frog design: Openness, Or How Do You Design For The Loss Of Control?

frog design: Openness, Or How Do You Design For The Loss Of Control?

Openness is the mega-trend for innovation in the 21st century, and it remains the topic du jour for businesses of all kinds.

  • 18 august 2010

The power of pull

So what can they do besides just bemoaning this loss and passively observing how the new centrifugal forces of the Social, Real-Time Web are disrupting their traditional business and engagement models? Li lays out how business leaders can and (must!) embrace the new rules of openness. John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison, in the The Power of Pull, provide an actionable framework for how these new forces can be leveraged through “shaping strategies” on the individual, institutional, and societal level.

These “shaping strategies,” as the term suggests, present an exciting challenge for design. If designers embrace the insight that influence is replacing authority as the new currency in the “pull economy” and that the best way to gain influence is to give up control, they will have significant impact on how this new economy is shaping up. In fact, they are uniquely positioned to develop what Hagel, Seely Brown, and Davison call levers of “access, attraction, and achievement” that provide the “creation spaces” and tools for employees and customers alike to design their own destiny, create their own meaning, and thus convert their very own skills and passions into productivity and loyalty.

In essence, businesses can use “shaping strategies” to amplify and accelerate the inevitable loss of control in order to avoid employees and customers abandon them. This may sound counter-intuitive but the upside is considerable. A deliberately designed loss of control grants companies the only remaining and arguably most critical competitive advantage – access. As long as they enable and facilitate knowledge flows, ideas, passions, skills, and experiences, they have access to them. In fact, if they fully leverage the “powers of pull,” these assets will gravitate towards them.

X-problems and social networks

Openness is no longer just a nice stunt but a fundamental requirement for any business that wants to thrive in the new “pull economy.” Because we’re increasingly dealing with “X-Problems,” as my colleague Adam Richardson reckons in his book Innovation X, we need approaches that allow us to come up with creative solutions to problems we may not even know yet. In other words: Solutions that help define the problem. Or as Hagel, Seely Brown, and Davison put it: “If you want to find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, you need to hang out with other people who might already know it.”

The loss of control enables the creation of more weak ties in a company’s network (inside and outside of the organization), and, as social network research has shown, weak ties are more conducive to transporting foreign ideas, knowledge, and skills – because they move faster from one node to the other as the network becomes more accessible and nimble on its fringes. The further you get away from the core of your network, the less control you (may want to) have.

You could argue that designers have been designing creation spaces, feedback mechanisms, and other participatory experiences for some time now. They certainly have, but perhaps without fully recognizing or deliberately orchestrating the amount of loss of control that their designs represented. It seems like the time is ripe to understand these efforts as part of a broader shift and consolidate them into a series of formats that, going forward, shall serve as blueprints for “design for the loss of control,” across different corporate functions and disciplines.

Frequently, these solutions will involve de-institutionalizing decision-making by removing the intermediary. In many cases, this may imply an act of democratization, but it is also important not to see this as a zero-sum game. Control is not just shifting from one hand to many; rather, it is dissolving and defragmenting and along the way diminishing – or turning into something else, far more valuable: social capital that resides in the public domain and is no longer controlled by anyone. The formats that propel this new mode of collaboration and value creation are emergent and informal, and they typically carry a significant amount of tacit knowledge.

Here are some recent examples:

Open ideation/crowdsourcing: Open ideation (or crowdsourcing) is based on the assumption that the best ideas for new products, services, and business models may come from outside of your organization or from those people inside your organization who are typically (by function or hierarchy) excluded from the ideation process. Like all open innovation efforts, crowdsourcing redistributes control from an elite group of thinkers and doers to a broader group of self-selected participants. By broadening the funnel, companies can harness the accumulated or aggregated knowledge of these voices. Crowdsourcing is usually focused on ideas and insights but can also cover a wider array of collaborations with external parties throughout all stages of the innovation cycle. Dell, Starbucks, P&G, and many other organizations use crowdsourcing. Nike partners with Creative Commons and Best Buy for GreenXchange, a platform that promotes “the creation and adoption of technologies that have the potential to solve important global or industry-wide sustainability challenges.” TED is expanding its reach through TEDx, “independently organized TED events,” without compromising the exclusivity of its brand. Furthermore, Victors & Spoils brought crowdsourcing to the world of advertising; and IDEO recently launched its crowdsourcing platform, OpenIDEO, inviting the public to join “creative challenges” that tackle social issues through design. And there are firms such as InnoCentive that specialize in crowdsourcing services for other companies. All these companies not only make ideas accessible to more or less open publics (to some extent, giving up control over IP) but also commit to making the follow-up on these ideas (at least partially) transparent (giving up some control over agenda-setting and strategic planning).

Open design research: frogMob, developed by frog design, is a tool for crowdsourced design research, based on the idea that everyone can be a researcher for a day, just by paying a little more attention to the world around them. frogMob uses guerilla photography and stories to take a quick pulse on global trends, behaviors, and artifacts. Launched internally first – tapping into frog’s eight global studios – we are now expanding frogMob to a broader public. Through frogMob, we are able to “mobilize” not only our internal network around a specific assignment but also external contributors on an ad hoc basis, in a short amount of time (like a Flash Mob). frogMob allows us to provide lightweight, rapid design research for clients who ask for a “trend scrape” that identifies patterns and offers unexpected inspiration. The key here is to tap into existing knowledge flows – in a nimble way that does not require too much commitment from the participants and eliminates bureaucratic hurdles.

Open strategy: Crowdsourcing can also take place as a combination of online and offline collaboration, as demonstrated by NPR and its Think-In on the future of digital media. Supported and facilitated by frog, NPR hosted an open strategy session, bringing together 60 thought leaders at the intersection of media and technology to explore new approaches to content creation, distribution, and funding for NPR and NPR member stations. The Think-In harnessed the collective expertise and creativity of an exceptional group of entrepreneurs, executives, and innovators, and it developed concepts that NPR incorporated into its organizational roadmap. The event was augmented through live-commentary and streaming via various social media channels. This social augmentation made the workshop accessible for a broader audience, which – like the on-site participants – felt so genuinely passionate about NPR that they committed some serious time to this collective brainstorming. Such passion for brands could also be put to work through a more radical version of a Think-In: a “brand hijack” that convenes customers and other interested parties to explore new directions for a brand – yet with the twist that the brand itself would not participate (but may have the option to co-opt the results of the session afterwards).

Open-source humanitarian software: In the software space, open-source projects have long been an established form of open innovation, see IBM’s Eclipse platform. Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), founded by teams from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and the World Bank, uses open-source methods to “hack for humanity.” It describes itself as a community of “developers, geeks and tech-savvy do-gooders around the world, working to develop software solutions that respond to the challenges facing humanity today.” The group runs “Hackathons,” inviting the best and the brightest hackers from around the world, who volunteer their time to tackle disaster relief issues with through software applications. The Hackathons are designed as so-called “codejams,” fast-paced competitions that give the participants a set amount of time to solve the challenges they are given. At the end of a two-day marathon of hacking, a panel will review each hack, and the winners will walk away with prizes, as well as the right to call themselves “RHoKstars” ever after. Another example of open-source humanitarian software is Ushahidi’s CrowdMap which displays crowdsourced crisis data on maps as a free cloud-based service.

Open-(source) social networks: Lockheed Martin, the giant defense contractor, built its own networking site called Eureka Streams and released it open-source for the public to use. As Fast Company writes in a recent blog post, “The company’s management had recognized that an internal social networking tool could have all sorts of procedural benefits for a large, and geographically disjointed organization. Essentially it lets ‘knowledge workers’ inside the company find and talk with other experts who may have valid input to particular projects, but who would otherwise have zero oversight or input.” Dow Chemical is another example of a company setting up its own social network, in this case to help managers identify the talent they need to execute projects across different business units and functions. Dow has even extended the network to include former employees – a smart move. Closed networks are of diminishing value. A recent McKinsey Quarterly report argues, “In the longer term, networked organizations will focus on the orchestration of tasks rather than the ‘ownership’ of workers’ and advises executives to ‘make the network the organization.’”

Open branding: In the spirit of transparency, design firm Continuum is partly revealing to the public its creati


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