Perry Timms writes on social HR and asks the questions we should all we asking about the workplace. He has over 20 years experience in business change including project management, organisational development, talent strategy and L&D. He is well-known on the blogger and event circuit and is regularly asked to chair conferences, roundtables and webinars, both in the UK and around Europe. Perry is a CIPD adviser on social media and engagement.

The title of this piece is a Malcolm Gladwell quote I like and use a lot in my presentations and speeches. 

It seems to perfectly capture what I believe in and share: that creating the future, adapting to succeed and keeping thoughts and actions sharp through ideas and experimentation are largely social pursuits and not an isolated meme thought up in penthouse office, throne room or even in someone’s shedquarters.

The days of “I’m in charge so therefore I’m the only one whose ideas you have to follow” are dwindling.

Or at least that’s how I’m reading it from those organisations that are tuning their inspiration and ideas engines into people at the front line and in co-creation with existing and potential customers; of communities and interest groups and of partnerships with other companies, academics and social entrepreneurs.

BUT, and there’s often a but, there’s commentary that the methods for innovating socially are not always well executed or inclusive enough.

There’s a lot of reluctance to open up to competitors and innovate in the open for fear of copying or downright market-stealing.

There’s a lack of evidence so there are many who say social innovation is an unknown comparison to traditional R&D processes or in the cascade model of ideas and strategies.

If you don’t believe in innovation then I feel you may be doing it wrong.

There’s a lot of people who just don’t like or believe that a socialised way to innovate is all it’s cracked up to be. They don’t like terminology like hacking or the use of Hackathons as ideas creation arenas; they see innovation as another trendy corporate rhetoric; and that innovation in itself is a bit too vague.

What do we mean by it and truly believe it should be? Is it a process? A mindset?

Innovation falls into the same bucket in many people’s minds as culture; purpose; empathy; authenticity; engagement; mindfulness.

They think it’s all been done before so therefore there’s no such thing as pure innovation. It’s another way of trying to get more from people for less investment.  It’s a way of jumping on another bandwagon and is rarely from any other perspective than desperation.

So whether it’s faux innovation or not, how the hell do we ever get anywhere without innovating?

Why on earth should we dial down innovation so much we simply lumber from thing to thing in predictable style and fashion?

How uninspiring is it to work somewhere where, no matter how relevant or out-there your ideas might be, you have NO CHANCE of ever tweaking the way things are done in your job, the team, the company and ultimately society?

Whether you’re sick of hearing about innovation or otherwise, it’s a bit like being sick of hearing about people being helpful. People sharing a funny story or people lending you a fiver when you most need it.

Innovation is an energy source. Social innovation is a renewable energy source. 

If you don’t engage in any form of socialised innovation, then you may be missing out on more than just ideas.

You may never know what it takes to help you here and now. So if you don’t like the concept of focusing on innovation, you’ll never discover whether you’re missing out or not and you’ll have to accept that you’ll keep people energised by more defined forms of inspiration like money, professional pride or pressure to perform to targets/goals.

Google’s famed 20% time. Atlassian’s famed 24 hour “work on what you want.” HSBC’s famed Shut up and listen sessions.

Innovation gave life to these concepts and then they produced innovations. Innovation is everyone’s job and no-one’s role.

Why social is best is because of several things:

  1. diversity of thought;
  2. inclusivity and belonging to something;
  3. learning and adaptability; and
  4. influencing and shaping contributions.

I’m reminded of the story of staff suggestions scheme in my last corporate role. The process went like this:

  1. Person has an idea for a process improvement;
  2. Person fills in a form and submits by email.
  3. Form received and administrator allocated to most appropriate senior manager.
  4. Senior manager had response to make about good, bad and indifferent elements regarding the idea.
  5. Senior manager consults teams/experts
  6. Senior manager writes up report and where necessary implements some or all of the idea (or if not taken up, explains why not)
  7. Person with idea is given feedback and store voucher

Then we created a wiki for ideas.

  1. Person has an idea for a process improvement;
  2. Person completes entry on Wiki explaining idea;
  3. Other wiki subscribers can comment on idea’s validity and suggest enhancements
  4. Continuous improvement: people observe and comment as appropriate, shaping the idea into something workable

A much leaner, more inclusive and open process where peer review was more powerful than some Senior Manager’s snatched review of the idea and a few bullet points from their team.

It took off, got a better calibre of ideas and it taught people the value of social collaboration on ideas and innovation.

So whether your social innovation is through a Hackathon; through a Twitter chat; a Facebook group; a Google+ community or Hangout; or through an exchange on a blog thread, social innovation has an energy and shaping element to it that imposes innovation in a way that doing it from the boardroom or the CEO’s office won’t have.

If you don’t believe in innovation then I feel you may be doing it wrong.

If you don’t engage in any form of socialised innovation, then you may be missing out on more than just ideas.