Irving Wladawsky-Berger, in his AlwaysOn column, points to the recent IBM Global CEO Study 2006 -- a Rorschach projection of what's going on in the minds of 765 CEO's. It's no surprise innovation is at the top of the list; however, unlike in the 2004 study, they're looking for innovation across and beyond the firm, not just in the lab. Some key findings:
* Business model innovation can pay off. In the financial analysis for the study, companies that have grown their operating margins faster than their competitors were putting twice as much emphasis on business model innovation as underperformers
* Innovation doesn't need a badge to get in. CEOs said their company's employees were the most significant source for innovative ideas. But ranking close behind employees were business partners and customers—indicating that two out of the three top sources for the best ideas now lie outside the enterprise.
* Collaboration can pay off. The financial analysis explains why CEOs are more eager to partner and engage with other organizations than ever before. Companies with higher revenue growth reported using external sources significantly more than the slower growers. As one CEO said: "If you think you have all the answers internally, you are wrong."
While careful not to view these findings as causal, when presented together the study highlights the favorable financial impact of constant discovery. The central cost in constant discovery is the mean time to finding what's relevant, then combining it with the matter at hand. It's on this cost reduction that wikis shine.
Consider a typical project where there are 2-5 core people steeped in day-to-day details, mostly sending dozens of emails with attachments, and working in documents that can be combined and linked only with maximum effort. The bottleneck is combining work. Around the core are two types of occasional participants: senior managers who want to stay in the loop, and domain experts who need to be manually sought out for point-contribution. The bottlenecks are, respectively, finding simply the summary of what's most recent, and, traversing the 20,000 person company directory to find who can contribute. Wikis and weblogs help slash coordination and communication time for all three.
Instead of 10 (or 20) emails/day per project, I simply read the project weblog at the end of the week. For one project, 50 emails saved. The same goes for anyone tracking my projects. Plus if I need to pull someone in for an expert opinion, chances are their work is already linked to mine, and if not, a two-second search shows every person and their relevant work with context intact. Bottlenecks removed.
A "team" can be as temporary as coming together to answer one customer question, then going its separate ways. In the past, solving problems in this way has been prohibitively expensive. Not so when wikis allow groups to form, if only for a minute to problem solve, then leave their answers behind for other to re-use. In another study, the IBM folks follow the same thread, this time about job fluidity and porous corporate boundaries:
During this latest Global Innovation Outlook study, many participants noted that the changes ahead for enterprises-—how they form, work, and then disband or re-form—-are being driven, in part, by a new generation of workers much more comfortable with job fluidity. Many of these people identify more with others in their field of work or study-—whether as coders, computational biologists, designers or educators—-than they do as employees of the organizations hiring them for these roles.
How could such an organization survive? Possibly very well, it seems. As several of the study's participants pointed out, self-aggregating entities can often adapt more readily in the face of opportunities and disruptions. Where business leaders once found their metaphors in the clearly demarcated lines of military divisions and sports teams, the best analogies for configurations in business may soon be such self-organizing units as those found in nature: schools of fish, flocks of birds, and swarms of insects all rely on self-organization to move and work toward a common purpose in a dynamic and efficient manner.
It turns out the CEO's sought-after pockets of discovery, within the workgroup, across the firm, and beyond to customers and partners, are no longer the stuff of future dreams. It's happening today and everyday inside wikis.