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.


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