Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If Dogs Could Tweet, We'd All Know Where to Find the Best Dog Parks

Sparky awaits his entrance to Walnut Creek - Shramm Park
Sparky the boxer-doodle turned four this summer -- 28 years' old in dog years. It was time I let him off leash.

He didn't want me to have to drive all the way to Hefflinger Dog Park in Omaha, but wanted to celebrate by finding a park nearby where he could run, play, and maybe make a new canine pal. Sparky doesn't have Facebook so the whole friend thing requires I provide him face-to-face sniff time.

We set out on an unusually hot day, having searched online for DOG PARKS in Plattsmouth, then Cass county, then Sarpy county, finding nearly nothing to satisfy his pent-up desire for a birthday romp in tall grass. After about 30 minutes online, we found a three parks near the Bellevue, Papillion and LaPlatte areas off 370. Sparky asked me to share what we found with the other Cass County dogs on my blog, since he doesn't have his own Twitter account either.

Bellevue, LaPlatte, NE / Capehart Off-Leash Dog Park
Sparky had a good run at Capehart and 23rd in Bellevue
This expansive, fenced, well-maintained field has fresh water, a large shade tree, a long hill and a bench. It's double-gated entry provides safety for dogs coming into and out of the park. Shrubs around two sides provide privacy and lots of interesting areas to hide. However, this park in plain sight was the most difficult to find based on directions. It's right off 370 and I-75, on Capehart, near 25th street, but very poorly marked. Look for what appears to be abandoned basketball hoops and tennis courts near the military housing and way at the back you'll find the park entrance. Sparky liked this park, but it wasn't his favorite. Additional photos, map and directions can be found here.

Bellevue, NE / Jewell Off-Leash Dog Park
It's clean, it's nice. But it's not interesting enough to hang out.
This dog park is near the trail head of the Jewell Trail in Bellevue, NE.  Separate fenced areas are available for dogs under 30 pounds, and larger dogs. No one is on site to enforce the distinction, so use your best judgement based on your dogs' temperament. The two fields appear to be nothing but well-mowed lawns. There are no trees, no landmarks, no benches, and only one table inside the fenced area. However the surrounding park and trails make this worth a day trip if you also want to bring along a leash. This was Sparky's least favorite park, but it may be he was picking up on my frustration at finding no shady place to sit and watch him play. Additional photos, a map and directions can be found here.

Omaha, Papillion, NE / Walnut Creek - Schramm Off-Leash Dog Park

Due to a mix of short and tall grasses, dry prairie, waterfront, mixed width paths, and three seating areas, the off-leash park at Walnut Creek was Sparky's and my favorite. Trash bags are provided to tote out any leave-behinds, parking is close and shaded, and this park provides multi-season interest. It felt like the largest of the three parks we visited.  We've been back several times, finding mid-week peaceful with rarely another dog in sight. Sparky loves the long runs, tall grasses, sounds of crickets and plant diversity with trees, shrubs, shade, water and several interesting pathways. Additional photos, a map and directions can be found here.

Sparky's fourth birthday was a hit.

He's hoping other dogs will benefit from what he learned while off leash.

He'd share adventures on his own blog, but he's barely learned how to sit, and typing is out of the question.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of The Bird

I recently attended the Open Innovation Conference in Chicago and was astounded by the number of successful innovators within organizations who were afraid of The Bird.

No, no, no! Not the middle-finger-flip-off because you cut someone off in traffic BIRD, or the Angry Birds-bird, but rather the more benign, useful, and perhaps scary bird , TWITTER.

Stefan Lindegaard of @15Inno said it best, albeit a bit harsh, when he announced from the stage earlier this month that "we're just too old". I don't think that's true. I think some of us have lost our opportunistic spirit, which for innovators is crime of omission. Thought leaders across industries are using Twitter. Organizational innovators must also.

It wasn't until I shared coffee at one of the communal tables with key leader from NineSigma, that it started to make sense to me why 60% of the attendees had never used Twitter.  He said, "until you explained it just now, I never realized what value Twitter provided." As a top executive within a high profile innovation consulting firm, he asked me not to chastise him, so I'll leave his name out. But here's what I shared:

Imagine having a conversation with the smartest person you know in your industry, and they tell you the most important thing they learned, or discovered or found inspiring that day. Multiply that by hundreds of thought leaders, each sharing what they believe to be their best thought in areas you have chosen to listen.  You're not bombarded with these ideas like a traditional RSS feed, but rather can scan through hundreds of 140-character insights quickly, stopping to view those comments, links or photos most relevant and inspiring to you.  It's business intelligence, personalized.

Imagine you have a question about some very specific, technical or cutting edge concept and want to rub shoulders with experts in that space. I  have broad interests and follow leaders in business strategy, virtual world gaming, genealogy, gardening, marketing, social media and open innovation so that when I have a question in any of these areas, I know exactly who to DM. It's real time, better-than-a help desk and free. Thought leaders often share key insights well before they've published findings to a blog or professional publication. You're getting the sneak peek, the early reveal. Some of it is gold.
You don't have to say a word. In fact, don't tweet. For silent types, there's no taboo against stalking twitter silently or using it as a search engine, following individuals or curating the best thoughts and links shared in industry-specific hashtag (#) events.  For recent examples of facilitated online discussions tied to a hashtag, search Twitter for #lrnchat, #innochat, #innovate or any other # topic you believe people may be discussing.

At conferences and events, it's rare that a twitter hashtag isn't provided.  The Open Innovation Conference in Chicago used #OIS11. Even if you weren't onsite, you could use a FREE tool like Hootsuite or Tweetchat to view a stream of insights and links posted by conference attendees. I often find the 'backchannel' more interesting than the event itself, because it provides insight to me on how the participants are interpreting, and implementing ideas shared at the conference. It also provides me a view into their thinking and interests...powerful as I find my best ideas come when different points of view converge to create that 'aha' moment. Also, I'm a bit of an introvert, so it's easier to introduce myself to someone based on the context of a tweet.

"Hi, I'm Laura, and I agree with your tweet about hypeinnovation. When did you implement?"

So what's an innovator to do? Jump in.  Take 8 seconds out of your day to create a Twitter account. Just for fun, search for something that interests you: your favorite sports team, wine brand, music genre or if you're feeling brave, something from within your organization about which you're curious to know what customers, vendors or employees are saying.  Maybe you manufacture earbuds, supply paper products to medi-spas, market home appliances or are considering launching a franchise concept? Chances are, experts and insiders are sharing insights you need. They're tweeting. Why not listen?

I know that fear of The Bird is so real that some organizations still ban employees (even top leaders like you) from accessing Twitter at work. Surely they'll criticize Twitter as a distraction.  If so, feel free to print my irreverent article about creating a Social Media policy, and lay a copy on the desk of key decision makers. It's not their fault they're afraid. They don't know any better. As the innovator, you've got to educate them. Best of luck to you.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Innovation: Transparency vs. Fear

Business Leaders get it. Innovators get it. So why are traditional R&D Product Development people the last to understand that transparency is key to innovation and market leadership?

Organizational fear is what I heard from frustrated innovation managers at Innovation conferences including the Open Innovation Summit held in Chicago, and CoDev in Scottsdale earlier this year.

Here's the problem as I understood it:

"We want to be more innovative, but our managers are concerned that if we begin to market into new spaces, our existing (traditional) customers will be turned off."

"If we open innovation to others, department leads fear they will lose control
of our intellectual property. "

"Managers believe their experts have the knowledge to create new products. They feel like third party contributors sharing a bunch of dumb ideas is nothing but a distraction."

So what's a business leader to do to encourage Open Innovation in a traditional R&D organization?

1. Talk about it.
If it's important to you, the business leader, it will become important to your organization too.

Innovation isn't new. Thought leaders have always dialoged with peers as a way to share knowledge and brainstorm new ideas. The concept of Open Innovation accelerates the pace as cross-functional and non-traditional experts share new ways of sharing problems and solutions. If you're the leader of a business unit responsible for growth, you've got to become the Open Innovation Evangelist within your organization. Talk about why it's important. And keep talking. Here's a cool example of a video that leaders at WD-40 use to foster innovation across their organization.

2. Systematize it.
Whether you have an old-fashioned wooden "suggestion box" or provide simple online tools, you've got to have a process to capture, and more importantly, to manage and evaluate incoming ideas. 

Traditional R&D folk are used to a stage-gate process, so it's no surprise they'll want similar tools to manage Open Innovation. Good tools provide great benefits:
  • Department heads can cull through the volume of crowd-sourced ideas to weigh and prioritize where to spend the organizations' time/money. 
  • Idea contributors want to know their ideas are heard, and taken seriously. 
  • Innovators need to know who/where the other innovators are.  
  • And with the right tools, social-media style Idea Challenges can be posted to solve some of the organizations more pressing issues. 
After a search through dozens of competitive products, I chose Hype Innovation not only to gather ideas (it's Sharepoint compatible), but to manage and communicate all stages of the process from ideation to execution. Regardless of which tool you use, aligned processes and systems make your innovation efforts sustainable.

3. Connect the dots.
One of the best pieces of advice heard at the Chicago conference was to draw a process map of your business. 

Who are your suppliers? Your customers? How do they order? How do you manufacture? Go to market? Get customer feedback? Once all members within your organization, including your suppliers and customers, understand how they or their work connects to the bigger picture, they'll start to buy in. Why? Because it's human nature to want to be part of a community. So whether you're a paper supplier creating new products for medispas, or a software developer helping business manage their financials, ensuring that everyone within your frame of reference understands what you do, and how you do it is critical. With a full understanding, they'll be able to connect the dots to do more, better, different - creating value through innovation. 

However, the 1st and 2nd must be in place to fully benefit from the 3rd.

Transparency requires a new way to think about innovation and a different path forward as ideas come in and begin to show promise. As a business leader and innovator, your focus is on creating value. Once you share your Open Innovation vision, provide appropriate tools and help your people connect the dots, you'll be well on your way to growing business, one great new idea at a time.

Who do you know who might benefit from this article? Please share and comment.