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Café Innovation – The Community Effect

Welcome to the 2008 series of posts! 


Along with watching my “holiday” diet, it was my resolve during the holidays to catch up with some reading that I have been wanting to do for a while. While I was not very successful in following a prudent diet (I foresee many hours of painful workouts in my near future), I did find some success in getting some reading under my belt. I found some very interesting innovation-focused discussion in the January 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. In her discussion, Transforming Giants, Rosabeth Moss Kanter talks about how businesses can make a lasting impact on their environment in particular, and on society in general. She begins by asking, ” What enables a big business to be agile?”  While the article itself focused on big businesses and the advantages they could gain by transforming into “human communities,” this piece triggered the coming together of a few related thoughts that I have been having discussions on.


It is widely acknowledged that businesses seek to attain agility in order to better position themselves to successfully compete in the marketplace; in turn this makes the case for innovation. It follows that we must necessarily consider what will foster a climate that is conducive to innovation – not just the occasional or accidental innovative activity but innovation that is repeatable. The answer is – an environment where a culture of  collaboration and creativity can prosper will be the one that will promote behavior that makes innovation a part of the company’s DNA. This necessarily means community behavior, and a whole new way of interacting will need to become a part of mainstream activity. We do observe this taking place in various walks of life. In addition to the virtues of standardization, and common platforms, it is newer forms of interaction and community behavior that are increasingly influencing activities in businesses.


Having worked for more than one Tier 1 professional services firm I have experienced the power of collaborative communities to help drive solutions for clients. This phenomenon is now not restricted to such firms alone. It is not mere coincidence that more and more folks are geared toward the community collaborative approach. The popularity of the SDN community continues to grow and each year we observe that it is increasingly vibrant. It is no coincidence that in a very short time the BPX community has over 200,000 members! In an earlier post (Café Innovation – Business Processes and the Facebook Phenomenon) I had touched on the subject of the “Facebook phenomenon.” The immense popularity of Facebook is a clear example of how society is beginning to adopt virtual community channels to interact socially, and it should not be a surprise if that behavior becomes more commonplace in the work environment.


It is, therefore, important for companies to consider building communities as an important aspect of driving and eventually succeeding in any endeavor that is innovation-focused. With the technological convenience that we now enjoy, making this a reality need not be a concern. In a SOA type world where business processes must reign supreme, it is critical that community-based collaboration is given its due, because this is where the next creative thought, that melds pure business process with cool tech tools, is likely to come from!


P.S. I believe the above referenced article can be accessed online free, even if you are not a subscriber of the Harvard Business Review. The link is: (;jsessionid=BUQZ0XXRAMINSAKRGWDSELQBKE0YIISW?_requestid=246956 )

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  • The agility sought after in companies you mention, reminds me of the same agility goals of Organizational Change Management.  The article mentions the migration of companies from impersonal machines to human communities which allows them the ability to transform.  This is the golden ticket for companies – the ability to rapidly transform themselves. 

    Most companies are in changing markets due to competitive threats or technology or some dynamic factor.  In order for companies to accelerate transformations, they need to have all their employees aligned to the common goals of why the transformation is taking place in order to achieve those goals without losing ground on core metrics.

    Any company can have equipment and computers.  What makes them different is the people.  How do companies take care of the people?  This idea of collaborative communities and using employee innovation can not only empower employees, but add to the acceleration of transformation.

    And this is the power of Change Management:  communicating the vision, alignment of employees and the empowerment that allows all employees to support the vision.

    But all this said, why is it still so hard for us to change?  Why are we so afraid of it?

    As I read your article I was encouraged to see the focus on transformation.  For this is the future for many companies to be competitive. This could be a sign we are all starting to realize the power of change!

    • Laura,
      Thank you for your comment. For too long OCM has been viewed as a necessary but somewhat disconnected aspect of driving success on projects and within organizations embarking on major transformation initiatives. One hopes that the OCM aspect becomes more embedded in thought and action  that are key to such efforts. I see getting involved with communities and collaborating as integral aspects of successful initiatives, and these actions cannot be separated from OCM activity that must necessarily be a part of these initiatives as well.

      I would welcome a conversation with you on this subject at some point, particularly on the topic of fear that you allude to!

      Thanks again.