Ideagoras. A beautiful word, but even more beautiful when you get to the substance of it. In Greece, 600BC an agora was an open place of assembly where trade occurred. In today’s world trade is big business and the growing trend of this business is shifting to the Internet at break-neck speeds. The agora was the political heart of Athens. We cannot wholeheartedly say the same of the Internet today but opinion is debated and freely open for anyone on the internet with a decent download speed.
Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams first created the term ideagoras in Wikinomics to refer to the online idea marketplaces (amongst other terms such as Marketocracy and Prosumers) but don’t limit yourself to the internet on this and certainly don’t limit yourself to ideas. Think of it more in terms of crowd sourcing. When you consider Seth Godin’s work there are strong links.
For me ideagoras and crowdsourcing goes so much wider than the tantalising treats that Don gives us. Tied to Agile it is a beautiful model for decision making, swarming and must make us re-evaluate how we motivate, listen to and lead people in the business world. Let us take a quick look at how ideagoras can revolutionise an organisation.
Large organisations don’t just have a few or a dozen projects on the go. Commonly they have hundreds of projects on the go. Many are undercover and hidden from upper levels of magic, pet projects of their creators with little return on investment when you look under the covers. Lean Startups have sparked a resurgence in the importance of working on the right work not just doing the work right. They promote the concept of taking the idea and then testing the market with a mockup or prototype solution to first confirm that you are on the right track to get the most bang for your buck (my words not theirs). Using ideagoras we can take this to the next plateau. Rather than go out to the market with a mock-up or prototype first get the idea list filtered out through crowdscourcing. The idea in the first place should come through this mechanism. Have a feature on your website to be able to have your own customers add requests for improvements on the systems that you provide to them. Enable them to vote up (“like” or “+1″) the ideas that they would want to see implemented. Let your employees do the same using the same website. In this respect employee innovation can be recognised and encouraged by your own customers.
Now there are obviously down sides to this approach. Firstly, like most things in life it can be ‘gamed’ and there would need to be care taken to limit this, but there are a number of technological solutions to reduce this risk. Secondly, and probably most importantly these brilliant ideas are now exposed to your competition. The fastest implementor will be the one that wins the business. But this is not a bad thing – it is a great encouragement to ensure that we do follow through using Lean Startup principles to make sure we are on the right path and then Agile to rapidly develop the solution. A truly nimble and versatile organisation that focusses on rapid delivery, feedback and excellent customer relationships will be the winner in this future business war.
Think of the Fortune 500 companies – how many of them would stand up to the agility required to pull this off? Ten percent? Bureaucracy and red tape will drag them down and the small and medium businesses that can move quicker will continue to draw in the dissatisfied consumers.
Swarming and Motivation
If you have taken the first step to including your customer in your decision and idea generation process then you need to make sure you have the right team to follow through on the job. This is where swarming comes in. Most organisations throw their ‘resources’ about from project to project with little thought as to whether the person is actually interested and passionate about that type or project. Additionally they do it with little thought of true speed and its relationship to return of investment.
In the future of speed to deliver innovation is going to the be determining winner for customers then swarming will become a natural reaction. You need to make that baby in one month. Governance processes will need to dramatically change to allow for this to occur. Estimation processes as well. We will need to be able to trust gut instincts on how hard it would be to fully deliver the idea and accept some failures of poor estimations. We will need have governance processes that kick off projects solely based upon votes received and the gut estimate. A safe to fail culture is critical here.
To resource the work we need passionate people who will focus on this idea like it truly is their newborn baby. To do this we can leverage ideagoras again. Employees interested in being part of this work should be able to sign up for it and be able to be immediately released to follow through on it. Potentially they could also be ‘socially approved’ as suitable for this role by their peers within the organisation. Again gaming of this would need to be careful.
Swarm the motivated people quickly onto the project to realise the benefit into the marketplace sooner.
Leadership and Customer Satisfaction Rating
What if the business world we lived in was like Survivor and you were able to vote someone off the island? 360 degree reviews and anonymous employee satisfaction surveys are a very poor form of this. The better solution is to use ideagoras again to rate leaders. Let anyone rank or ‘rate’ anyone else in the organisation (again watch out for gaming the system). Do you think this would change Leader’s behaviour? Hell yes. Do you think they would be scared by this? Hell yes. There would be nowhere to hide. It would force many to leave. But think about it. Would the sort of person that you want to retain be threatened by this? No. Would the sort of person that won’t make it in this new age world be threatened by this? Yes. This is an amazing filtering system for getting the right culture.
Think of the scenario to yourself right now – think of all the bosses you have had over the years. If you pretended for a moment to be a CEO and have their resume’s on your desk how many of them would you hire? Which ones wouldn’t you hire?
No one knows better than the employees underneath a manager as to whether they are a good leader or not. Why not ask them to rate your leadership team?
Take it further. Take it to your customers. eBay has for an incredibly long time had the concept of rating the seller. A transparent feedback mechanism of trust from the consumer to the supplier. Sound familiar? Organisations that feel that they want to be leaders in customer service need to be able to demonstrate in a transparent, easy to access way their customer’s feedback. Social networking is improving this but organisations can help this along even further by enabling transparent feedback and visualising the comments (the good, the bad and the nasty) to everyone. Nothing will drive customer service better than knowing every single customer is freely given the right to publicly chastise or support you on your own website. I would love to see a feature added to Facebook that allowed you to rate an organisation’s service, ultimately providing a repository of this information outside of the organisation itself (for all those not courageous enough to do it themselves).
This is a wake up call. Large bureaucratic organisations I am talking to you. Without Agile, Lean, Lean Startups, Crowd Sourcing and other emerging frameworks you will fail. Now is the time to invest in yourself for the future. Inspect and Adapt. Listen to your customers and your employees not just your shareholders. Trust, respect and respond to your customers and your employees first and foremost. Your shareholders will as a consequence be happy because your organisation will be succeeding in a world when many are not.