Customer Driven Collaboration

First off, if I misspell things or don’t make much sense, its cuz I feel like garbage from a miserable cold that has me in its tentacles. With that being said, on with the Show!

As part of the ongoing Long Tail project saga, we’ve started to veer more into concept of the long tail of ideas. We came up with this theory a few weeks ago, just now starting to get it on paper. The theory is around the idea that companies typically have only been tapping into the intelligence and experiences of their subject matter expert(s) within that organization for ideas, which in Long Tail speak is likely the head of the tail. However, what happens if you tap into the long tail, meaning harnessing the power of the masses for creating ideas and innovation through collaboration? This goes back to the book I read this summer before the grad school onslaught, called “Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. Surowiecki’s premise is that the collective wisdom of a crowd is on average more intelligent than one expert would be.

Much like the Long Tail looked at how retailers struggled with the limitation of physical shelf space, companies have long suffered with only being able to tap into their internal employees for ideas and innovation. The internet has allowed companies to draw from the great collective that exists online and do so in a collaborative way. This cumulative effect of tapping into all of the diverse knowledge and experiences to come up with ideas has the capacity to at least rival what is found from the experts. An expert can only know but so much, no matter how good they are. This means collaborating with customers via a bunch of the Web 2.0 apps, can lead to better products that is driven more so by customers, rather than some suit in a office.

This was really the way we finally figured out how to relate the Long Tail to human resource management, meaning that to embrace the Long Tail of ideas, an organization needs to change to embrace it. In doing so the corporate culture will have to be altered.

So feeling good about all that, and then after chatting with Churbuck, he led me to Charles Leadbeater who is tackling the same concept in his yet to be published book found at: http://www.wethinkthebook.net/home.aspx

and then I was at Borders the other nite doing some studying when I ran across Patty Seybold’s book “Outside Innovation” which also looks into the phenomenon.

Very interesting and exciting stuff. And very odd how others have come to the same conclusion as we did, all in the same time. Cosmic…or its just really obvious. I’ll go with cosmic.

In the spirit of collaboration for finishing my rough draft of our group paper, I am asking for help from the masses here in Blogistan to help me in my research…the wisdom of crowds at work!

I am looking for any articles that may be out there that look at companies that have taken this approach of working with customers via blogs, wikis, and other web 2.0ish technologies to collaborate on creating new products or innovations. Please feel free to post any you guys might have. Or any other info you think is helpful! We still need a case study as well, any takers out there?

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3 responses to “Customer Driven Collaboration

  1. Two way communication is becoming more and more important. In every aspect. From marketing to design, from support to sales.

    The interesting thing is that people nowadays will make themselves heard, if not by their recipient by “anynone” who cares to rear or listen.

    Collaboration has been the base for open source ever since open source exists. Looking unto such projects and their experience handling complex tasks might be a good place to look into. Developing a kernel, browser or office suite are things done with collaboration on a daily basis.

    Personally I think Firefox is a good example in a lot of aspects. The way it was developed and marketed is an excellent example on how to achieve a lot without a lot of resources.

    Although the final “product” will difer, there are lots of things the open source community has learnt from trial and error.

    A couple of links on this regard:
    http://www.openflows.org/article.pl?sid=02/04/23/1518208
    http://floss.syr.edu/publications/howison_dynamic_sna_intoss_ifip_short.pdf

    Hope the “wisdom” (yeah, right) of this socialite helps just a tad!

  2. Jim,

    Great thoughts. Not having read the text, I would surmise that a fairly chosen cross sectional group has higher “wisdom” because it normalizes the flyers. I guess that is sort of the theory behind have a jury of 10 random people. The wisdom will be greater than the individual knowledge and predjudices. That said, the composition of the group will affect it’s performance and the outcome.

    What do you observe in corporate culture? How well do people in one discipline listen to ideas concerning their area of expertise from someone in another? Perhaps somebody at the head is getting input from somebody well down in the body? Does he or she listen? What are the credentials of the person in the body? (Credentials can be broad – they may be formal education, work experience, recognized reputation as a smart person, or some degree of personal relationship with the decision maker) Probably I’m mis-applying the metaphor, not being well schooled in the long tail theory. Will marketing listen to ideas for a great viral campaign from someone in IT? Will I.T. listen to someone in Sales who is sure that we should move to a different email platform? How do you get past these inherent prejudices?
    These contrarian points aside, learning to harness the creativity of a diverse group, generate and harvest breakthrough ideas, and then “treat” the ideas such that they can be implemented is a worthwhile pursuit.

  3. I follow your blog for quite a long time and should tell you that your articles are always valuable to readers.

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