Social networking for innovators

Like gold prospectors, companies are willing to go to the ends of the earth to find innovative ideas; and like gold prospectors they often grow old looking.

For all its importance, innovation remains a fundamentally mysterious process, often the outcome of unexpected Eureka moments. It is crucial to competitiveness and it propels the world’s leading companies, but ultimately the reasons why or how it happens often depend on who you talk to.

Some experts point to creative workplaces, while others cite incentive schemes. Still others look to determined recruitment among the best and the brightest, while another faction claims that inspiration should be fostered in the workforce.

While one group might prescribe a directionless quest, others insist on a deliberate structure, like old-timers who swear that panning for gold leads to more lucky strikes than mining.

What all of them have in common is that they would like to discover or unlock a simple process to strike gold reliably, and often.

Collaboration 2.0

Meanwhile, every other sector of the corporate world, from resource planning to circulating memos, has its software tools, but innovation has had to make do with pencils and napkins as its primary supports. There is a certain romance to all this but corporate life is focused on results. Those results are now here.

EU-funded project Laboranova sought to develop a platform that would provide tools to help companies generate ideas, collaborate and evaluate projects and foster an innovation community and culture within a company.

“Very early on in the process we realised that a single platform could never properly support all possible innovation pathways,” reveals Darren Morrant of EurExcel, the exploitation manager of the project.

“In fact, the project itself became a bit like a laboratory for the innovation process. We tried different formats and approaches to generate ideas for useful innovation support tools, and what we discovered was surprising.”

In short, there is no innovation process, but there are many possible pathways in the fuzzy front-end of innovation. The aim is to help people come up with ideas and then to support them in all sorts of ways so that they can develop on them, he suggest. “We found that different approaches suit different needs, different companies and different situations.”

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