limited as
  1. It becomes an administration nightmare. The more enthusiastic the organization the bigger the problem. Hundreds of ideas and only a few people to check, review, approve and re-direct ideas.
  2. Volumes of ideas that have nothing to do with the business or its current challenges.
  3. Dependence on specifically skilled people and a review process that is overly controlling.
  4. Little- or no- follow-through on ideas to the individuals that participated in capturing ideas; resulting in damaging any further idea generation campaigns.

I believe that the problems that Jay cites are exactly the problems that traditional Idea Management Systems from Idea Management vendors have been explicitly developed to address - and they do so quite well.

I would suggest that the nub of the issue is that the examples that Jay cites are, in general, not implementations of traditional vendor developed Idea Management Systems, but rather custom in-house solutions developed by specific organisations within a specific context following a specific philosophy. In general, the organisations cited by Jay developed solutions focused predominantly on the web 2.0 front end, and did not pay strong attention to the essential back-end processes where much of the real work of innovation takes place.

Accordingly, it is quite possible to agree with a diagnosis of the limitations of many of the examples cited (they focus excessively on the front end web 2.0 idea capture processes and fail to provide sufficient support for the back end idea proecessing and implementation processes, roles and resourcing) but still endorse strongly the traditional approach to Idea Management, which arguably address very well many of the issues of concern to Jay, both internally and when interfacing outwards to customers.