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    Entries in innovation (22)


    If you're thinking about crowdsourcing

    Crowdsourcing, while not a new phenomenon, continues to appear in new and different places all of the time. Just the other day the TV network NBC announced a new project to attempt to crowdsource new ideas for comedy shows. This NBC program, like most crowdsourcing efforts, is a nod to the (obvious) reality that no matter how many writers or producers or directors the network can employ, that there exists outside NBC thousands and thousands of talented people, and some of them probably have great ideas for comedy shows.

    The same logical argument could be made for almost any company trying to tackle any problem. Need some fresh ideas for branding campaign or to design a new logo? Ask the crowd. 

    Trying to decide what new features to add to an existing product or service offering? Ask all of your customers - a more targeted type of crowdsourcing.

    Heck, I have even seen bloggers from time to time pull off their (sad) version of crowdsourcing by asking readers, "What topics would you like me to write about?". Aside: Nothing says 'I have no ideas any more' than asking readers what they would like you to write about. A good blogger (or artist or designer or product developer) should not care too much about what 'the crowd' thinks.

    But regardless, crowdsourcing is here to stay and in reading about the NBC comedy contest I came across this excellent piece by Jeffrey Philips writing on the Innovate on Purpose blog that points out some specific potential problems with the NBC approach that also provide insights into the dangers with any crowdsourcing program.

    Here is a bit from the piece, (but you should definitely click over and read the entire thing)

    When companies that rarely innovate attempt "open innovation"  I often wonder:  is this a sign that they finally understand the number and range of excellent ideas in the broader world, or is this a desperate sign that they've recognized the idea well is dry internally, and are left with nothing but an external search for ideas.

    What NBC is doing is a high wire exercise, and I wonder if they are prepared for the results.  While they are asking for ideas from their audience, I doubt that they've done much to change how they evaluate ideas or the internal culture of the network.  If you read the article you'll see that the judge panel they are using to evaluate ideas and pilots consists of a range of comedic talent that they've featured in other shows, some successful and some that failed.  If NBC really wanted to understand what people want, they'd go further, allowing crowdsourced ideas to be evaluated and ranked by the crowd.  One wonders if they know who their audience is and what they want.

    Some great takes there and things to think about if you are chasing the crowdsourcing carrot. Are you genuinely seeking some new or fresh approaches to round out or to validate your existing thinking? Or are you flat out tapped out of ideas in total (in that case you probably have an internal talent and management issue that runs deeper than, "What color should this button be?' questions).

    And then once you get all of these crowdsourced ideas are you actually prepared to deal with them? Maybe your problem isn't a lack of ideas, it is an inability to evaluate, interpret, select, and implement the ideas that you already have. I mean how hard is it to come up with an idea? I came up with the idea for this post in about 2 minutes.

    Anyway, check out Innovate on Purpose and make sure if you are jumping in to the crowdsourcing pool you have at least some idea why.

    Happy Thursday.


    So where are the jetpacks?

    A couple of days ago I shared on Twitter the link for the 2014 HR Technology Conference call for speaking proposals page. Soon thereafter a couple of folks more or less called me out, questioning the fairly long lead time between when the speaking proposals are due and the actual dates of the conference (about 9 months all told). The objections or complaints were basically along the lines of that since the HR Tech industry is moving and innovating so quickly that having such a long interval between when speaking proposals are due in and when the conference will take place means that many new developments and innovations will go missing from the show.

    While I admit that nine months seems like a long lead time, and without going in to the mundane details of the steps involved for proposal review, potential speaker interviews and re-interviews, program balancing, agenda and content development, and oh yeah, actually finalizing and promoting the agenda so that we can market and sell conference tickets, and all the time that these activities require, I'd rather take another approach to explain to the folks that think that 9 months is too long, and really anyone who has bought into the notion that the enterprise and HR technology industries are moving that quickly why they are a little off-base.

    The truth is while the HR tech industry is innovating and progressing, it is generally not making quantum leaps in capability and efficacy in such narrow and discrete time frames as short as a few months. We could leave the call for proposals for HR Tech open until the day before the show and I would expect that 90% of the submissions would be largely the same types of sessions we see in January.

    The larger, more established providers are working off of development roadmaps that are largely laid out at least a year out into the future, and perhaps even longer. The smaller, more innovative companies also need at least a year to get their product built, figure out just what the hell they are doing, convince a few real customers to use their product, and then get someone outside the Valley to notice them. Big client-side projects that form the basis for many of the case studies and HR executive-led sessions that we like to showcase at the show themselves often last the better part of a year, (and sometimes longer).

    And even with all these incredible advances we have seen in HR tech in the last few years, (the move to the Cloud, video recruiting, social referral programs, mobile learning technology, iPad-based talent management, open web candidate sourcing, predictive workforce analytics tools, ACA compliance business intelligence, and on and on), many, many organizations and HR departments are still pushing paper, keying and re-keying the same data into multiple systems, and executing processes and transactions in much the same way as they were 10 years ago. The truth is it is still the exceptional HR organization and HR leader that wants or demands (and can secure) the very latest, most cutting-edge technology solutions for their organizations.

    We have come a really, really long way in HR technology, but there is still a long, long way to go.

    And for that reason, and a few others, it is a really exciting time to be in HR and in the HR Technology space. And that is also why I am really confident at next year's HR Tech Conference (the discussion about speaking proposals for Tech is what launched this little mini-rant), attendees will see the very best and latest developments, and hear presentations from their HR peers about how HR tech is helping drive their businesses. 

    But make no mistake about it, this is a long game. A game that is changing for sure, but probably not as quickly as you think and perhaps not as rapidly as some folks would have you believe.

    Take a close look at all the 'HR Tech 2014 Predictions' pieces you can find in the next few weeks. Then do a quick search and read a few of the same for 2013 and 2012. There will be lots of overlap. 

    And that is ok. And expected. These things often take longer than we expect.

    We were promised jetpacks, right?

    And one last thing, mainly for a couple of folks that might care, if indeed some incredibly interesting and disruptive development in HR tech happened from out of the blue sometime between when the HR Tech Conference agenda is finalized and the actual show in October, I would find a way to make sure it was included at the event.


    At HR Exec, I'm on the road to find 'Awesome'

    Over at the day job one of the things I do is write a monthly column for Human Resource Executive Magazine called 'Inside HR Tech'. The column is meant to try and highlight innovative and interesting HR Technology solutions and help HR leaders, (particularly ones at small and mid-size organizations), learn more about what is happening in the HR tech industry.

    The latest column is up over at HRE Online, and is titled "The Road to 'Awesome': The process for selecting HR's most 'Awesome New Technologies' reveals an industry that continues to innovate", and features a number of the more interesting and engaging HR tech solutions I have seen recently as I work to program the 'Awesome New Technologies for HR' session at the upcoming HR Technology Conference.

    I figure since this blog is still called 'Steve's HR Tech' there are probably some folks interested in the Inside HR Tech column, and then I realized I have not ever mentioned it here previously. So in a shameless example of self-promotion...

    Here is a little excerpt from the latest column:

    One of the tasks I have as co-chair of the upcoming HR Technology® Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas this October is to program and select the participants for the 'Awesome New Technologies for HR' session, a general session meant to showcase a half-dozen of the most innovative and exciting new products and solutions in the HR market. The largest part of this process involves seeing product demonstrations and talking with a wide range, (and high number) of solution providers from across the HR technology industry. And while, at the time of this writing, I am still in the middle of the process, and no 'Awesome New' participants have been selected as yet, I certainly have seen about 40 or so solutions, many of which, whether they become 'awesome' or not, definitely fit the criteria my CHRO friend described.

    So rather than wax philosophical once again in the column about some major 'mega-trend' in the industry, or offer some highly subjective interpretation of the 'future of HR technology' in this month's column I'd like to simply recognize a handful of really interesting and innovative technology solutions that I have seen recently, and that are indeed the kind of solutions that are accessible and (more importantly), deployable relatively quickly by organizations of all sizes. And most importantly, meet the CHRO's need to solve a problem she has right now -- and not in some future, robot-dominated, Google Glass covered world.

    You can read the rest over at HRE Online, as well as sign up to have the monthly Inside HR Tech column delivered right into your email Inbox.

    Regularly scheduled programming here will resume tomorrow.

    <self-promotion done for the day>


    Job Titles of the Future #2 - Hacker in Residence

    Over the weekend while cleaning out the files of 'Stuff I meant to blog about, but never got around to it', was this piece from Fast Company - 'How LinkedIn's "Hacker_In-Residence' Transformes an Ordinary Job Into a 'Dream Job'.

    The piece is a brief interview with LinkedIn's Matthew Shoup, the afore-mentioned 'Hacker-in-Residence' for the professional networking leader. And yes, that it his real title - check out Mr. Shoup's LinkedIn (natch) profile here. The Fast Company piece is set up to take us through how his role at LinkedIn evolved over time, he was hired into the much more sedate and traditional title of 'Technical Marketer', and to give some insight into the unique ways he approaches his role as H-I-R, (his 'office; is a picnic table outside, he measures interactions with colleagues like a marketer would - impressions, clicks, and conversions, etc.).

    But the individual employee evolution and the quirky new job title is only part of the appeal I think. What is more interesting and meaningful in a general sense is the idea of transformation that is inherent in the story - both as an individual (moving from 'Technical Marketer' to 'Hacker-In-Residence') and organizational, (a company that is wildly successfully and growing rapidly and like many before it, is certainly in real danger of losing the speed, agility, and innovation capability that is a strength of begin really small).

    How does LinkedIn manage this?  Shoup attributes this to the idea of transformation:

    LinkedIn gives employees the ability to transform their careers in order to do things they’re super passionate about. There’s a culture of transformation and innovation at LinkedIn, and that's one of those things that keeps employees engaged.

    When you think about it, it seems incredibly simple for organizations to describe, but for some reason(s), harder to execute. And usually when founders, early employees, or other 'stars' leave growing companies it gets chalked up to 'Well, the same skills that are needed to start a company are not the same ones needed to help run an established company.' Mix in the ever-present growth the bureacracy and administration and rules, (about job titles, pay grades, office locations, PTO, and on and on), and for truly innovative types (and hackers), life as a corporate drone seems pretty unappealing.

    But even established companies like LinkedIn still need these kind of people, maybe more than ever. And chances are your company needs some of them too.

    How to make a start? How about crafting your own Hacker-In-Residence role, or re-writing the job description of the most creative person you have and include something like this:

    'The common thread between all of the hats you will wear is that you will get to traverse multiple disciplines to solve business problems with creativity, and bring innovative ideas to life.'

    Sounds like a cool job to me, and one that the people you never seem to be able to find (or keep), would be a perfect fit for.

    Happy Hacking out there.


    In a slump? Maybe you need a celebrity Global Creative Director

    I was close to dropping this post into the 'Job Titles of the Future' bucket, but then I realized that the idea of a 'creative director' isn't really all that new or novel. Ad agencies, publishers, marketing companies and the like have had and will continue to have a 'Creative Director' role for some time now. But what is new, and who knows if it will eventually move past stunt hiring and into the mainstream, are organizations of all kinds tapping celebrities known for their ideas and personalities as more than just spokespersons, but as 'Global Creative Directors'.Gaga-inspired camera glasses

    I'll give you three recent examples of this trend, (please, if you know of more, share them in the comments), and then offer a take on why these seem to be happening more and more, and if there is indeed anything that our 'normal' organizations can take from these hires.

    1. Polaroid (surprisingly still around), hires singer Lady Gaga as Creative Director for a new line of products, and later unveils the results of their first collaboration, some new Polaroid gadgets at CES in 2011.

    2. BlackBerry, (I really want to be able to come back to you BlackBerry), hires singer Alicia Keys as Global Creative Director. Keys will collaborate with BlackBerry to work "with app developers, content creators, retailers, carriers and the entertainment community to further shape and enhance the BlackBerry 10 platform, and inspire creative use through its remarkable capabilities and functionality."

    3. Anheuser-Busch names actor/singer/producer Justin Timberlake as the Creative Director for their Bud Light Platinum brand, seeing JT as a talent that "is one of the greatest creative minds in the entertainment industry, and his insights will help us further define Bud Light Platinum’s identity in the lifestyle space"

    The cynical (and probably fair) reaction to all three of the above examples would be to simply assume that these 'creative director' arrangements are really just the hundreds of years old celebrity pitchman or woman gimmick just spun a little differently to make the arrangement seem a little deeper than the the typically surface-level celebrity relationships with brands.  After all, what does Alicia Keys know about modern smartphone technology, or Gaga about the technical and competitive challenges in the consumer photography market?

    So why the push to re-brand or re-frame these celebrities as 'creative directors' and not just as spokespeople? 

    Perhaps, (admittedly giving the companies a huge benefit of the doubt here), that these organizations have realized that talent, great ideas, inspiration, and innovation can come from all kinds of sources, and in these examples, from non-traditional ones. Perhaps, these organizations have embraced the idea that incredibly talented people from alternate, adjacent, or even unrelated fields might have something to offer, some new perspective, or fresh eyes, that can actually be of value to their businesses.

    Perhaps, that being really, really, successful at something, might just be a sign of a person that could be really successful at lots of things, even if their background and resume would be one that would never 'pass' the initial assessment for any of the organization's open jobs.

    These companies are all looking for something, some kind of a lift, some new energy. They are taking a chance certainly, but at least they are doing more than holding yet another staff meeting with the same assembled cast of characters and asking, 'So, anyone have any ideas?'