Relationship Between the Web and Innovation

Numerous studies of innovation have compared the output associated with different approaches to organizing the work of creative people. For example, a study of brainstorming compared the productive output of people working in isolation to the output of the same number of people organized into brainstorming groups. There were two significant findings from this study. First, in terms of the sheer number of new ideas generated, the individuals working in isolation were able to generate more new ideas. However, when considering the perceived quality of the new ideas, the ideas coming out of the group were considered to represent greater value. Part of the explanation offered for this was that the group was in a better position to challenge the ideas as they were generated. This activity of publicly vetting the ideas conceivable leads to ideas with greater fitness. In addition, by working in groups, people are in a position to build upon ideas generated by others. This also may increase the fitness of the ideas by providing a platform for enhanced creativity in idea generation.

Implications for process facilitators
There are several implications for transition managers as they consider the intersection of innovation and webs. First, it is important to become sensitive to the optimal size of a web for purpose of stimulating innovation. Just as we have learned that the optimal size of a breakout group ranges somewhere between 6-8 people, the optimal size of a web will likely vary depending on the work being accomplished. Learning communities may operate best with no more than 50 participants. Likewise, there is some evidence that maximum effectiveness of a business unit is accomplished when they do not exceed 400 members.

Implications for project management
Innovation may be required during certain phases of a project and, alternatively, may not be useful during other phases. For example, in the definition of new products, innovation during the fuzzy front end is key to later success. But, innovation in the manufacturing process may not contribute once production considerations have already been made.

Implications for the environment
The environment supporting the web during phases of innovation will consist of a balance between high-touch and high-tech. In early stage development activities it is often best to involve high levels of face-to-face communication. this may also be supported by large doses of technological support depending on the task at hand. Middle phases may be supported by reduced face-to-face supplemented by electronic communication technology. Finally, the later project phases will once again be enhanced by greater ratio of touch to tech. While this may be generally true, it is likely that the demographics and experiential base of the participants will change these ratios since the learning curve for the use of newer technologies may vary considerably both within and between groups.

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