In his paper The Social Origins of Good Ideas, Ronald Burt from the University of Chicago looks at the behaviour of employees and how their networks affect the generation of new ideas and how often they are applied.
Two key trends appeared from his study: that ideas generated from within a particular department were rejected more often, being seen as too insular; and that people who’s network spanned individuals across departments and organisations were more likely to come up with good ideas.
Neither of these results should be particularly surprising, but it’s good to see them qualified in an academic study. Water cooler conversations that take place between colleagues from across an organisation enable indivudals to put a different perspective on a situation, giving examples of how something has been done elsewhere or simply to say ‘have you thought of doing it this way’.
Burton summarises the study in his paper:
People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations which gives them a good competitive advantage in delivering good ideas. People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.
Some of this explains the explosive growth of social networking. With 25% of all internet pages visited being to one of the top 10 networking sites and 9% of all internet visits going in the same direction, our insatiable need to connect with others is going somewhere to being satisfied.
The next step is to move this networking into a truly collaborative environment, where conversations can take place between many in a virtual space that crosses geographic and language boundaries.
Ten years ago this was just a figment of our imagination, today, thanks to some very clever folk, it’s a reality.
Anyone who has had to sit through one of my training sessions will know that I’m a really big fan of Seth Godin.
His insights into marketing and customer behaviour are packed with common sense and desire for top spot on the podium rather than the disconsolate walk back to the changing room.
I’ve been reading a collection of his blog posts in his book small is the new Big and came across one entitled secrets to success yesterday. You can go to the link to see the whole thing, which I would heartily recommend, but in the meantime here is the one point that really got me thinking:
“Desire to be three steps ahead. One step is easy. One step isn’t enough. If you’re only one step ahead, you’ll get creamed before you launch. Two steps is tempting. Two steps means that everyone understands what you’re up to when you pitch them. Two steps means that you can get funded in no time. Two steps is a problem. It’s a problem because the smart guys are three steps ahead. They’re the groundbreakers and the pathfinders. They’re the ones inventing the next generation. It’s harder to sell, harder to build and harder to get your mother-in-law to understand, but that’s what’s worth building.”
From now on we’re going to be aiming for three steps, and encouraging our clients to do the same.
hellen @ missioncontrol
A friend sent a great email this week in response to a message they received from us.
The information we gave them prompted an internal discussion about the power of new marketing tools to create a dialogue with customers where the emphasis really was on listening to what they want and then delivering the goods.
For many organisations this concept remains an anathema. The marketing department, guided by management and other stakeholders, creates a brand and creative concept. They then create a customer profile based on the assumptions around which they built the branding, then the list is bought or built and the message delivered. Then they sit and wait. And wait. And wait.
This simplex method of marketing no longer works very well. Not least because technology has made the customer more savvy and more time-poor. Clients don’t have the time to listen to generic messages, nor do they have the inclination to be told what they should be doing. They know that you have the capability to talk to them and treat them like an individual, so anything else falls short of the mark.
Seth Godin, who is arguably our favourite marketing guru, also calls this the needle and the vice principle. For some organisations they discover exactly who their customer is and they deliver a pinpoint accurate message, not worried if the total number of people they are talking to is in the handfuls rather than the thousands. For others they use a general ‘squeeze’ approach, surrounding their target market with a forceful argument until one or more gives in.
By contrast, the simplex approach simply misses everything because it isn’t entirely sure who it is talking to and the recipients don’t feel inclined to respond.
So where do we go from here? A little bit of bravery is in order. Ditch the ‘got to have a database of 1000’s’ approach and work out exactly how many key prospects you actually want to talk to then strike up an interesting conversation.
A designer friend of ours sent us this – it’s very, very close to the bone and should be compulsory viewing for all new clients.