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1 The Innovative Power of








By Chris Grams

"The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."

These words were originally spoken by two-time Nobel Prize vnnner Linus Pauling. You need not be a brilliant scientist to appreciate the simple concept: the more ideas

you collect, the better the chance that one or more of them will be truly unique and


Many of today's most successful organizations maximize their potential to develop truly innovative breakthroughs by creating internal cultures that encourage the

collection of diverse ideas. In these organizations, the best ideas can come from any¬

where—not just top management—and often do.

I should know. I spent a decade working for one such meritocracy: the open source

Looking to be

more innovative?

Here's how to

successfully tap

into the ideas of

your external


Photo by Veer

technology company Red Hat. During my time there, we grew from a 100-person

startup in Durham, North Carolina, to a global technology leader with $1 billion in

annual revenues and offices in almost 60 countries around the world.

If a key to creating an innovative organization is empowering as many people as possible inside the organization to contribute their best ideas, Red Hat took

things a step further. We didn't just involve the people inside the organization in the

at www.astd.org/TDpodcasts 9


JULY 2012 I T+D I 49

Look for places where there can be an obvious mutual \

exchange of value to find the best opportunities for opening


up the innovation process to outside community groups.

have intellectucd property or competitive

reasons why opening up some parts of the organization just doesn't make sense.

If it doesn't make sense, don't do it.

Instead look for places where it would be easy and mutually beneficial for your

organization to open up to the external community. At Red Hat, we had a rule

we referred to as "defaulting to open."

This meant we would be as transparent

as possible about the inner workings of the business by default, and keep things private only when we had a good reason. Most organizations operate the opposite

way, closed by default and only sharing

with the outside world when absolutely


The benefit of a default-to-open mind¬ set is that you are collaborating openly as standard operating procedure rather than searching for one or two opportunities

that make sense. Because of this, col¬

laboration with the outside communities

becomes more common, more natural,

and less forced.

When looking for places to engage with external communities, I always start by looking at the opportunities where both the organization and community

members might benefit. For example,

perhaps you've had reports from several customers who think they could signifi- cantiy increase their own revenues if one

of your products had a certain feature. Because this opportunity for innovation would benefit both sides, it might be a

perfect opportunity to collaborate.

We saw this situation happen often at Red Hat, where key customers needed a particular part of the software to do

something it didn't currently do. Because

these customers saw huge benefits for

their own businesses if the feature was in

place, many of them were wiUing to share

their ideas for how the feamre might be implemented. Some of them even put

their ovm developers to work on writing

code alongside our developers.

Look for places where there can be an obvious mutual exchange of value to find

the best opportunities for opening up the innovation process to outside community


Be of the community,

not above the community

Let's face it: most organizations think of

themselves as the center of a community ecosystem. But I bet most of the people in the external community don't see them¬

selves in orbit around your organization.

Successful innovating with an external

community requires an organization to show humility—not always having to

be at the center of the universe. Does it

always have to be your commimity? Do others always have to collaborate on your


I prefer an "of the community, not

above the community" approach to

engaging external communities. What

does this mean?

It means your organization doesn't

need to lead or originate every commu¬

nity effort in which it is involved ("above the community"). It doesn't always have to set the agenda. Sometimes by simply

joining or observing an existing effort

("of the community") rather than start¬

ing a new one of your own, you'll get

more fresh ideas, more energy, and more contributions than if you force others to join your projects. And if you want to lead

a project, you may find more success if

you earn your right to lead from within through your contributions over time.

At Red Hat, we looked for the best and

most promising open source software projects and, even if they didn't originate

with Red Hat, we would still join them as participants. Sometimes this meant

we'd enlist our own engineers to work on

a project, sometimes we'd use our brand

to help the effort gain more attention and

credibility, and we might even help fund

or finance it.

The key is being open to the possibil¬ ity that the best innovative ideas for your

organization might not only come from

people outside the organization, but

might even originate from efforts hatched outside the organization as well. Spend some time looking for promising inno¬

vative efforts to join forces with in the

outside world rather than feeling like all innovation has to start with efforts you initiate. You may discover some amazing opportunities you were blind to before.

More ideas lead to better ideas

One of the key figures in the open source

software movement is Linus Torvalds,

the creator of the Linux operating sys¬

tem. In explaining why he opened up

the development of his software to any

contributor who wanted to get involved

versus developing it himself behind

closed doors, Torvalds once said, "Given

enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." By this he meant that the more people

involved in the creation of the software,

the more "bugs" (defects in the software)

they could uncover quickly.

Surely two Linuses can't be wrong.

You'll get better ideas when you get more ideas. You'll solve more problems when you have more people working on them. So follow these five tips, and

I hope you'll be on your way to having

many more eyes both inside and out¬ side your organization uncovering more

ideas, helping you to determine the best

ones, and turning them into innovations

you would have never imagined possible


Chris Grams is president and partner ai New

Kind, where he builds sustainable brands, cul¬

tures, and communities in and around compa¬ nies and organizations; chris@newkind.com.


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