The primary purpose of online networks, up to this point, has been to congregate around interests, hobbies, and passions to create communities. In 2008 I predict networks will become more that social. In 2008 we will see the growth of innovation networks, or i-Nets. Networks that allow ideas to attract people and people to discover ideas. Networks that catalyze serendipitous moments.
i-Nets, in a nutshell, are networks that layer advanced people search capabilities, democratic content voting, and collaborative applications over a social foundation. Think of a mash-up between Google Apps, Spock, Digg, and Facebook.
Imagine a scenario where you work at the Tokyo branch of IBM and one day as you're fighting through the horde at the Shibuya station intersection, an idea on how to optimize an operational process emerges. Unfortunately, you're a low level accountant; however, through the internal i-Net you run a global search for 2 programmers with Ajax and Java experience, and a product manager in North America. The query parses the social profiles of IBM employees and an ad hoc team is instantly built around the idea. Together, enabled by the collaborative software suite, the idea grows and develops. Finally, your idea is passed along and you garner increasing buy-in from various other employees, and the idea bubbles to the top of the idea-stream where it catches managements eye.
Cool idea, but what problems does it solve?
- Increases the efficiency of idea dissemination.
- Breaks down departmental and geographic silos
- Opens the channels of communication (Make consumers a stakeholder?)
- Enables the manifestation of the wisdom of crowds
2008 will also be the year of true integration and strategy consolidation. Integration of the 360 degree variety has been talked about to the point where the term incites a Pavlovian cringe; however, it was never actually realized.
We are seeing the trend emerge with recent major announcements by Dell. Media has fragmented beyond recognition, and a million smaller shops have jumped at the opportunity to specialize in new media niches, but they need to be included in development of the high-level strategy, instead of the secondary experiments that they are today. Holding companies were supposed to have been the solution to this conundrum, yet we can all agree that they have failed to meet their promises.
I propose using i-Nets to facilitate the creation of collaborative SWAT teams composed of a representatives from: A creative agency, media planning, research, and design. These are all symbiotic areas of expertise and it produces a cyclical innovation loop where design inspires creative, planning, research - and vice versa.
In today's theater of battle, strategy needs to be consolidated, but not isolated. The strategy problems the industry faces are too complex to be solved without collaborative input. Finally, the seeds of strategy must be sowed from the executors to build in accountability. Perhaps going as far as as linking individual performance targets with group achievements.
As most of the readers of this blog are related to the media, marketing, advertising, and trend watching realms, I wanted to initiate the conversation on i-Nets on common ground. Now lets expand the conversation:
Personal empowerment: i-Nets will empower and amplify the voice of not only internal employees, but also that of the most important constituency: The consumers. Let them in on the action and you have a powerful focus group. A conversation conduit between consumers and companies.
Grass roots economics: Find, build, and fund the next generation of world changing ideas through i-Nets.
Polarizing extremes: The social equivalent of siloing. Conservative vs. Liberal = Account vs. Creative. Let them communicate through i-Nets and perhaps more effective hybrid solutions will emerge in the middle... Might be asking too much, but there is an increasing amount of people in the center.
Health insecurity: i-Nets can form the basis of early warning systems and research collaboration.
Smart networking: Through i-Nets, and the Idea-Stream (The social idea voting component) aggregated Wisdom of Crowds type of models can be expanded from content to more intangible ideas. I hope you consider some of the ideas outline here when making your professional resolutions.