At the recent Center for Entrepreneurial Development venture conference, Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman defined connected intelligence as, "the rate of innovation change = amount of interactions between people."
Lee Clark-Sellers, Innovation Officer, PlyGem, and CIMS Industrial Fellow, takes this one step further by defining connected intelligence as "the rate of innovation change = amount of interactions between people on the fringe." Here’s why she invites you to visit the fringe.
Presumably, you recognize by now that innovation does not come from a single person, with a single idea. Rather, as Andrew Hargadon stressed in the Fall 2009 issue of this newsletter, innovation happens when multiple people bring unique perspectives and talents to bear on developing something useful. The ability to identify those unique perspectives is to know who and what is on “the dark side”-- the unknown waiting on the fringe of your operating environment.
Cultivating a high degree of Situational Awareness will help you succeed at this. SA means being aware of what is happening on the fringe of your business environment in order to understand how data and events will impact you now and in the future.
Traditional SA has been associated with military and emergency services. However, this field of understanding is becoming ever more relevant with the vast amounts of data and dynamic market interactions associated with most industries today.
Taking SA a step further is to talk about sense making: "a motivated, continuous effort to understand connections (which can be among people, places, events) in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively"(see Klein, G., Moon, B. and Hoffman, R.F. Making sense of sense making I: alternative perspectives. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 21(4), pp. 70-73. 2006).
This again brings us back to the fringe and the need to understand what is happening all around, not just what is in front of our noses! Those individuals who are boundary spanners have a heightened sense of SA - they are already tapped into the fringe and have a sense of what is going on.
SA is a skill that can be learned and nurtured. Prof. Lynda Aiman-Smith had this advice for managers of boundary spanners in the Winter 2009-2010 CIMS Technology Management Report: "Given that boundary spanners are a valuable source of ideas, solutions to problems, and technological advances, their managers should understand who makes a good spanner, what skills they need, how management can help, and more."
Finding Your Boundary Spanners
Organizations can identify these people by using Social Network Analysis and Organizational Network Analysis methodologies, and should continually encourage their employees to broaden their networks. Organizations can also provide access to a wide array of events that give their people a broader view of other functions and industries. The challenge will be to motivate employees to move outside their traditional boundaries.
I am always amazed at how most organizations attempt to do the opposite. Think about how most corporate educational policies will reimburse employees if they take classes that are relevant to the current jobs or their next forward movements. In other words, “We want you to stay focused on the task at hand and don't worry about anything else."
This is a surefire way to squash the motivation to learn something new and different. Does it seem like a success plan to develop a person's interest in “the far side”? Instead, there are various techniques that can be employed. For one, give your employees some time off from their normal routine -- have them spend an afternoon each week working on something they are truly interested in.
I used this technique for many years within R&D, marketing and manufacturing functions, and saw a greater benefit from the increased motivation, new ideas and new networks created during those few hours than I did from the same time spent on current assignments.
Another method you can employ is to host informal lunch-and- learn sessions -- but totally outside the current job function. If you are working in Pharma, for example, bring in someone from consumer electronics.
Bottom line: Provide new experiences for your teams that will motivate them to continue to look beyond their current boundaries for new and profitable ideas. In other words, give them freedom to walk on “the dark side.”