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Café Innovation – Social networking, revolutions, and how to approach innovation

In the cover story of the June 15, 2009, issue of Business Week, titled, “Innovation Interrupted,” Michael Mandel makes the argument that during “the last decade, U.S. innovation has failed to realize its promise-and that may help explain America’s economic woes.” If it is true for a nation that competitiveness and good economic health are tied to innovation, then why would this not be true for a business enterprise?


The article referenced above lists a number of technological breakthroughs in 1998 that did not live up to their commercial promise for a variety of reasons. Fortunately for business enterprises, unlike a national economy, they can coordinate the efforts to innovate with the drive to deliver value to the business, thus substantially limiting the pitfalls that can jeopardize success. Targeted innovation with a recognized area of business value can be the impetus to keep driving excellence even in a downturn, thus leading to a better utilization of existing investments and eventually to enhanced competitiveness.  This will ensure that innovation in business processes today will not amount to unrealized value several years later.


In order to succeed in this, however, one needs to approach innovation in a balanced way. On the one hand, one cannot approach innovation in a regimented manner. I am not suggesting that this be done laissez faire, but at the same time I caution against the old-fashioned command-and-control type of project approach well suited to traditional projects. The goal should be to balance creativity with some basic discipline; in other words, unfettered creativity within established boundaries. One of the things that all organizations must grapple with now is the rapidly growing preponderance of social networking tools. In this same article, the pervasiveness of Google, Facebook, Twitter, smart-phones etc. is cited as evidence of rapid innovation all around us. We must take this seriously. These have become the tools we live by. What was an optional “extra” on the fringes of the organization will soon have to become mainstream thus demanding that any business process renewal take into account how people really interact and how that can best be used to drive effective behavior. An example of how important these tools have become is apparent from recent events.


Iran is experiencing significant political turbulence which the free world is learning of through social networking tools! The court-side view of what is increasingly appearing to be a revolution-like situation is made possible by those who Twitter! This in turn is creating its own political force, for it is recognized inside Iran that the world is aware of what the people of Iran wish to express. If this turbulence in Iran snowballs into a revolution of some sort, we might have to credit Twitter as one of the instruments involved in this slice of history! Unprecedented perhaps, but significant nevertheless. At the time of writing this post it is unclear how things will shape up, but one thing is very clear – the information coming out of Iran despite the heavy clamp-down on traditional media outlets is taking advantage of people-centric technology. Videos taken by mobile phones are making their way out, and a continuous stream of updates are using Twitter. In fact, earlier today Twitter had to re-adjust its schedule for routine maintenance in order to stay available during Iran’s daytime hours!


This shows the extent to which, even in societies that we might consider less modern, people-centric technology is impacting daily lives. In other parts of the world, individuals who live by these tools are increasingly bringing these into the workplace. The smart option is to build the solutions of tomorrow whether on SAP or not taking this into account. The use of mashups (web hybrid applications) should leverage these increasingly, making the enterprise solution of tomorrow a true expression of how people want to conduct business.

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