Users, Abusers, and Cross-Cutting Networks

I attended the launch of our latest report on User-Led Innovation yesterday. The event included contributions from a number of really interesting organisations/communities such as Sibelius, Swapits, and GBADev where it’s the customers/consumers/users that do much of the innovation around their respective product ranges. What is interesting about all of these examples is how people are increasingly giving away their ideas for free, either to a) address a specific need, or b) for fun, or c) for kudos; or for some complex combination of all three.

The traditional approach to innovation is to protect your ideas and create economic value from them. And yet, as access to ideas or information becomes much easier, open and free, it is the networks or communities that will become the bedrock of innovative people and organisations, not the ideas themselves. And it will be our ability, as individuals or organisations, to innovate and create value through our networks and relationships, not so much our ideas.

However the great thing about networks is also their achilles heel. Namely that their value is widely distributed. This means that it is hardly ever in one person or organisation’s interest to organise them. Also, organisations are often wary of facilitating communities as it can be easy to perceive them as abusing the brand or remit of the sponsoring organisation.

Therefore, if you accept some of the above, there is possibly a role for public sector support around more cross-cutting networks, or even a network of existing networks, as others typically don’t have the time, money or incentive to set them up and run them. I think Nesta already does this to a small degree but how could and should we scale this up?

Comments

  1. I agree Roland. I think the future is in collaboration and also recognise that a danger in this is not actually getting anything done. You might be interested to look through some of the views in a report we launched this week with Demos called the Future Face of Enterprise
    http://www.makeyourmark.org.uk/policy/future_face_of_enterprise
    the second section of the report focuses on business and social change and some of the ways that collaborative activity might be possible between social entrepeneurs and other businesses.
    There are other interesting views in the final report here – http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Demos_FutureFaceEnterprise_web.pdf
    – Kulveer Taggar’s piece emphasises the different attitudes towards collaboration here and in Silicon Valley.
    and also the rest of 50+ contributors can be read here including one from your own Jonathan Kestenbaum which emphasises your point too.
    http://www.makeyourmark.org.uk/policy/future_face_of_enterprise/who_else
    Cheers
    peter

  2. Hi, fair point. I was at the event too and I was moved to think that in order for user-led innovation to have a viable future it needs to be turned from a hobby into a livelihood and stop being regarded as ‘free research and ideas’. Call me cynical/utopian but I’m not sure govnt money could do this. What we need is a viable business model so that users and companies can move forwards in partnership.

  3. Roland,
    You are absolutely right about the importance of collaboration in generating ideas. As people become less precious about their IP, the quality of ideas grows.
    There are already a wide range of networks facilitating this, from public bodies such as Make Your Mark and NESTA to private mastermind groups and business networks like Vistage, Academy of Chief Executives and Ecademy BlackStar. Among many, many others!
    As people understand networking in greater depth people will continue coming forward to take on the often thankless task of running these groups. I think that Government can play a key role in promoting networking generally and signposting but such networks are far more effective when privately run.
    There is certainly a role for an umbrella group providing advice and support to people establishing such networks to stop people repeating mistakes others have already learnt from.

  4. One question might be to explore the role of a networked way of working in the future. Over a career spanning 15 years i have moved across sectors, following my interests and working for different institutions as a contracted freelancer or consultant. One way that i am beginning to see people working together in a networked way is to share opportunities, exchange knowledge and share learning from working in one institution to another within a peer network. The knowledge is lost from these institutions is lost when people leave the institution but retained within the peer network. Institutions could explore how to better harness and access the expertise within these networks as well as looking at a customised or people focussed approaches to accommodate the needs and interests of their employees, so that they too might work extend these networks internally.

  5. One question might be to explore the role of a networked way of working in the future. Over a career spanning 15 years i have moved across sectors, following my interests and working for different institutions as a contracted freelancer or consultant. One way that i am beginning to see people working together in a networked way is to share opportunities, exchange knowledge and share learning from working in one institution to another within a peer network. The knowledge is lost from these institutions is lost when people leave the institution but retained within the peer network. Institutions could explore how to better harness and access the expertise within these networks as well as looking at a customised or people focussed approaches to accommodate the needs and interests of their employees, so that they too might work extend these networks internally.

  6. In Govt we still struggle with the notion of networks. It can be hard enough to get business units within the same department to talk to one another let alone getting them to do so across departmental boundaries. Many still tend to view that new idea like a dollar – “if I share it with you I am diminished” rather than something that increases in value when more than one person gets a hold of it.
    To at least partially address this reluctance we have a dedicated whole of government site that sits outside the firewalls to try and increase this exchange.

Post a comment

Please complete this simple maths question to help us fight spam *